Sensory Directed Research on Artisanal Cheese to Benefit the Local, Regional, and National Dairy Industry

Artisan Cheese plays an important role in regional dairy.  

Specialty status garners higher prices, and the stories behind artisan cheeses can strengthen brand recognition, consumer demand, and encourage agritourism.  

In 2021, NE-DBIC funded a multi-year project to study how the smell and taste of artisan cheeses may help increase their sales and consumption.  

Led by a team of researchers at UVM Extension, the study gathered data from farms and creameries to find out how variables like farming practices and microbes affect a cheese’s aroma and flavor. The project team also led sensory training sessions for farmers and cheesemakers. 

Completed in 2023, the sensory research findings are now available.  

Below, you’ll find the Project Summary, Project Goals, the Full Final Report, and the Webinar Series “A Sensory Directed Approach to Understanding Artisan Cheese.” 

Project Summary:

Written by Heather Darby and Roy Desrochers of UVM Extension

Surface-ripened cheeses, including bloomy and washed rind cheeses, are a rapidly growing sector of the United States specialty cheese market due to their distinctive flavor qualities. These value-added dairy products provide unique opportunities to support the local rural economies of small American dairy farmers.

The goal of this project was to implement a range of sensory and innovative consumer testing methods to define the aroma and flavor characteristics of artisan cheese to optimize sales and consumption in the future, and to identify variables which positively and negatively influence the sensory quality of artisan cheese.

Two groups of University of Vermont (UVM) trained sensory panels received focused Descriptive Sensory Analysis (DSA) training on cheese aroma and flavor at the beginning of this program. In addition, we developed a strategic plan, protocols, and methods to collect specific data to correlate with objective DSA results on cheese samples produced at these sites to understand which variables, such as microbial profile, have positive or negative effects on artisan cheese aroma and flavor. In addition, a sensory training program for collaborating cheesemakers was initiated in the fall of 2021 and continued in 2022.

In 2022, we conducted a monthly cheese evaluation program using our DSA panel, conducted a pilot test in March to prepare for study’s full test in August 2022, and completed the full test in August 2022.

In addition, we conducted special consumer research training at Jasper Hill Farm (JHF) in the Product Attribute Elicitation Method (PEM). We also conducted the Sensory Directed Chemical Analysis (SCDA) program for artisan cheese at Tufts University with the help of UVM Sensory.

Finally, we completed the sampling of cheese from both JHF and Spring Brook Farm (SBF) for the August test, executed the various analytical tests, and analyzed the data. In the fourth quarter of 2022, we completed the monthly sampling and analysis program of cheese samples from JSF, and the bi-monthly sampling and analysis program of cheese samples from SBF. This report summarizes and provides final details for all aspects of this study.

Project Goals:

Written by Heather Darby and Roy Desrochers of UVM Extension

  1. Use innovative sensory and consumer testing methods to understand short- and long-term changes in consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, our focus was on understanding consumer purchasing and consumption of dairy products including artisan cheeses.
  2. Use the trained sensory analysis panel at the University of Vermont Extension (UVM Extension) to objectively benchmark the aroma and flavor of artisan cheeses currently available to consumers and to translate their expressed needs for aroma and flavor into actionable product targets.
  3. Collect critical data at the participating farms and creameries to correlate with consumer and sensory results to better understand the factors that drive higher quality, as defined by the end user, to significantly increase consumer purchases and consumption. These data included factors at the farm level such as dairy cow diet, on-farm sensory characteristics, and milk handling procedures, as well as factors at the cheesemaking level including microbial community identity and diversity.
  4. Successfully transfer all learnings in this study to participating farmers and artisan cheesemakers to inform key decisions on future production to help sustain market success and viability.

Watch the webinar series

Executive Summary

Consumer Sensory Analysis

Descriptive Sensory Panel Analysis

Fatty Acid Analysis

Microbiology Analysis

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