Development of tools and procedures to improve the consistency of farmstead cheeses

2015 Annual Report for ONE15-239

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Kerry Kaylegian
Penn State University

Development of tools and procedures to improve the consistency of farmstead cheeses


This study is aimed at helping farmstead cheesemakers improve their cheese consistency by identifying the parameters that define the optimal quality for that particular cheese and by understanding, tracking, and ultimately controlling, the factors that cause inconsistent and unsatisfactory quality in the finished cheese. We are collaborating with 2 cheesemakers who make different types of cheese to serve as model systems for developing templates that can be used by all cheesemakers.

The first two project objectives were completed on schedule from May to August, 2015. We worked with the cheesemakers to determine measurable sensory and analytical parameters for cheese quality and consistency, and then developed the data entry templates to track these parameters over time. We are currently working on the third project objective, which is to track these parameters over the next year to determine process and seasonal variations and their effect on cheese quality.

The cheesemakers have worked with us as needed during the development of the project sensory and data collection tools. We are not obtaining the cheese samples and complete data as often as we had proposed, due to the realities of working with cheesemakers who also run other aspects of their farming business. We are analyzing the cheese and data as it is provided to us. This gap in anticipated samples versus actual samples has allowed us to incorporate a third cheesemaker into the project. Her cheese is different from the others, thus providing further breadth in the model systems that will be useful in developing the general sensory guidelines and data collection and tracking templates.

Objectives/Performance Targets

We met with 3 cheesemakers to describe the qualities of their cheese and determine measurable analytical parameters that we can use to track cheese quality over time. A master list of sensory descriptors was developed that encompass attributes associated with all types of cheeses. This list was used to select attributes and develop sensory ballot scales that were appropriate for each cheese. The cheesemakers were integral in describing the way they evaluate their cheese and identifying the attributes and evaluation scales that best suited their needs.

We discovered that the data that the cheesemakers were capturing during the cheese making process was lacking in what we need to get a more accurate picture of their process. So we developed cheese making data sheets to capture key information such as time, temperature, and pH targets. Data collection sheets were also developed for aging rooms (humidity, temperature, and time parameters), as appropriate. These sheets were given to the cheesemakers to collect data for tracking over the next year.

Analytical measurements of the cheese to assess quality were identified, and include pH, moisture content, salt content, salt-in-moisture, and fat content. Analytical procedures for moisture and salt analysis were refined based on our laboratory equipment for these cheese samples. These analyses are being done at Penn State on samples provided by the cheesemakers.

Excel spreadsheets were developed to track milk composition, processing and aging conditions, and milk and cheese composition parameters. These were customized based on the specific cheeses and processes. It has become clear that a simpler version of the spreadsheets we developed for our use will need to be more user friendly for the cheesemakers. We will create the general templates outlined in Objective 5 in a more open access format, such as Google Docs and Sheets, rather than relying on all cheesemakers to have access to Excel, as we had originally envisioned.

Data collection and analysis is ongoing. We are not receiving the cheese samples and the processing data as often as we had expected in the proposal, due to the realities of working with busy cheesemakers. This had the benefit of giving us the opportunity to bring a third cheesemaker into the project, thus increasing the breadth of the model systems. We will continue to collect as much data as possible over the next year, as provided by the cheesemakers.


May 1 – August 30, 2015: Objective 1 and 2 completed as planned.
We developed a master list of sensory attributes and descriptors for all cheeses to draw from when meeting with the project cheesemakers, and sensory ballot templates with various types of attributes scales. We developed a sensory evaluation guide to assist the cheesemakers with conducting sensory evaluation on their cheeses in their own facilities.

Multiple data collection spreadsheets (Excel) were developed to capture and track data on milk composition, cheese composition, sensory evaluation, and processing and aging room parameters for each cheesemaker.

We had an initial meeting with the cheesemaker at Birchrun Hill Farms to evaluate cheese and define measurable quality parameters – sensory attributes, make procedure targets (pH, time, temperature), and aging room conditions (humidity, temperature, time). We discussed and reviewed the initial sensory guide, ballots, and data collection sheets, which were then refined to better meet her needs and reflect actual practices. She agreed to send us cheese samples and production data approximately every two weeks. This has not worked out as expected, and we receive samples approximately every 3 to 6 weeks, due to her schedule. This data is still providing a picture over time, just not with as many data points as we had anticipated.

We met with the cheesemaker at Caputo Brother Creamery to evaluate cheese and define measureable quality parameters. They have changed some of their procedures and are not as interested in as much assistance as originally planned. We reviewed the sensory guide, and production data collection sheets, and modified the sheets as needed for their use. Their primary interest is in following the cheese process and the final pH of the cheese, so we are tracking their milk composition and processing data. They are not interested in cheese composition analysis at this time.

We had anticipated that environmental sampling and sanitation tracking would have been an important factor in cheese quality, and based on these initial visits that does not appear to be the case with these cheesemakers. We will revisit the sanitation issue in several months at our next on-site visit.

September 2015 – August 2016: Objective 3 ongoing.
Data collection from both cheesemakers is ongoing as planned. We are analyzing the cheese and data as it is sent to us.

We added a third cheesemaker from Hidden Hills Dairy to the project in December 2015. She has been working with Penn State to resolve some quality issues on a Gouda style cheese. Bringing her into the project seemed to be a good fit since we are not using as many analytical resources as we had anticipated with the other cheesemakers, and adding another cheese was not that much effort with regard to data collection templates and tracking spreadsheets. An on-site visit was made in mid-December to refine a sensory ballot and cheese processing and aging data collection sheets. She will begin sending cheese and data to us in January or February for evaluation and tracking. The initial visit showed there was some sanitation issues that may be an important influence on the cheese quality, and we will evaluating this during future on-site visits.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The impact of understanding the link between processing variation and quality parameters in cheese was clearly perceived by all 3 cheesemakers at our initial meetings. We asked a number of questions about their cheese characteristics and processes and while they acknowledged that this data was important, they were currently collecting this information on a regular basis. They were appreciative that we identified several key parameters for them to track and provided customized data collection sheets. They are already making changes to their cheesemaking routine to collect the necessary data that allows them to have a better understanding of the influences on cheese quality and helps with troubleshooting. This is a very successful first step in the improvement of the quality of their cheeses.


David Caputo

[email protected]
Caputo Brothers Creamery
6403 Pahagaco Road
Spring Grove, PA 17362
Office Phone: 7177391091
Susan Miller

[email protected]
Birchrun Hills Farm
2573 Horseshoe Trail
Chester Springs, PA 19425
Office Phone: 6108271603