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

2016 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.

Then main focus for 2016 was to collect milk composition, cheese characteristic and environmental data through the course of a year to capture seasonal effects, and this data collection was completed. The data was analyzed to correlate manufacturing variables with cheese consistency and make recommendations to the cheesemakers on how to improve their processes. We did not receive the frequency of samples and completeness of data we expected, due to the realities of working with commercial artisanal processors with other demands on their time. We were able to find general trends in the data that allowed us to make recommendations to the cheesemakers on areas of improvement, but not related to seasonal effects.

We modified our extensive research tracking templates to simplified versions that can be used by all cheesemakers and have given these to two of the cheesemaker collaborators to pilot test. Despite not being able to make the specific recommendations on changing manufacturing processes as we originally intended, the trends we identified and the tools we developed were well-received by the collaborators and we were told these will extremely valuable to assisting cheesemakers improve their consistency.

The worksheets, spreadsheets, and instructions are currently being refined for dissemination in early 2017, as projected. There are 2 presentations of the research tools to cheesemaker audiences confirmed for 2017, the Cheese Maker’s Resource Conference in January and the American Cheese Society Annual Meeting in July.

Objectives/Performance Targets

In late 2015 we expanded the number of cheesemaker collaborators on the project from 2 to 3 to broaden the scope of the type of cheeses we are tracking. The tracking spreadsheet system we developed in Objective #2 (completed in 2015) was extensive so that we could capture as many variables as possible for research purposes.

Our expectations were to collect cheese make data, sensory evaluation, and cheese samples approximately twice monthly and visit the cheesemakers four times in the year to collect environmental data (Objective #3). This was not a practical schedule to keep because of the demands on the cheesemaker’s time and commercial commitments. One cheesemaker sent us cheese and data sporadically and we ended up with less than 15 instances of complete data. One cheesemaker sent us cheesemaking data every week, but not much of the sensory data, so we had limited endpoint data to compare with the cheesemaking variables. The third cheesemaker only made the cheese several times, but was able to send us a more complete set of data. Despite the lack of complete data we were able to identify trends for all cheesemakers and identify areas of inconsistency in their general process to help them, but not across seasonal variation.

We learned at the beginning of this data collection period that there were more issues with the cheesemakers tracking their process and collecting sufficient data than any impact of the environmental conditions. Therefore, we decided not to conduct the environmental analysis as we had planned.

After evaluating the data to correlate manufacturing variables with cheese consistency (Objective #4) we modified our research worksheets and spreadsheets to simplified versions that were more appropriate to the specific needs of the cheesemakers. We met with 2 of the 3 cheesemakers in Fall 2016 to review the data trends we observed, make recommendations, and to give them the spreadsheets and worksheets so they can begin to record the data for themselves.

We modified the cheese-specific worksheets and spreadsheets to create generic formats that can be used for any cheese (Objective #5). We gave these templates to the cheesemakers in the study so they can modify them for other cheeses that were not included in the study. These sheets and instructions are being pilot tested and refined.

We spent significantly more time in data analysis and modifying spreadsheets than expected, and much less on analytical supplies for cheese and environmental analysis. A budget modification was submitted in November 2016 to shift money from supplies to salary to cover actual expenses.


September 2015 – August 2016: Objective 3, data collection completed.

Data was collected from the cheesemakers on their make procedures, sensory evaluation and cheese composition. We did not collect as much data as we proposed because of the realities of working with commercial artisanal cheesemakers. We learned in the project that our initial goals involved an unreasonable amount of things to track for a cheesemaker on a daily basis. We contacted the cheesemakers in June to see if they could send us more complete data to help us with the analysis. We did receive a little more sensory analysis in the final 2 months of data collection, which gave us the endpoint data we needed for comparison. All data received was entered into the data tracking spreadsheets that were customized for each cheesemaker: milk tracking, cheese make data, post make day processing, cheese composition, sensory analysis, and cheese tracking summary.

July 2016 – September 2016: Objective 4, data analysis completed, communication to cheesemakers delayed.

We received a fair amount of data for the cheesemaking process, some for milk and cheese composition, but did not have much sensory data on the finished products. This was a problem because it was difficult to analyze the effect of manufacturing variables without a measurable endpoint for comparison. We did the best we could with the data that we had, and were still able to find trends and areas of improvement for the cheesemakers. Because of the lack of continuous data were not able to offer them very specific instructions to change their procedures, or suggestions based on seasonal changes in their milk supply.

The cheesemaker meetings were delayed from the July to September time frame until an October to January 2017 time frame due to scheduling issues. We also delayed the meetings so that we could work on the generic templates in Objective 5, and provide these to the cheesemakers at the data meetings. We met with two cheesemakers in 2016 to deliver the data, review the trends, make some minor suggestions and show them how to use the worksheets and spreadsheets.

September 2016 – March 2017: Objective 4, cheesemakers implement recommendations, completed.

Based on the data we received, we were not able to make very specific recommendations for changes to their manufacturing process that we could track for the next period. Many of the trends we identified were more general processing changes that can’t be quantified in a short period of time, so we ceased data collection. The cheesemakers appreciated the feedback and will be making small adjustments and paying more attention to collecting complete data so they can do their own tracking.

March 2017 – April 2017: Objective 5, started in October 2016, ongoing.

The developed the initial “generic” procedures and templates were developed. This allowed us to provide them to the cheesemaker collaborators and engage them in an informal pilot test of the tools and instructions. Currently 2 of the 3 cheesemakers are using the templates and we will gather their feedback in March 2017 to refine the templates before distributing them to the cheesemaking public.

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. When we presented the data analyses, the importance of collecting more complete data from the beginning of the process through to the sensory evaluation of the finished product in order to improve their cheese consistency became much more clear to the cheesemakers. The cheesemakers were very appreciative of the data trends we identified and the usefulness of the tracking tools we developed. They were glad to receive the generic template to begin to customize them to other cheeses.

The value of these tools is recognized by the cheese industry by accepting 2 proposals for presentations at 2017 cheese conferences. The sensory evaluation tools will be presented (30 min) at the Cheese Maker’s Resource Conference in January in New Holland, PA, to a regional audience of approximately 80 cheesemakers. The full tracking system will be presented with a demonstration (90 min) at the American Cheese Society Annual Meeting in Denver, CO, in July to a national audience of approximately 120 cheesemakers.


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