From Pasture to Cheese: Effect of Farm Practices on Raw Milk and Cheese Microbial Communities

Project Overview

ONE21-390
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,880.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Rhode Island
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Marta Gomez-Chiarri
University of Rhode Island

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine, goats
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, preventive practices
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Vermont has a well-deserved reputation for innovation in sustainable agriculture, illustrated by an award-winning artisanal cheese industry.  Much of the unique value of artisanal cheese is provided by the complex microbial communities present in raw milk, and how the processes of cheese mongering shape these microbial ecosystems.  The goal of this partnership is to improve protocols ensuring the safety, consistency, and organoleptic properties of artisanal cheese produced by The Cellars at Jasper Hill (Vermont). In particular, this project seeks to evaluate the impact of farm feeding practices (hay versus pasture) on the bacterial communities in raw milk, and how these different communities may affect artisanal cheese quality.  Bacterial communities in raw milk and cheese from animals fed either hay or pasture will be determined using culture-dependent and -independent methods.  Bacterial community diversity and composition will be related to safety and quality profiles in cheese.  Outreach objectives include training of personnel at the microbiology laboratory at Jasper Hill on methods used in rapid bacterial diagnosis, outreach on project results to farms supplying milk to The Cellars, and development of internship opportunities for students in regional Sustainable Agriculture programs.  The desired long-term outcome for the partner farm is to gain the ability to pool raw milk from various producers allowing the creation of pasture-based artisanal cheeses at The Cellars.  This would result in the transition of more dairy operations to pasture-based production, thus increasing the number of approved raw milk suppliers for artisanal cheese production in Vermont. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this partnership project is to improve protocols ensuring the safety, consistency, and organoleptic properties of artisanal cheese produced by The Cellars at Jasper Hill. This project seeks to:

    1. Evaluate the impact of feeding practices (hay versus pasture) on microbial communities in raw milk and cheese, as determined by a combination of culture-independent and -dependent methods.
    2. Apply this information to investigate the potential relationship between microbial community composition and the safety and organoleptic properties of artisanal cheese.
    3. Foster knowledge exchange between partners, including: a) Advice on novel diagnostic methods for pathogens associated with raw milk; b) Training of personnel at the Jasper Hill microbiology laboratory on methods used in rapid bacterial diagnosis through quantitative polymerase chain reaction; c) Outreach to farms supplying raw milk to Jasper Hill; d) Internship opportunities and course development (Food Microbiology) for students in Sustainable Agriculture programs at the University of Rhode Island; e) Initial development of a comparative model (seafood – cheese) for the study of complex microbial communities in food.

    The information developed in this research will aid Jasper Hill to develop a process for approving milk suppliers into their expanding artisanal cheese program.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.