Using enzymes to eat up costs
Biotechnology has provided the basis for innovation within the cheese manufacturing industry for a number of decades. The commercial drivers for innovation in ripening technology have changed significantly over recent years, and although the obvious and long-standing cost-cutting motive still exists, more complex drivers are now at work, and Australian cheese companies have been working with food scientists to combine the science of cheese production with their business objectives, enabling them to improve their products, diversify into other products and tailor new and existing products to customers’ individual needs.
One of the most important changes to influence the development of cheese technology was the cheese manufacturing industry changing its attitude to customers from “you will buy what we want to produce” to “we will produce what you want to buy”. This change was brought about by the buying power of supermarket retail chains, forcing manufacturers to cut costs, improve consistency, and make cheese with distinguishing characteristics to underpin “own-branding” with brand loyalty to well-defined characteristics. Controlled and accelerated cheese ripening was clearly needed.
At the other end of the consumer spectrum, in the “gourmet” sector, an increasing proportion of cheese was being made with pasteurized milk in response to fears about pathogenic bacteria in raw milk multiplying in cheese. This posed a particular problem for makers of high-value distinctive cheeses, and with the increasing use of sanitised environments which eliminated natural microbiological variability, meant that the cheese industry had a dilemma: whether to make cheese boring but safe, or exciting but potentially hazardous. With emerging cheese ripening culture biotechnology, it is now possible to make exciting safe cheese, giving consumers the pleasure of eating cheeses with all the diverse flavours and textures conferred by complex microflora, using research-based knowledge and techniques to select and remove the pathogenic and toxigenic microorganisms from the ripening microorganisms.
The changes described above have enabled dairy processors to maintain a very modest growth in the volume of cheese produced in Australia over the past 6 years. 1 During this time a number of large scale dairy processors have implemented anaerobic digestion (AD) systems as a means of treating the waste water from the manufacturing phase. The AD system produces biogas which can be used to generate on site power and steam, reducing utility costs, greenhouse gas emissions and also decreasing their waste disposal costs – an important factor in industries with low margins.
On a wider scale, the production of biogas from AD or waste to energy systems, can play a significant role in the world renewable energy supply. The application of biotechnology, and specifically the addition of enzymes to the AD process greatly improves the amount of biogas which can be generated. In the same way that enzymes have revolutionized the cheese manufacturing industry, enzyme technology can be used to improve biogas production by breaking down complex substrates into smaller molecules which are more suitable for organisms producing biogas, turning insoluble molecules and fibres into soluble elements, and supplementing enzymes already present in the fermenter. All of these processes lead to substantially faster, increased biogas productivity and significant cost savings.2