Cheese Rheology

The word rheology in the most literal sense means the study of flow. At first sight it appears an unlikely pursuit to apply to the study of cheese. However, one may extend the concept of the flow of a material to include the idea of any change in its shape, under the action of an external agency, which is not instantaneous, and which is not entirely recoverable. These are characteristics of flow (1), and the application to cheese becomes immediately obvious. In fact, in the history of rheology applied to food materials, many of the pioneers found dairy products, and particularly cheese, very suitable materials for their experiments. This followed naturally from the fact that cheese-making was originally a craft industry. Long before rheology developed as a science, the skilled cheesemaker used various tactile tests to estimate the progress of the development of body in the curd and the firmness of the final cheese, using memory as a guide to the consistency of the results. The rheologist has, in more recent years, attempted to apply instrumental techniques and universally adopted physical units to these measurements.

At the same time as the science of rheology was developing, and often in parallel with it, the methods of testing using the human senses have been developed into a separate field of study now known as texture studies (2-4). It is necessary for the complete food rheologist to keep abreast of these developments since food is judged, in the final analysis, by its deformation in the mouth during mastication, a purely sensory judgment. Food scientists devote much effort to correlating the physical and sensory observations. It may well be that in endeavoring to seek parity between instrumental rheological measurements and properties judged subjectively one is asking the wrong question and a question to which there can be no final and complete answer. The real questions which can be asked are: What can instrumental measurements tell us about the properties and in particular the structure of the material on which those properties depend? How can this information be useful to the cheese-maker? How may the instrumental measurements be used as a guide to the consumer's assessment?

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