Cheesy music: Swiss experiment with sound to make cheese tastier

November 3, 2018 by Eloi Rouyer
Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler lets the music play in his experiment for a tastier Emmental, one of the most famous cheeses in Switzerland

When searching a fromagerie for the perfect chunk of cheddar or parmesan, cheese aficionados have probably never grilled vendors over what kind of music was played to their cheeses.

To many, the question itself might sound crackers.

But a Swiss cheesemaker has embarked on an experiment to test the impact of music on Emmental, one of the most famous cheeses in Switzerland, even if it prompts pundits to write such grating remarks as: you gouda brie kidding!

Marching through his 19th century cellar in Burgdorf, a town also known as Berthoud, on the edge of the Emmental region in central Switzerland, Beat Wampfler shows off hundreds of perfectly formed circles of the holey classic maturing in neat rows.

A veterinarian by day but consumate apron-wearing enthusiast at night, Wampfler's love for Emmental has aged well over the years like the finest stock he cultivates.

In one corner of his impeccably clean cellar, nine open wooden crates sit with wheels of Emmental inside and small music speakers directly below.

Since September, the cheeses have each been blasted with sonic masterpieces from the likes of rock gods Led Zeppelin to hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest.

The project—"Sonic cheese: experience between sound and gastronomy"—hopes to show that the power of music can influence the development, characteristics and even flavour of the cheese.

University of the Arts students, placing a small music speaker below a wheel of Emmental, are helping with the experiment
Mozart or flamenco?

"Bacteria is responsible for the formation of the taste of cheese, with the enzymes that influence its maturity. I am convinced that humidity, temperature or nutrients are not the only things that influence taste," Wampfler told AFP.

"Sounds, ultrasounds or music can also have physical effects," he insisted.

The thought of playing rock 'n' roll music to influence the flavour of cheese may make some scientists cringe.

But parts of the scientific community have spent years analysing the effect of sound on plants, and some mums-to-be believe playing classical music to their unborn child makes them smarter.

Music can create feelings, reaching inside people and stirring their senses into a fondue of emotions, in ways that can make people smile, cry or jump in elation.

Is potentially testing whether Roquefort is a fan of hard rock or Queso a follower of flamenco really so completely far-fetched?

Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler (L) and director of the Music Department at University of the Arts in Bern, Michael Harenberg. who says he backed the experiment after learning about sonochemistry which looks at the effect of sound on solid bodies

The University of the Arts in Bern does not think so and is helping Wampfler conduct the experiment.

"At first we were sceptical," admitted Michael Harenberg, the university's music director. "Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies."

Hoping for hip-hop

Scientists have experimented with sonochemistry, in particular looking into how ultrasound can affect chemical reactions.

With Wampfler's refined cheeses, the pungent sounds played to them also include techno beats, ambient choirs and Mozart's classic Magic Flute.

"We are trying to... answer the question: in the end is there anything measurable? Or something that has an effect on the taste?" Harenberg said.

Students at the university are helping to conduct the project as part of a programme launched last year to bring communities in the region together—in this case agriculture and the arts.

Wampfler, personally, hopes in a taste test that the hip hop cheese is best
"At first we were a bit scared," laughed programme director Christian Pauli.

"We never thought we would find ourselves one day in a cellar in Burgdorf concerned about cheese."

For now, the Emmentals age alongside their respective music genres, maturing their potent flavours in potentially alternative sonic-induced ways, awaiting tasting in the new year.

"Will the cheese taste better? It's hard to say," Wampfler said.

Mulling over the different styles, he couldn't predict a winner but had a favourite: "I hope that the hip-hop cheese will be the best."

A jury of expert cheese tasters will assess whether there is a hole in this Swiss cheese experiment on March 14.

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10 comments

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Doug_Nightmare
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 03, 2018
Like cellphone radiation induced cancer, will HipHop cheese rot one's brain. I will not find out.
ddaye
3 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2018
Music is language-play among human beings, it can't have any comparable meanings to organisms as radically simple and different as bacteria and yeast. Vibrations could have some effects on growth in these mixtures though. Maybe test a variety of frequencies of tones.
pntaylor
5 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2018
Switzerland? I thought, for sure, this would be in California.
NoStrings
not rated yet Nov 04, 2018
It stands the reason, we need to eat more cheese, and anything that will make us eat more is such a boon to food industry.
Do your share, friends, buy expensive cheese, listen to the music and loosen your belts. Enjoy while you can, but don't expect to live longer or healthier.
TK422
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2018
Yet another candidate for next year's IgNobel prize...
Thorium Boy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2018
Play it some of the vapid, pop rubbish that adults listen to today, which was the domain of 13 year old girls a couple decades ago. The talentless blandness could sap the flavour from old cheddar.
pntaylor
not rated yet Nov 06, 2018
Well, Thorium, this is one thing I, certainly, have to agree with you on. But, I, also, have to remind you it was more than " a couple" decades ago.
We, both, date ourselves on this one. ;^)
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2018
There was an article posted to phys.org a few months ago about this subject.

That the actual reason for tasteless products such as American cheese & storebrand block cheese was a manufacturer's decision.

First of all, most Americans don't want any flavor from their food & drink except for salt &/or sugar.

As a steady diet of listeria, salmonella & ptomaine outbreaks has shown? Is that most Americans don't have the stomach for eating natural. They've become too delicate in their cocoon.

What the manufacturers of mass production of industrial cheese production discovered decades ago? That "natural", "native" micro-organisms do very poorly going through the machinery during mass production. Those bugs robust enough to survive the processing? Result in the bland, tasteless products most people expect & accept as the "flavor" of cheese.

Like everything else in life, there are trade-offs between what you claim you want & what you sullenly wind-up accepting.
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
not rated yet Nov 10, 2018
I must say that Beat Wampfler is a pretty smart cheesemaker. There had indeed already been quite a number of scientific experiments that show how plants and animals flourish or suffer because of noise or harmonic music in their environment. You can therefore be sure that the test will reveal that the microorganisms producing the cheese will deliver respective outcomes. However, Beat will also be up for a disappointment, his hip-hop cheese will be the worst of all.

Obviously, matters are even more important for direct impact on human health and development. Here something to read about that: https://au.figu.o...sic.html
pntaylor
not rated yet Nov 10, 2018
@ Student...: I agree with you on the hippity-hopped-up crap noise. However, he did make the right choice, in choosing analog LPs. Our world is analog, not digital. I could, very well, be wrong but I doubt digital would have the same effect.

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