Wisconsin researcher makes a better cheddar — Associated Press — Published March 12, 2003 — MADISON, Wis. — A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor says he's found a way to take the bitterness out of cheddar — a discovery that could save cheesemakers some serious bread. Food science professor Jim Steele said an enzyme reduces the bitter taste that afflicts low-grade cheddar cheese. "It has the potential to give consistency to the quality of cheese that we produce, and save us a whole lot of money,'' said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. Cheesemakers start by mixing a medley of bacteria called a starter culture with warm milk. They sometimes add a second batch of bacteria, called an adjunct culture. To make cheddar, they mix in an organism called Lactobacillus helveticus, which smooths out the cheese's taste and reduces bitterness. Steele and his team have worked to identify what in the organism produces this desirable effect. They hoped they could then find a way to produce the effect in the starter culture, which would drop the cost and improve the cheese. The researchers sequenced the 2,400 genes in Lactobacillus in 2001, and Steele's team identified the desired gene within six months. Cheesemakers can now add that gene to starter cultures. Paul McShane, sales manager for the small Brookfield cheese company Roth Kase, thinks Steele's enzyme would take the mystique out of cheese production. "Cheesemaking is an art, and you lose something — a quality — when you try to take shortcuts,'' he said. But Bill Schlinsog, chief judge at this week's 2003 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Milwaukee, hailed the discovery as a weapon against bitter cheese. "It's undesirable,'' he said. "And if it can be avoided, then that's great.''