Non-stop loops of rock, hip-hop, classical, ambiental, and techno music were played to aging Emmental cheese wheels to see whether the sounds would affect the taste. Surprisingly, the music did appear to have an effect on the cheese, especially the hip-hop music: it made for a stronger and fruitier smell.

They look similar but taste slightly different. Image credits: Bern University / Beat Wampfler.

Cheese-making is big business. Most people love a healthy chunk of tasty cheese, but for some people, the old Cheddar, Camembert, or even Danish Blue just won’t cut it. As a result, there’s immense variability in the cheeses you can find on shelves, ranging from fruity cheeses to mold cheeses and even some cheeses made with worms.

But, regardless of what they contain or how extreme they are, all cheese-making involves a dance between milk and fermenting bacteria. Despite our thousands of years of making and eating cheese, we’re still only now learning some things about this process and the bacteria that drive it. To test a rather quirky theory, Swiss producer Beat Wampfler and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts played different types of music for 6 months to several aging Emmental wheels.

They split the wheels of cheese into several groups:

The researchers then subjected the cheeses to two types of tests: laboratory analysis (which have not been finished yet) and a taste test carried out by a star-studded line-up. Both results highlighted differences between the cheeses. The sample from the medium-frequency cheese exhibited the strongest taste, along with the control sample. The hip-hop cheese, however, was considered the tastiest.

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“The experiment was a success, and the results are amazing: the bio-acoustic impact of sound waves affects metabolic processes in cheese, to the point where a discernible difference in flavour becomes apparent – one which can even be visualised using food technology,” researchers write in a press release.

The tests were quite thorough. Core samples were taken from the cheese wheels for the sensory screening tests immediately before the evaluation, with each core sample being approximately 10 cm long and 1 cm in diameter.

Each tester received half a core sample, served to them on odorless and flavorless paper plates. It was a “blind” test, so they did not know which cheese they were tasting. The sensory screening of the cheese samples was carried out based on a consensus profile, the press release reads.

Image credits: University of Bern / Beat Wampfler

Hip-hop cheese appeared to be on top for most people, having a stronger and more fruity flavor, something regarded as favorable in the context. Of course, the taste test is subjective and not everyone agreed. The Mozart cheese, which had a milder taste, was preferred by some.

“My favorite cheese was that of Mozart, I like Mozart but it’s not necessarily what I listen to… maybe a sweet little classical music it does good to the cheese,” chef and jury member Benjamin Luzuy tells Agence-France Presse. Luzuy also told Reuters that “The differences were very clear, in term of texture, taste, the appearance, there was really something very different.”

While this is obviously a cool project with a creative approach, perhaps a healthy dose of skepticism is also required on top of that cheese. The lab results have not yet been concluded, and the study itself has not been peer-reviewed — there’s a certain advertising bonus associated to this whole thing, so it’s safe to say that it will still be a while before results are confirmed. For instance, the heat generated by the transducer playing the music might also influence how the cheeses aged.

The scientists themselves acknowledge the need for a stronger case for this type of study.

“In general, it can be confirmed that the discernible sensory differences detected during the screening process were minimal. The conclusion that these differences did indeed confirm the hypothesis, namely that they can clearly be traced back to the influence of music, is conceivable, but not compelling.”

“More extensive testing is required in order to determine whether there is a link between exposing cheese wheels to music as they mature and discernible sensory differences,” they conclude.

Still, it’s not completely implausible that the soundwaves (or some associated process) slightly affected the bacteria and caused changes in taste. It’s certainly a creative process which raises intriguing questions, and the results may end up appearing on our plates before they appear in a scientific journal. Luzuy concludes:

“For chefs like me, these results are fascinating. This opens up new avenues for us in terms of how we can work creatively with food in the future.”