A recent experiment conducted by a Swiss cheesemaker has confirmed for me that cheese has no musical taste. At best, it has poor taste.
The experiment, on nine wheels of Emmental cheese, began in September 2018. The flavour of Emmental cheese is generally described as mild, slightly nutty, with a fruity taste. Beat Wampfler, veterinarian by day, cheesemaker by night, and the man who initiated the experiment, enlisted the aid of a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts.
The wheels of cheese, weighing 10 kilograms each, were placed in individual wooden crates in a cheese cellar. A mini-transducer, to direct sound waves directly into the cheese wheels, was connected to eight of the wheels. Then, for the next six to eight months (depending on which news article you read), eight cheese wheels were exposed to endless, 24-hour loops of sound. The ninth cheese wheel, the control cheese for the experiment, aged in silence.
Three wheels were exposed only to high, medium and low frequency tones. Five wheels got lucky. (Or not.) Each one was played the same song, every minute of every day during the maturation period. The song played was one of the following:
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin,
Monolith, from Yello,
UV by Vril,
and Jazz (We’ve Got) by A Tribe Called Quest.
Recently, a talk show host on a local radio station asked listeners which song they could listen to every day for the rest of their life. Not all day, but at least once every day. The responses were vast and various, but included Stairway to Heaven. Music guru Sean Brokensha chose Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom. But I don’t remember Yello or A Tribe Called Quest making it onto the list. My choice was Quadrophenia, by the Who (and here I go ignoring limitations and boundaries). Not one song, but a double album rock opera. After all, why limit yourself? But I digress.
Back at the big cheese experiment, the rounds sweated and groaned, or chilled in bliss, or rocked and rolled as only a round of cheese could. After six months of resting and maturing, or whatever it is that cheese does when subjected to unusual treatment, it was time to test the cheeses. Wampfler had assembled a group of food technologists from the Food Perception Research Group of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences for the scientific testing.
They concluded that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavour compared to the control cheese. Except for the hip-hop cheese, exposed to A Tribe Called Quest, which was the strongest in smell and taste, and topped them all in terms of fruitiness. (Hip-hop is fruity, and has a strong smell? Why am I not surprised?)
The cheeses were then sampled by a group that included culinary experts, who did two rounds of blind taste-testing. The cheese exposed to hip-hop had a unique taste profile, and was described as slightly sweet and fruity. The researchers were convinced the bio-acoustic impact of sound waves affected the metabolic process in cheese. In effect, they say the vibrations of the sound waves are the reason for the change in aroma and taste.
We know that various bacteria and enzymes are responsible for the formation of the taste of cheese, and influence its maturity. What the researchers still want to investigate is the exact connection between the sound waves and the maturation of cheese.
“The bacteria did a good job,” says Wampfler. But he also acknowledged a hope that the hip-hop cheese would come out fruiter, both in smell and taste. I drew my own conclusions. Namely, that cheese has no taste, musically speaking. Or, it has taste and aged/matured faster than usual to get away from being subjected to endless replays of Jazz (We Got). It’s enough to make any holey cheese holier.