Does Swiss cheese come from Swiss cows? How about blue cheese? Professor of animal science at McGills Macdonald campus K.F. Ng-Kwai-Hang has the answer to these questions. He has spent the last 25 years studying the genetics of cows and how this affects quality and type of cheese.
"There are more than 100 different breeds of cows. However, the best milk producers are Holsteins," says Ng-Kwai-Hang. "Within a specific breed, the milk these cows produce is not the same - it differs in its fat, protein and lactose (a type of sugar found only in milk) content. Consequently, the cheese made from this milk will also differ in its composition and the taste will be affected. Basically, cheddar cheese can be made from all milk, but the taste and quality will be different from breed to breed and also within a breed. "By looking at the genetic profile of cows, we are able to predict which one will produce the best cheese."
Ng has identified the role of specific milk protein genes that affect cheese yield, composition and quality. He and his research team have found that small changes or mutations in the DNA of certain genes lead to changes in the protein which results in dramatic changes in the cheese. Their findings show that a mutation in the particular protein, the kappa-casein, is associated with a higher yield of cheese and one which is better quality.
Christine Zeindler | EurekAlert!
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