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Sensory for Quality Assurance

Sensory analysis is a key component of any well-rounded quality assurance program. Most companies don’t have the luxury of hiring and maintaining a standing panel of trained tasters. Instead, the more common method is to have staff participate in quality control sensory panels in addition to their normal work activities.

The most straightforward way to introduce sensory quality control to new employees is to show differences between a “gold standard” product and a defective product, and measure an overall difference. Beyond that, quantifying specific product attributes is often very useful as well.

This method can yield good results when set up correctly. A few key factors to keep in mind are outlines below.

Guidelines for Quality Control Sensory Panels
  1. Establish a “gold standard” product
  2. Define a list of key attributes for gold standard product
  3. Define a list of possible defects
  4. Determine acceptable ranges for each attribute/defect
  5. Train staff to recognize acceptable range for each attribute
  6. Train staff to recognize defects
  7. Use at least 5-8 staff members for each evaluation session
  8. Ensure sensory panel is in agreement
  9. Use a standardized ballot for each product
  10. Track results of products and panel performance

Cheese Flavor and Texture Training

Often the first step in cheese sensory training is becoming familiar with the basic flavors and textures that can be found in cheese. It is important to have both a clear definition of what each flavor/texture means, as well as be able to identify them in cheese. The easiest way to accomplish this is to taste cheeses that have a particular flavor in high amounts. Sometimes this isn’t possible, especially for some hard-to-find flavor defects. The same can be said for the different types of textures that can be found in cheese.

Below are some of the most common flavor and texture descriptors for cheese. Each term has a definition and “example cheese”. These cheeses usually have that flavor/texture in high amounts, therefore making it easier to learn each term. Cheeses vary, of course, but this should give you a good starting point. Our Cheese Grading Short Course covers these in much more detail.

SaltBasic taste sensation elicited by saltMizithra or Pecorino Romano
No SaltLacking in saltPaneer
SourAroma associated with citric, acetic acidsFresh goat cheese
AcidBasic taste sensation elicited by acidsQuark or Cream cheese
BitterBasic taste sensation elicited by bitter compoundsAged Cheddar
CookedAromas and flavors associated with heated milk. Includes sulfurous, sweet and browned notes.Mascarpone
MilkyAromatics and flavor commonly associated with milk or fresh cream.Whole Milk Ricotta
ButteryAromatics commonly associated with natural, fresh butterJuustoleipa heated up
GrassyAromatics associated with grassIrish grass-fed cheddar
FruityAromatics associated with different fruitsParmigiano Reggiano
NuttyNut-like aromatic associated with different nutsEmmentaler (imported)
MushroomAroma associated with raw mushrooms, damp hummusBrie (stabilized)
SulfurAromatics associated with sulfurous compoundsVermont Sharp Cheddar
SheepyAroma and flavors associated with sheepManchego
GoatyAromatics associated with C6-C10 fatty acidsFresh chevre
Barny/CowyAroma associated with barns and barn animals, indicative of animal sweat and wasteBlue cheese (Tilston Point)
MustyAromatics associated with closed air spacesCave-aged cheddar
Butyric/RancidAroma and flavors associated with butyric acid, cheesy, baby-breath/vomitSharp Provolone
SoapyAromatics associated with long chain fatty acids, saponificationRomano (domestic, cow's milk)
AmmoniatedAroma associated with ammoniaOverripe Camembert
Ketone/MedicinalAroma associated with blue-veined cheesesDanish Blue or Roquefort
ShortBreaks easily, easily fractured when manipulatedAged Cheddar
LongFlexible, does not break easily when manipulatedString cheese
WeakSoft, easily deformedOverripe Muenster
PastySticky, adheres to hands/mouthOld Queso Fresco
CrumblyBreaks into large piecesYoung Quesco Fresco
CurdyBreaks into curd particlesYoung Colby
MealyBreaks into cornmeal-size piecesJuustoleipa
GrainyBreaks into sand-sized piecesParmigiano Reggiano
ChalkyLeaves a dry chalk-like residue in mouthGoat milk Feta

Flavor Wheel

A flavor wheel is a tool to organize attributes in a visually appealing way. The wheel can serve as a thought-starter when trying to characterize.

Credit: Cheese Science Toolkit

For more information, please contact the Sensory Coordinator Brandon Prochaska.