Lactobacillus Helveticus – threatening artisanal firm cheeses?

Poor Lactobacillus Helveticus, what wrong has it done? Nothing really, it’s a lactic bacteria along many others. The thing is, as it often is in this world, too much of it turns out bad. Too little is not relevant in this connection. During cheese making of some cheese styles, like alpine for instance, moderate amounts of this lactic bacteria is included in the starter culture used for making this style of cheese. That’s how it is, that’s how it’s been. It is the Lactobacillus Helveticus that provide the sweet, nutty taste that alpine cheeses are so famous for, especially some of the Swiss ones. For other cheeses this lactic bacteria is not present at all or just plays a minor role. So why is the Lactobaillus helveticus a potential dager to small scale artisanal firm cheeses?

Lactobacillus Helveticus – a real pleaser

A major dose of this lactic acid bacteria creates a sweet, nutty, caramelised taste. Kind of toffee. Can anyone resist that? You have to admit you really enjoy a well matured alpine cheese from Switzerland or France, don’t you? If you seriously magnify that flavour, the cheese will taste like candy. That is the new American trick to please the market. The cheese turns irresistible for kids and adults alike. That again leads to increased volumes. If that is a ride leading to heaven, as many as possible will want to get on board.

As it is, Swiss cheese is not a huge market in the US. That’s Cheddar. So they’ve turned to Cheddar of course, introducing the Lactobacillus Helveticus to Cheddar and here we go!
How’s that? I have never tasted it, I must admit. But in a way I can image a sweet, nutty Cheddar. Or can I really? It is so far from the original Cheddar you can get. But this flavour is appealing for many, and of course in the US Cheddar is a much more familiar cheese than any Swiss. Made any decision making quite easy, really. A Cheddar bastard in other words, but very palate pleasing for most. Which of course may destroy the the market for traditional cheeses. This “innovation” has nothing to do with tradition. Cheddar is supposed to be crumbly, towards the sharp with grass tones. These sweet cheeses has nothing of this.
So what about Europe? Have not tasted any of the American varieties, but I tasted a Beemster, Dutch cheese that is, and it had this sweet, nutty, caramel and also buttery taste. I do not like it. I think it is one dimensional, but that is my taste. This is not how I expect cheese to taste. By all means, sweet, nuts, butter are all flavours you may expect to find in various cheeses, especially firm ones. But it’s the overload. It’s so obvious this is sort of artificial.

ALSO READ: Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar

Reinventing the Wheel

It was while reading Reinventing the Wheel I was first introduced to this new phenomenon. The authors had come across this style of cheese while in the US. Three to four different cheeses, tasted all the same. So called Cheddar. Since then articles about the trend has appeared. Janet Fletcher wrote about it about a year ago, and the latest article I came across addressing the issue is the American Cheese Connoisseur. If the latter’s hypothesis is correct it does not look promising. Could we hope for some opposing forces, or at least that European cheese makers will resist the temptation? History shows that quite a few American trends reach our shores as well. I don’t mind neither Halloween nor Black Friday, but this one I think we can well do without. That said, seems actually like it all started in the Netherlands.

Try Norwegian brown cheese instead

Not OSTEPERLER’S cup of tea, but if you really are in need for something caramelised , try Norwegian brown cheese, branded Ski Queen, at least in some markets. Much better, and the flavour is authentic, without any Lactobacillus Helveticus added.

One of the heroes

All this said, Lactobacillus Helveticus is a hero. Like lactic acid bacteria in general they are very digestion friendly. I don’t believe such honorable intentions were part of the agenda though, when this idea first popped up. Well, could be there was a: by the way – digestion friendly as well, on the last page. Flavour is a better sales argument than digestion

Why threatening?

It’s obvious, people in general crave for anything sweet. That’s how we are programmed. All colostrum is sweet and that sets the standard. We are wired to enjoy anything sweet. Cheese no exception. So if kids have this cheese with this sweet flavour, they will stay loyal for the rest of their lives. Most of them anyway. That’s the market they are looking for. Not people like me searching for layer upon layer of flavours, that really want to put some effort into tasting, seeking for the not so obvious. No, these cheeses provide instant gratification and the main stream market cheers that. This could be a possible danger for artisanal firm cheeses. Don’t we see it already, the multinationals taking over the scene, having things their industrial way? If bulldozing traditions and rules does not work, they have money and lobbyists. Only takes a bit more time to jiggle it all in place. For this style of cheese there is, however, no need for changing any rules. Just make a generic firm cheese, make it sweet and nutty enough, call it whatever you like, it sells like hell. And in the US you might of course call it Cheddar, as they already do.


Is there hope? Look at the development of Californian wine style; from the big fruity, opulent wines, to vintners looking for cooler plots of land to plant the vines, and make slimmer, more elegant wines. European style that is. So could this be just a temporary phenomenon? Let’s hope so.

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