Development of cultured sustainable vegan cheese : a project report presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Master of Food Technology at Massey University. EMBARGOED until 29th March 2025.

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The demand for vegan cheese is increasing and the majority of plant-based cheese produced from cashew nuts. Cashew nut cultivation caused intense deforestation and is responsible for several environmental impacts due to the use of fertilizers and pesticides on farms. Literature review was done to gain a better understanding of the definition of premium cheese products and the consumers, consumer expectations, fermentation and cheese making processes, and potential ingredients for the product. The development of cultured vegan cheese products with sustainable main ingredients was carried out in a series of experiments. Substrates 1, 2, 3¹ and milk were cultured with culture A². The pH reduction was recorded over 24 hours to monitor the lactic acid production of the culture. The moisture content, water activity, and pH of the cheeses were measured and compared with the commercial brie product and the literature. Pathogen tests of the cheeses were carried out to ensure that they were microbiologically safe for human consumption. Lastly, preliminary sensory and shelf-life evaluations of the cheeses were conducted. Culture A showed a slower rate of acidification compared to the commonly used starter culture, lactococcus lactis subs. lactis. supported by the literature this was potentially due to the low concentration of culture A used, the low availability of essential sugars in plant-based media, and the use of subspecies which is more suitable for starter cultures application. Substrates 2 and 3 cheeses passed microbiological regulatory requirements. Pasteurised milk cheese with added vegetable rennet had an E. coli count of more than 2400 MPN/g. This reflected that culture A did not ferment pasteurised milk with added vegetable rennet. It was unsafe to consume due to the high initial pH of the milk curd at 6.13 and it was discarded. Substrate 1 cheese was discarded as well due to dark green mould formation. The panellists preferred substrate 2 cheese over substrate 3 cheese. Substrate 2 cheese had a better score in appearance, flavour, and texture. Further research is needed to achieve a satisfactory vegan cheese product as the flavour and texture of substrate 2 cheese require improvements. It is also recommended that an investigation into a strain of Culture A with a suitable pH reduction profile should be conducted.
Embargoed until 29th March 2025