Brazilian Artisanal Coalho Cheese: Tradition, Science and Technology

Karina Maria Olbrich dos Santos[1] [2] Maria do Socorro Rocha Bastosb and Antonio Silvio do Egitoc

Abstract

The artisanal Coalho cheese is a traditional food product of the Brazilian Northeastern Region, whose simple mode of production on farms has been going through many generations, since its introduction in Brazil as a legacy of Portuguese colonization. Its name derived from the Portuguese word for rennet, and are related to the use of strips or extracts of the stomach of, mainly, young goats or calves for milk coagulation in the cheese-making process.

It is a popular cheese variety in the Brazilian Northeastern, widely accepted and consumed by the local population, but also around the country. In addition to its cultural relevance, the manufacture of artisanal Coalho cheese is an important source of income for many small family farmers.

Traditionally made from raw cow milk, Coalho cheese is a semi-hard cheese commonly market after a few days of ripening. It is usually described by its slightly acid and salty taste, resembling curd, and its rubbery texture, being able to be roasted without melting. Besides its main typical characteristics, and due to the wideness of its production area, there are notable differences among Coalho cheeses from different localities related to the local environmental factors and procedures addressed by the concept of terroir, which influence milk and cheese composition, and endogenous microbiota.

The diverse and rich microbiota of the artisanal Coalho cheese plays an important role in defining its typical features. Studies aiming to characterize its lactic acid bacteria population identified Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, and Streptococcus species. Among them, some Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus plantarum strains were distinguished as probiotic candidates, and some Enterococcus faecium showed to be bacteriocinogenic. Besides, proteomic studies evidenced Coalho cheeses content of bioactive peptides with properties related to health benefits for consumers.

This chapter presents an overview of the current knowledge about the history, technological process, and biochemical and microbiological characteristics of the Coalho cheese variety. A special focus is given to the artisanal Coalho cheese produced in the semi-arid region of Jaguaribe, Ceara State, where studies for a protective Geographical Indication are in progress.

Introduction

All over the world, traditional cheeses are produced with their unique organoleptic attributes related to historical, cultural and environmental aspects of the region of origin. The use of locally produced raw milk and specific cheese-making procedures confer to the cheeses a selected microbiota, mainly composed by lactic acid bacteria, responsible for the biochemical transformations that ultimately define the flavor and texture of each cheese variety.

In Brazil, cheese-making practices were introduced during the Portuguese colonization, becoming part of the cultural practices in some regions with the installation of cattle farms. A small number of Brazilian cheeses are recognized as traditional foods. Among them, the artisanal Coalho cheese is the most important traditional cheese of the northeastern Region of Brazil. Its simple method of production on farms has been passed down through generations, since the colonial period. It is a popular variety of cheese that is not only appreciated and consumed by the local population but also all around the country (Brazil). In addition to its cultural relevance, the production of artisanal Coalho cheese is an important source of income for many small family farms.

Traditionally made from raw cow milk, Coalho cheese is a semi-hard cheese, with a medium to high moisture content, and is commonly on the market after a few days of ripening. It is usually described by its slightly acidic and salty taste, and rubbery texture. It is also known for its ability to be fried until it becomes crusty on top without melting, a feature that is greatly appreciated by the consumers.

Even though the main characteristics of Coalho cheese are typical, some important variations arise due to the large span of its production area. These variations are related to the local environmental factors and procedures addressed by the concept of terroir, which influences milk and cheese composition and endogenous microbiota. Nowadays, Coalho cheese is produced on an artisanal as well as industrial scale. Some characteristics such as taste, texture and appearance differ between the processes.

Several studies has investigated the microbiological, biochemical, and organoleptic aspects of artisanal Coalho cheeses from different localities, unraveling the complexity of their microbiota and chemical composition. The cheeses produced in specific regions, such as the Jaguaribe valley in the state of Ceara, and the Agreste Pernambucano in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil are distinguished for its sensory attributes, and enjoy a solid reputation among consumers. On the other side, the occurrence of food-borne pathogens and other microbial contaminants in Coalho cheeses from several localities is also reported, indicating the need to improve the sanitary conditions of milk and cheese production.

Over the time, innovative versions of the Coalho cheese has been developed based on the incorporation of spices and aromatic oils, probiotic bacteria, or using milk from others species, such as goats and buffaloes.

The objective of this chapter is to present an overview of the current knowledge about the history, technological process, and biochemical and microbiological characteristics of the artisanal Coalho cheese variety. Additionally, a special focus is given to the Coalho cheese produced in the semi-arid region of Jaguaribe, in the state of Ceara, where studies for a protective Geographical Indication are in progress.

  • [1] a Embrapa Food Technology, Av. das Americas, n. 29.501, Guaratiba 23020-470, Rio de Janeiro -RJ, Brazil. b Embrapa Tropical Agroindustry, R. Dra. Sara Mesquita, n. 2270, Planalto Pici. 60511-110,Fortaleza - CE, Brazil. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it Embrapa Goats and Sheep, Estrada Sobral-Groairas km 4. 62010-970, Sobral - CE, Brazil. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
  • [2] Corresponding author: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
 
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