World / Offbeat

Can music make cheese tastier? Swiss Emmental maker experiments


When searching the perfect chunk of cheddar or Parmesan, cheese aficionados have probably never grilled vendors over what kind of music was played to their cheeses.

But a Swiss cheese-maker has embarked on an experiment to test the impact of music on Emmental, one of the most famous cheeses in Switzerland.

Marching through his 19th-century cellar in Burgdorf, a town also known as Berthoud, on the edge of the Emmental region in central Switzerland, Beat Wampfler shows off hundreds of perfectly formed circles of the holey classic maturing in neat rows.

A veterinarian by day but consummate apron-wearing cheese enthusiast at night, Wampfler’s love for Emmental has aged well over the years.

In one corner of his impeccably clean cellar, nine open wooden crates sit with wheels of Emmental inside, and small music speakers directly below.

Since September, the cheeses have been blasted with sonic masterpieces from the likes of rock gods Led Zeppelin to hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest.

The project hopes to show that the power of music can influence the development, characteristics and even flavor of the cheese.

“Bacteria is responsible for the formation of the taste of cheese, with the enzymes that influence its maturity. I am convinced that humidity, temperature or nutrients are not the only things that influence taste,” Wampfler said. “Sounds, ultrasounds or music can also have physical effects.”

Parts of the scientific community have spent years analyzing the effect of sound on plants, and some moms-to-be believe playing classical music to their unborn child makes it smarter.

Is testing whether hard rock stimulates Roquefort or Queso is a follower of flamenco really so far-fetched? The University of the Arts in Bern does not think so, and is helping Wampfler conduct the experiment.

“At first we were skeptical,” admitted Michael Harenberg, the university’s music director. “Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies.”

Scientists have experimented with sonochemistry, in particular looking into how ultrasound can affect chemical reactions.

With Wampfler’s cheeses, the sounds played to them also include techno beats, ambient choirs and Mozart’s “Magic Flute.”

“We are trying to … answer the question: In the end, is there anything measurable? Or something that has an effect on the taste?” Harenberg said.

Students at the university are helping to conduct the project as part of a program launched last year to bring communities in the region together — in this case agriculture and the arts.

“At first we were a bit scared,” laughed program director Christian Pauli. “We never thought we would find ourselves one day in a cellar in Burgdorf concerned about cheese.”

For now, the Emmentals age bathed in their respective genres, maturing their flavors in potentially alternative sonic-induced ways, awaiting tasting in the new year.

“Will the cheese taste better? It’s hard to say,” Wampfler said. Mulling over the different music styles, he couldn’t predict a winner but had a favorite: “I hope that the hip-hop cheese will be the best.”

A jury of expert cheese tasters will assess whether there is a hole in this Swiss cheese experiment on March 14.