Developing a taste for cheese is easy. Understanding cheese science? Not so much. The chemistry behind cheese is complex and still holds many mysteries for dairy scientists. Recently, I stumbled on a new blog, Cheese Science Toolkit, aimed expressly at people like me—cheese lovers disinclined to wade through technical journals but hungry for more detail than the popular press gives.
Before I spoke to the blog’s creator, Pat Polowsky, I envisioned him as maybe a retired science teacher or a grizzled academic. In fact, Polowsky is just starting his career and didn’t want me to reveal his age. Let me just say that he’s young, which makes his contribution all the more impressive.
What sparked your interest in cheese?
I went to school for food science but my studies weren’t cheese specific. Cheese is one of my favorite foods, and I’ve been making it for the last couple of years. I moved to Madison for a job that I didn’t like, so it was serendipitous that the Center for Dairy Research had an opening. I’m a coordinator with the sensory group. We do taste panels and help industry regarding flavors and textures. I really like sensory because it’s heavily human. Humans are your instruments.
Tell me about the origins of Cheese Science Toolkit.
It’s a personal project that I do in my free time, but I wouldn’t be in a position to know this stuff if I didn’t work here. It stems from conversations I’ve had with people taking courses here. I also work at a cheese shop (Fromagination) on weekends, and I keep a running list of questions we get asked or that we ask each other a lot.
I wanted to provide answers that were better than Wikipedia’s but that you didn’t have to read a journal article or textbook to get. I want to be a science teacher one day so this is practice.
I love your blog’s animation and visuals. I never really understood coagulation until I saw your infographic about it. How can computer graphics assist us in understanding cheese science?
I’m a big proponent of visual learning, especially when it comes to science. I struggle without a picture, so it’s partly self-interest. No doubt reading helps you comprehend eventually, but you’ll remember something you see over something you read.
What are you favorite infographics on Cheese Science Toolkit?
My job revolves around flavor so I like the Flavor Wheel. And the post called Sharp. I have a goal to remove that word from everyone’s cheese vocabulary. The animation on the Coagulation post took me probably a three-day weekend to make happen. On Melt and Stretch, there are some graphs showing how moisture, fat, pH and acidity affect how a cheese will melt.
Are there some aspects of cheese science that you have struggled to convey with computer graphics?
I’m currently working on affinage. It’s a monster topic. I’m struggling with how to write a nice concise post in a visual style.
Do your colleagues at the Center for Dairy Research preview your posts?
No, but I do run things by friends who will say either, “Pat, I can’t understand what you’re saying,” or “Pat, you’re talking down to us.”
So, I’m peeking in your fridge. What cheeses will I find right now?
Dunbarton Blue, Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar, Triple Play from Hook’s. It’s like a cross between a Cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano. I always have some Cambozola. And I have one of the last pieces I could find of Roth Grand Cru Surchoix. If I ever have some important people over, I can break that one out.
For Planet Cheese readers, Polowsky has created a custom infographic on blue cheese. Bet you’ll learn something.