Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My microbe, sweet microbe

Yeah, that is right my state, Wisconsin has an official microbe. It may not cause death, or zombies it does give us yummy yummy goodness


Lactococcus lactis

Yes this very microbe delivers to us the some of the yummiest foods in the world...

Specifically it aids in the production of Colby, Cheddar, cottage, cream, and blue cheese.

Lactococcus lactis is a microbe classified informally as a Lactic Acid Bacterium because it ferments milk sugar (lactose) to lactic acid. Lactococci are typically spherical or ovoid cells, about 1.2µm by 1.5µm, occurring in pairs and short chains. They are Gram-positive, non motile, and do not form spores. Lactococci are found associated with plant material, mainly grasses, from which they are easily inoculated into milk. Hence, they are found normally in milk and may be a natural cause of souring. Lactococcus lactis has two subspecies, lactis and cremoris, both of which are essential in manufacture of many varieties of cheese and other fermented milk products.

Lactococcus lactis is related to other lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus in our intestinal tract and Streptococcus salivarius in the mouth. However, Lactococcus does not normally colonize human tissues and differs from many other lactic acid bacteria in its pH, salt, and temperature tolerances for growth, which are important characteristics relevant to its use as a starter culture in the cheesemaking industry.

Lactococcus lactis is vital for manufacturing cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, cottage cheese, cream cheese, Camembert, Roquefort and Brie, as well as other dairy products like cultured butter, buttermilk, sour cream and kefir. It may also be used for vegetable fermentations such as cucumber pickles and sauerkraut. The bacterium can be used in single strain starter cultures, or in mixed strain cultures with other lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Streptococcus species.

When Lactococcus lactis is added to milk, the bacterium uses enzymes to produce energy molecules, called ATP, from lactose. The byproduct of ATP production is lactic acid. The lactic acid curdles the milk that then separates to form curds, which are used to produce cheese and whey. But curdling the milk is not the bacterium's only role in cheese production. The lactic acid produced by the bacterium lowers the pH of the product and preserves it from the growth by unwanted bacteria and molds while other metabolic products and enzymes produced by Lactococcus lactis contribute to the more subtle aromas and flavors that distinguish different cheeses.

And all that really means is I can have it on my nachos and on my crackers and in my world that is almost as sweet as opening a Baneslayer angel.

Godspeed little microbe!

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