Thursday, 6 January 2011

Digesting cheese from the inside out

A selection of cheeses for lunch today, including Quenby Hall Stilton, Y Fenni (with mustard seeds) and a smoked Oakwood, all pulled from the fridge at breakfast time.

Harold McGee called cheese-making one of mankind’s greatest achievements. In his book McGee on Food and Cooking he explains how in a fridge the protein network of a cheese becomes unnaturally stiff. This leads to a more rubbery texture and the trapped of aroma molecules (a major component of taste). Giving cheese plenty of time to warm to room temperature improves the texture, and enables the smell and flavour of a cheese to develop fully.
Cheese comes in a dizzying range of varieties. Today, let’s contemplate Swiss alpine cheeses, which are warmed together with wine or kirsch to make fondue. The alcoholic additions help the cheese to stay liquid by preventing the cross-linking of molecules in the cheese.
I mention fondue, because it is the first food to be filmed being digested, from the inside, using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery). A recent story in New Scientist by Olivier Dessibourg featured a video (see below) made by a team headed by Mark Fox at the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland.
Volunteers ate cheese fondue washed down with different beverages such as black tea and red wine. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that alcohol slowed the digestion of cheese in the stomach, contrary to what is often believed. In the video, a ball of cheese in the stomach is coated by a layer of alcohol, kirsch in this instance.

They must be a healthy lot in Switzerland, because they use their MRI scanners to look at a range of physiological processes in healthy people. The Zurich team's most famous video is of a couple inside an MRI having sex. It shows for the first time what sex looks like from the inside out.

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