3D printing is becoming fairly common today. You can be benevolently or malevolently inventive with it, depending on your predilections – from grenade launchers to human hearts, it’s all now perfectly printable.
A curious team of scientists from Ireland’s University College, Cork were clearly feeling a little hungry the day they set eyes on their own 3D printer because they – for some reason – decided to 3D print some cheese with it. Well, we say “cheese,” but they used American cheese as the printer’s “ink” and science has conclusively proven that this is more plastic than anything resembling cheese.
Publishing their unusual findings in the Journal of Food Engineering, they described how small structures – including somewhat sinister human-like bear figurines – could be quite easily 3D printed from a machine filled to the brim with American cheese.
They spent a decent amount of time evaluating the texture, strength, and “meltability” of various kinds of cheese, but it turns out that the processed gloop you find in gas station sandwiches is the best variety for making 3D objects. Mascarpone came close, though.
Take note, ladies, and gentlemen: Brie is for eating, not building things. And don’t even think about dabbling in a little Feta architecture.
Weirdly, the 3D printing changed the texture and physical properties of the American cheese. The final products were darker than they originally were, and regardless of the extrusion rate, the cheese stuff came out far runnier than it went it.
It seems the heat of the machinery was altering and fragmenting the proteins contained within the dairy product. Protein alteration of most foods results in at least a textural change – think boiling an egg, whose yolk goes from runny to solid if you keep it simmering for long enough.
“Melted and printed cheese samples were significantly (P < 0.05) less hard, by up to 49%, and both exhibited higher degrees of meltability, ranging from 14% to 21%, compared to untreated cheese samples,” the authors note in their rather unique piece of research.
By this point, you must be wondering what in Gouda’s name the point of all this was.
Well, the objective, by the authors’ own words, was “to understand the influence of the 3D printing process (i.e., melting, extrusion and solidification) on the textural, rheological and 82 microstructural properties of commercially available processed cheese.”
This objective has clearly been achieved, and a lesson has been learned – printers ruin the texture of an already horrendous cheese type.