The yield, flavor, and texture of ripened cheese result from numerous interrelated microbiological, biochemical, and physical reactions that take place during ripening. The aims of the present study were to propose a 2-compartment first-order kinetic model of cheese weight loss over the ripening period; to test the variation in new informative phenotypes describing this process; and to assess the effects on these traits of dairy farming system, individual farms within dairy system, animal factors, and milk composition. A total of 1,211 model cheeses were produced in the laboratory using individual 1.5-L milk samples from Brown Swiss cows reared on 83 farms located in Trento Province. During ripening (60 d; temperature 15°C, relative humidity 85%), the weight of all model cheeses was measured, and cheese yield (cheese weight/processed milk weight, %CY) was calculated at 7 intervals from cheese-making (0, 1, 7, 14, 28, 42, and 60 d). Using these measures, a 2-compartment first-order kinetic model (3-parameter equation) was developed for modeling %CY during the ripening period, as follows:%CYt=%CYf+(%CYi-%CYf)×e-kjavax.xml.bind.JAXBElement@2fa65af8×t, where %CYt is the %CY at ripening time t; %CYi and %CYf are the modeled %CY traits at time 0 d (%CYi = initial %CY) and at the end of a ripening period sufficient to reach a constant wheel weight (%CYf = final %CY after 60 d ripening in the case of small model cheeses); kCY is the instant rate constant for cheese weight loss (%/d). Cheese weight and protein and fat losses were calculated as the % difference between the model cheeses at 0 and after 60 d of ripening. The variation in cheese pH was calculated as the % difference between pH at 0 and after 60 d. Dairy system, individual herd within dairy system, and the cow's parity and lactation stage (tested with a linear mixed model) strongly affected almost all the traits collected during model cheese ripening. Milk fat, protein, lactose, pH, and somatic cell score also greatly affected almost all the traits, although kCY was affected only by milk protein. After including milk composition in the linear mixed model, the importance of all the herd and animal sources of variation was greatly reduced for all traits. The proposed model and novel traits could be tested, first, with the aim of establishing new monitoring procedures enabling the dairy industry to improve milk quality-based payment systems at the herd level and, second, with a view to exploring possible genetic improvements to dairy cow populations.
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