In an odd sort of Julia-Child-meets-Dr. Frankenstein mashup, scientists have created something magical: 3D-printed cheese.
Scientists from the University College Cork in Ireland have made cheese that's as gooey and melt-y as the yellow-orange processed slices that come sandwiched between plastic. In their study, published in the Journal of Food Engineering, the researchers set out to find whether cheese could feasibly be cranked out of a 3D printer, figuring that hey, it's just as likely to appear in kitchens of the future as the regular stuff.
Why cheese? Printing food involves squeezing semi-liquids through a nozzle, then shaping the goop into a solid form. And because blocks and slices of cheese are easily rendered from a solid to a velvety liquid, then back to a solid again, with relative ease, cheese makes a good candidate. (Also: Cheese—even processed cheese—is delicious.)
The scientists melted processed cheese slices at 167 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes. Then, the 3D printer nozzle pushed the lava-hot cheese, at two different speeds, into a cylinder to cool.
Next: The "taste" test. Scientists compared the 3D-printed cheese against the "traditional" processed stuff, analyzing its texture, resiliency, and "meltability." They found that the 3D-printed cheese was 45-49% softer than the untreated processed cheese, and slightly darker in color. When melted, the 3D slices were also springier to the touch and more fluid, even though they melted at the same temperature as untreated cheese, researchers say. (No word on how it tasted, though—the samples were too small for a thorough taste test, although the researchers don't expect it to taste any different from regular cheese.)
For their next trick, the researchers will test out other dairy products.
"We are using mixtures of milk proteins at present to build a product, perhaps a high-protein snack, from the basics up, and designing recipes which might work best for [a] 3D printer," lead study author Alan Kelly told Live Science. "We are pretty early on to generalize about different food systems, but that makes printing really exciting, as there is enormous potential to explore and innovate."