Swiss Cheesemakers Fight Forgery with DNA Fingerprinting

Cheesemakers in Switzerland are protecting their multi-million dollar cheese industry with DNA fingerprinting

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

To protect against forgery, Swiss cheesemakers are using bacterial fingerprinting to preserve the authenticity of their wares.

Cheesemakers in Switzerland have turned to DNA fingerprinting to fight the counterfeiting of their carefully cultivated cheese, reports Bloomberg. The multi-million dollar industry (604 million Swiss francs, or $659 million USD in exports last year) is already struggling because of high production costs and the value of the Swiss franc, which makes Swiss-made cheese more expensive abroad.

Emmental, the country’s most widely exported Swiss cheese, began instituting its policy of fingerprinting in 2011 after fakes were found in Italy.

Producers at Emmental estimate that the “fingerprinting” system, which helps scientists keep watch over 10,000 strains of milk bacteria, has cost them 20 million francs (approximately $22 million USD).

According to Bloomberg, scientists worked for a decade to identify an appropriate bacteria that would not interfere with the taste, texture, or smell of Swiss cheese. Because additives are forbidden, synthetic identifiers cannot be used.

The bacteria are used as marker to identify cheese that has been authentically cultivated. “You take the cheese, extract the DNA, and check for the presence of your marker,” Deborah Rollier, a scientist working on the Swiss government’s institute for food science, told Bloomberg.

“Bacterial fingerprinting” is currently used by Emmental and Tête de Moine. Bacterial identifiers for Gruyère and Sbrinz are currently in development.

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy