From cow to cheese: genetic parameters of the flavour fingerprint of cheese investigated by direct-injection mass spectrometry (PTR-ToF-MS)

Genet Sel Evol. 2016 Nov 16;48(1):89. doi: 10.1186/s12711-016-0263-4.


Background: Volatile organic compounds determine important quality traits in cheese. The aim of this work was to infer genetic parameters of the profile of volatile compounds in cheese as revealed by direct-injection mass spectrometry of the headspace gas from model cheeses that were produced from milk samples from individual cows.

Methods: A total of 1075 model cheeses were produced using raw whole-milk samples that were collected from individual Brown Swiss cows. Single spectrometry peaks and a combination of these peaks obtained by principal component analysis (PCA) were analysed. Using a Bayesian approach, we estimated genetic parameters for 240 individual spectrometry peaks and for the first ten principal components (PC) extracted from them.

Results: Our results show that there is some genetic variability in the volatile compound fingerprint of these model cheeses. Most peaks were characterized by a substantial heritability and for about one quarter of the peaks, heritability (up to 21.6%) was higher than that of the best PC. Intra-herd heritability of the PC ranged from 3.6 to 10.2% and was similar to heritabilities estimated for milk fat, specific fatty acids, somatic cell count and some coagulation parameters in the same population. We also calculated phenotypic correlations between PC (around zero as expected), the corresponding genetic correlations (from -0.79 to 0.86) and correlations between herds and sampling-processing dates (from -0.88 to 0.66), which confirmed that there is a relationship between cheese flavour and the dairy system in which cows are reared.

Conclusions: This work reveals the existence of a link between the cow's genetic background and the profile of volatile compounds in cheese. Analysis of the relationships between the volatile organic compound (VOC) content and the sensory characteristics of cheese as perceived by the consumer, and of the genetic basis of these relationships could generate new knowledge that would open up the possibility of controlling and improving the sensory properties of cheese through genetic selection of cows. More detailed investigations are necessary to connect VOC with the sensory properties of cheese and gain a better understanding of the significance of these new phenotypes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cheese / analysis*
  • Inheritance Patterns / genetics
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Phenotype
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Protons*
  • Taste / genetics*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis


  • Protons
  • Volatile Organic Compounds