Wladimir Bulgar / Getty Images

They used 3D printers to make the stuff.

May 18, 2017

If we had a choice, sure, we'd rather have specialty, artisan cheese delivered straight from France. But while we're waiting on that to show up, there's alway 3D printed cheese.

Sounds crazy at first, right? But when you think about it, cheese is probably the least surprising candidate for 3D printing. It can melt, and then harden right back up...just like the hot plastic we've often seen travel through these machines. 

In a recent study conducted by scientists at the University College, Cork in Ireland, the futuristic cheese was put to the test. Researchers were curious to find out whether the 3D printing process would have an impact on the texture of melted-down, processed cheese. They began by creating the cheese using the printer, and then comparing it to its original form. 

“To the authors’ knowledge, no studies have focused upon the impact of additive manufacturing methodologies on the structural properties of dairy products,” the scientists explained in the study, which was published in the Journal of Food Engineering.

Study co-author Alan Kelly, who works as a professor in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork in Ireland, told Live Science that he had a feeling cheese would be the easiest food to test with a 3D printer. "It was a very speculative question which made me very curious. We actually started by trying lots of cheese types, but found processed cheese to work best."

Here's how the experiment went down: First, the scientists melted the processed cheese at 167 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes. After that, it was melted enough for them to pass it through their 3D printer. At this point, they tried pushing the cheese through the printer at both a fast and a slow rate in an effort to see whether the speed had any impact on the final product's ability to re-compose itself. Finally, they examined the printed results in relation to processed cheese in two states: one sample that had been melted and cooled on its own sans printer, and one sample of the initial, unchanged processed cheese.

In relation to the untouched cheese, the 3D cheese was 45 percent to 49 percent softer, slightly darker in color, and a little more fluid when melted. So, you could say the whole thing was a relative success...if a bit gooier than anticipated.

But processed cheese, of course, is only the beginning.

"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. 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," Kelly said.

All that matters, of course, is that what comes out of the printer is the same old stuff we know and love. And as far as that goes, we're in the clear.

As Kelly noted, "We don't expect any changes in taste."