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Ultrafiltration: an innovative process and a new cheese

INRA developed ultrafiltration to filter milk through a very fine membrane which partially removes small molecules. Cheeses made using this process contain soluble proteins and, with them, certain mineral salts which are usually eliminated from the whey when milk is curdled using rennet or a similar enzyme. Patented in 1969 after 14 years of research and fine tuning, the process is now widely used in the cheese industry to make Pavé d’Affinois and other cheeses such as Australian cheddar.

Cow's cheese
Updated on 04/12/2016
Published on 05/30/2006

Nutritional advantages and benefits for industrial cheesemaking

Ultrafiltration is a special industrial process in which milk is filtered through a sieve-like membrane to partially eliminate small molecules such as water, lactose and mineral salts. INRA developed the process and had it patented in 1969.
By retaining the milk’s soluble proteins, ultrafiltration increases the yield that can used for cheese by 16-22%. Eliminated when traditional techniques are used, mineral salts are also retained in ultrafiltration, making the Pavé d’Affinois two to four times richer in calcium than a Brie or Camembert cheese. The process yields a liquid pre-cheese and makes it possible to increase automation of production chains and produce identical cheeses of the same weight, an important factor for individually sold products. Eliminating the phase where milk is watery prior to clotting reduces the volumes handled during processing.

The partnership, the process and the product

Developing the process involved several steps, from inventing the technique to perfecting it. At the initial laboratory stage, it took several days of filtration to make a 3-cm wide cheese! The switch from frontal to tangential ultrafiltration multiplied membrane surfaces by 100, making the process faster. Equipment was modified several times to meet dairy industry hygiene standards and patents were successively extended.  The first industrial ultrafiltration prototypes were developed by INRA in partnership with Alfa-Laval and Electricité de France, the national electricity company.
A key encounter between INRA scientists (in particular Jean-Louis Maubois) and a cheese producer named Jean-Claude Guilloteau led to the development by the latter of his Pavé d’Affinois cheese right at INRA’s MILK platform, a dairy technology research unit in Rennes. He went on to create Guilloteau in 1983. The company now employs over 200 people and produces a line of cheeses made exclusively with the ultrafiltration process. Several other dairy companies, including Bongrain, now use this process to develop new types of cheeses.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Sylvie Lortal Joint Research Unit for the Science and Technology of Milk and Eggs
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering
Associated Centre(s):