Cougar Gold Cheese - Gastro Obscura

Meats & Animal Products

Cougar Gold Cheese

This canned cheddar is made using a secret 70-year-old bacteria culture.

Cougar Gold, a cheese created by the Washington State University Creamery, might be most famous because it comes in a can. But what truly makes this piquant cheddar special is a 70-year-old culture of bacteria.

We owe Cougar Gold’s existence to a professor’s ingenuity in the 1940s. With the looming prospect of another World War, the U.S. government sought better ways to preserve the cheese it sent to troops overseas. While the typical process of dipping rounds into wax effectively sealing the cheese, the wax’s delicate structure made it prone to cracking, causing unwanted spoilage. So, with support from the government and the American Can Company, WSU (then Washington State College) dairy husbandry professor N.S. Golding and his team started work on cheese in a can.

But there was one problem. As a living food, cheese is home to good bacteria that transform lactose into lactic acid and release carbon dioxide. And, unlike wax, tin cans are a non-porous substance, meaning that cheese aged in a tin container tends to distend or even explode the cans. To resolve this issue, Golding and his team invented a special bacteria culture, which, when added to the cheese, reduced the amount of carbon dioxide released and enabled it to be safely stored in a can without the possibility of exploding. This “adjunct culture” not only resolved the major cheese-in-a-can conundrum, but was a breakthrough in cheesemaking. According to Culture, a magazine devoted to cheese, Golding “altered the microbial environment enough to create an entirely new cheese—crumbly and nutty yet creamy on the palate, milky sweet with a gently dissipating sharpness.”

Today, Cougar Gold cheese (so-called for the WSU mascot and Professor Golding) relies on the same culture, which has been tended by WSU students working at the creamery for almost 70 years. Combined with the canning process, the special bacteria enable Cougar Gold cheddar to be stored (in the refrigerator) for an indefinite period, improving with age. In fact, one couple passing through Pullman, Washington, generously opened and shared their 1987 Cougar Gold with the Creamery’s manager. As for the taste, it was pure gold.

Where to Try It