Metals and cheeses: unconventional pairings

Photo of a piece of cheese with bits of black truffle at the point of fracture.

A truffle-induced fracture in Sottocenere al Tartufo cheese. (Photo by Michael Short.)

This lecture explores the microstructure characteristics of metals in high temperature/high stress situations, via hands-on experience with similar structures and behaviors in selected cheeses. Cheese-tasting asides enrich the experience.

That’s right: metals and cheeses.

Gourmets know how to pair fine cheeses with other foods and beverages to produce novel and surprising tastes. An MIT course took this into a whole new realm, pairing fine cheeses with metals to produce novel hands-on learning insights. Plus, students got to eat their test results.

For example: Sottocenere al Tartufo is an unusual cheese from Lombardo, Italy, laced with bits of black truffle. This cheese pairs well with a special “honeydew honey.” And when students bent a slice until it broke in half, they could see how the break occured around the truffle bits, mimicking how troublesome metal impurities can cause failures.

All this took place in 22.033 Nuclear Systems Design Projecta capstone design course for seniors majoring in Nuclear Engineering. Near the end of their undergraduate program, students design a nuclear reactor in an intensive semester-long team project. It’s a chance to integrate everything they’ve learned to date, and also to quickly extend their skills as the project requires.

As Dr. Mike Short describes on the OCW course page “Making Content Tangible,”  for this class he realized most students needed more background on how metals perform in very high temperatures and stresses.

You can see the results in Lecture 8: Metals and Cheeses – Unconventional Pairings. Dr. Short certainly found a creative, and tasty, solution!


And don’t miss the class tasting menu, aka “Metallographic Phenomena As Observed in Cheeses” (PDF), found on the Lecture Notes tab of that video page.

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