The study proposes a process analytical technology (PAT) approach for the control of milk coagulation through near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), computing multivariate statistical process control (MSPC) charts, based on principal component analysis (PCA). Reconstituted skimmed milk and commercial pasteurized skimmed milk were mixed at two different ratios (60:40 and 40:60). Each mix ratio was prepared in six replicates and used for coagulation trials, monitored by fundamental rheology, as a reference method, and NIRS by inserting a probe directly in the coagulation vat and collecting spectra at two different acquisition times, i.e., 60 s or 10 s. Furthermore, three failure coagulation trials were performed, deliberately changing temperature or rennet and CaCl2
concentration. The comparison with fundamental rheology results confirmed the effectiveness of NIRS to monitor milk renneting. The reduced spectral acquisition time (10 s) showed data highly correlated (r > 0.99) to those acquired with longer acquisition time. The developed decision trees, based on PC1 scores and T2
MSPC charts, confirmed the suitability of the proposed approach for the prediction of coagulation times and for the detection of possible failures. In conclusion, the work provides a robust but simple PAT approach to assist cheesemakers in monitoring the coagulation step in real-time.
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