Biology Course Ignites Minds and Taste Buds 

What do beer, bread and cheese have in common? Yes, a delicious culinary combination. 

But students in Professor and Head of Biology Tammy Tobin’s interdisciplinary course The Microbiology of Beer, Bread and Cheese can speak to the biology, chemistry and history of fermentation and the role that different microbial species play in the production of each item. 

Tobin and her students explore—in and outside of a lab—the incredible ways in which fermentation has shaped—and been shaped by—human history, politics and religion. They examine not only how scientific reactions make the foods delicious, but where in the world the food is made and traditionally by what cultures. 

Tobin was inspired to create the course as a fan of the Food Network, particularly Alton Brown’s series Good Eats, and also through a wine-tasting course she took as an undergraduate at Cornell University. 

“We learned about the wines that we would taste; the geology of the region where the grapes were grown; the genetics and characteristics of the grapes; the human cultural traditions involved in making the wines; and, ultimately, how all of these, together, made unique wines. Then we tasted them. It was perhaps the best class I have ever taken,” Tobin says. 

Students enrolled in Tobin’s course brew beer, make sourdough bread using homemade cultures, taste cheeses from around the world and even go on a tour of Selin’s Grove Brewing Company. 

“I absolutely loved this class because we learned challenging, complex and useful material in a really fun, engaging way. For me, one of the biggest takeaways is the use of hops in the wort boiling process of brewing beer and how these hops contribute to bitterness and aroma depending on their variety, alpha acid content and boiling time,” says Kara Eckert ’20. 



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