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Arla’s robo ‘milk maids’ are using AI to churn your cheese

Gone are the days of milk maids on stools. At the 56,000-square-metre Arla factory in Taulov, Denmark, cheese production is moving towards complete automation – even when it comes to milking the cows. “The biggest challenge is to keep the…

Gone are the days of milk maids on stools. At the 56,000-square-metre Arla factory in Taulov, Denmark, cheese production is moving towards complete automation – even when it comes to milking the cows. “The biggest challenge is to keep the variation small within the process,” explains senior director Jørgen Greve. “About 70 per cent is automated.” Once a robot arm has milked the cows, Arla analyses samples for protein and fat content. It is also given a (human) taste test. “Even the truck drivers are trained to check the milk is OK before they pump it in,” says Greve.

At this point, the milk contains too much bacteria to be safely consumed. At the factory, a temperature-controlled vat heats the milk to 72°C in 15 seconds to remove bacteria, before a centrifugal pump removes the fatty cream from the top. Next, pipes transfer the milk to an agitator tank, where a culture and rennet are added along with an enzyme that helps separate the whey and the curds.

The cheese curds are then pressed into moulds to remove water. After this, they are cooled and salted in brine. Once it has matured, the cheese is cleaned and packaged, ready for distribution. Greve’s factory produces more than 60,000 tonnes of cheese each year, but he’s not getting complacent. “There is a lot of competition,” he explains. “In the future, everything will be automated.”