Cheese companies typically offer financial incentives to dairy producers for low somatic cell counts. The reason is simple, says Roger Mellenberger, milk quality expert with Michigan State University. Low-SCC milk has more casein, the primary component in cheese making.

"As the SCC increases, which indicates a greater probability of infection in the udder, the amount of casein produced by the alveoli tissue decreases, while (the amount of) whey protein increases," he says.

Although milk that has a SCC of 50,000 can have the same milk protein percentage as milk with a 750,000 SCC, cheese yield will differ greatly. When the somatic cell count exceeds 500,000 cells per milliliter, the cheese yield will decrease 0.1 to 0.2 pounds for every hundredweight of milk used. In addition, high SCC milk results in longer curd formation which reduces shelf life.