Question: What are the opportunities for lower-fat cheeses?Answer: Cheese lovers who scream "More cheese, please!" will find that lower-fat cheeses provide a great way to indulge in more cheese and still meet personal dietary goals. Food manufacturers and foodservice formulators can use lower-fat cheese to develop products and menu items that appeal to the calorie conscious. Schools can incorporate lower-fat cheese into entrees to meet new stricter dietary guidelines. To capitalize on these opportunities, processors must meet the challenge of producing lower-fat cheeses that taste and perform like traditional cheese. Fortunately, new research supported by America's dairy farmers can help processors tap the opportunities.
What constitutes a lower-fat cheese? The FDA has defined three nutrient content claims for finished cheeses. They are:
Fat-Free Cheese: Less than 0.5g of fat per reference amount and per labeled serving size (30g for most cheeses, 110g for cottage cheese).
Lowfat Cheese: 3g or less of fat per reference amount (per 50g, if the reference amount is less than 30g).
Reduced-Fat Cheese: At least 25% less fat per reference amount than its full-fat counterpart.
The FDA has also separately defined skim milk cheese for manufacturing, which can be incorporated into lower-fat cheese sauces and processed cheese products. According to 21CFR 133.189, "skim milk" means cow's milk from which the milkfat has been separated. Fat content is normally less than 0.1%.
Like their full-fat counterparts, lower-fat natural cheeses qualify as both a "good source" of protein and a "good source" of calcium. Kraft® Free® Fat Free Natural Shredded Mozzarella bears the "3-A-Day For Stronger Bones" logo, and provides an "excellent source" of calcium, with negligible amounts of fat.
These cheeses also may be eligible to carry the "3-A-Day Burn More Fat, Lose Weight" logo, indicating that enjoying three servings a day of milk, cheese or yogurt as part of a reduced-calorie weight loss plan can help adults achieve better results when it comes to trimming the waistline than just cutting calories and consuming little or no dairy. Illustrating that lower-fat cheeses may fit into popular weight control programs, the Athenos® Reduced Fat Feta is "South Beach Diet™ Recommended" for phases 1, 2 and 3 of the diet.
An excellent opportunity for lower-fat cheese is in school foodservice. Leprino Foods offers a "lite" mozzarella cheese for schools. One ounce of Leprino's lite mozzarella, combined with other healthy pizza ingredients, will allow schools to meet the 20% calories from fat target provided by the US Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This cheese also offers consistent melt, bake and stretch. A 2005 dairy farmer-funded cheese applications project is aimed at developing a nutritious, tasty, fat-free mozzarella for school foodservice that would use condensed buttermilk.
Producing a lower-fat cheese with optimal flavor and texture is the goal for cheese manufacturers. Cabot®'s 75% Light Vermont Cheddar took home the gold award from Health magazine's Best of Foods awards. For superior texture, Roth Käse USA uses partially skimmed milk and no fillers in its Reduced Fat Havarti cheese. DCI Cheese Co. has kicked up the flavor in its reduced-fat line by creating Organic Creamery™ Reduced Fat Habanero Jack Cheese.
Company efforts have been assisted by dairy farmer-funded research on special cheese cultures and aroma components to optimize flavor and texture as well as new ways to keep the full flavor of cheese while removing the fat. Current research supported through Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), for example, is investigating the commercialization of a process that removes fat from Cheddar cheese after it has aged.
Developing lower-fat cheeses that can perform well under heat is another challenge. DMI-supported research projects have explored the roles of calcium and pH in reducing skin formation and post-bake chewiness. Additional research has explored conditions conducive to optimal ripening and storage quality of reduced-fat cheeses.
Sales of reduced-fat cheese varieties grew 2.3% during the 52-week period ended June 26, 2005, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). This category, which includes part skim mozzarella, may be just the ticket for cheese manufacturers looking to cut the fat.
For more information, contact the DMI Dairy Technical Support Hotline at 800/248-8829 or visit the new DMI Web site, www.innovatewithdairy.com. n
Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI) is the domestic and international planning and management organization that builds demand for US-produced dairy products on behalf of America's dairy farmers.