Denmark's Arla Foods has had great success with low-fat cheese using a specific culture strain now available to U.S. cheesemakers

Cultures release enzymes that decrease bitterness in low-fat cheese.
When it comes to low-fat cheese, many consumers recall their first experience with the bitter taste and unusual texture of a product hardly resembling cheese. For a good number of these consumers, their first experience with low-fat cheese was also their last. While they liked the concept of low-fat cheese, consumers were not about to sacrifice the cheese flavor they loved just to avoid a few grams of fat.

Fortunately, changes in consumer eating patterns and vast improvements in cheese technol-ogy have revived interest in low-fat cheese. Cheese sales in the United States continue to rise sharply as low-carbohydrate dieters consume increasing quantities of cheese and other high-protein foods. While the increase in cheese consumption is good news for the dairy industry, the high levels of fat found in many types of cheese can be bad news for individuals concerned about heart disease and other health issues related to increased fat intake.

That's where improvements in cheese technology come in. While experiences with early low-fat (so-called) cheese might have been unpleasant, today it is possible to produce low-fat cheese that tastes and performs just like its full-fat counterpart. These major improvements in low-fat cheese technology can be attributed largely to new ripening systems that are now commercially available.

One such product is Enzobact®, a cheese-ripening culture specially developed to improve the quality of low-fat cheese. Enzobact is a heat-treated Lactobacillus helveticus strain that, during cheese production, releases a high level of enzymatic activity (called aminopeptidases). This decreases the bitterness often found in low-fat cheese. Because this activity reduces the presence of bitter peptides, the resulting formation of amino acids and small peptides generates enhanced flavor development. Finally, texture and consistency are improved by Enzobact's ability to break down hydrophobic (water-repelling) peptides, producing a product that resembles, well, cheese.

Enzobact is produced and marketed by Medipharm, a subsidiary of Arla Foods in Denmark. It delivers all of the cheese attributes that consumers crave, but it does so with a substantial reduction in fat content. In fact, some of the tasty cheeses produced by Arla using Enzobact contain as little as 5% fat.

Not only does the culture produce great-tasting, low-fat cheese, it is very easy to use during cheese production: Simply add it to the cheesemilk before renneting takes place. It has no negative effect on the cheesemaking process or cheese yield, and is primarily suited for use in semi-hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Gouda and Swiss. Enzobact can also be used effectively in full-fat varieties to improve flavor and texture.

There's no denying that millions of consumers love cheese. Now there is a way to offer health-conscious consumers the taste they love and a fat content they can live with.