Select the right cheese ingredients to develop new products, avoid defects
Ingredients in cheese, like anti-caking agents, allow shredded and grated cheeses to flow from a can without clumping. The right amount of cultures can prevent cheese defects, like browning.
Cheesemakers have no shortage of ideas for making new cheeses. They blend peppers to make a spicy jalapeno, for example. Or they cut it into snack-size bars or wedges. Or they crumble or shred it to make shakable products. Developing these new products calls for collaboration among the cheesemaker, suppliers of cheese cultures and enzymes, and packaging suppliers.
You can shake these Cheddar and blue cheeses from a can
Grated Parmesan cheese in the iconic green can has been a consumer favorite for years. Two cheesemakers drew inspiration and introduced their own versions.Here is a look at new products from U.S. cheesemakers.
- Cheddar Shake is a shelf-stable powdered premium Cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery, Waitsfield, Vt. It is packaged in 8-ounce plastic bottles. Consumers can shake it on pizza, pasta and salad.
- Simple Seasons by Simply Artisan Reserve (a brand of Litehouse Inc., Sandpoint, Idaho) is finely crumbled soft cheese in a convenient glass jar. Blue cheese or feta are packaged in glass jar and meant to be shaken on burgers, pasta and salads.
- There is cheese and crackers, and then there is cheese as a cracker. Cello Whisps from Arthur Schuman Inc., Fairfield, N.J., are made from aged Parmesan or Asiago. Cheese is the only ingredient. The crispy snack are meant to be alternatives to crackers or potato chips.
How to deal with cosmetic (and more serious) defects in cheese
Consistency in formulation and manufacturing is important, but cheesemakers just can’t avoid defects. While cosmetic defects pose no food safety issues, they can cause consumers to put the package back on the shelf, according to Professor John Lucey, director of the Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wis., and a Dairy Foods contributing editor.
Annatto is a safe and effective colorant, but visual defects such as pinking or bleaching are common when the annatto begins to lose its pigment. This loss of pigment occurs due to oxidation, which is caused by the harsh lighting of the supermarket shelves. While the color loss itself does not affect the flavor, it might indicate that the fat molecules in the cheese have been oxidized, which will likely result in flavor defects.
The best way to avoid this issue is to use packaging with a light blocking material. Some studies suggest that LED lighting, which is a growing trend in retail display cases, might reduce exposure to UV radiation and heat.
From pinking to browning (another color defect in cheese)
Browning can cause significant issues for cheesemakers. Brown color development during aging is more likely to occur in cheese such as Gouda or Parmesan. This is the result of a complex reaction between reducing sugars (such as galactose) and amino acids from the breakdown of the protein in cheese.
The defect is particularly common in cheeses that contain thermophilic cultures. These cultures often do not ferment the galactose fragment of the lactose molecule. This inability to ferment the galactose results in a buildup of this sugar, which coupled with warmer ripening temperatures, a lengthy storage and lower moisture contents, can result in Maillard browning.
The best way to avoid this issue is to reduce the amount of these cultures used, store the cheese at slightly cooler temperatures or change the make procedure to reduce the amount of galactose present in the cheese. Brown color during aging can also occur in the absence of reducing sugars like galactose and instead involves reactions with carbonyl compounds like diacetyl.