Specialty cheeses need special attention

by Jeff Gelski
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Statistics show an interest in different varieties of cheese, including specialty varieties. To incorporate them into products successfully, food formulators may want to know the varieties’ aging and processing characteristics.

Specialty cheese production in Wisconsin rose by 3% in 2007 to 399 million lbs, or 16% of total Wisconsin cheese volume, according to the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service. Feta came in as the most popular specialty cheese followed by Hispanic styles and then blue, specialty provolone, Parmesan wheel and Asiago.

In new products released this year, Palermo Villa, Inc., Milwaukee, used such specialty varieties as feta, Asiago and goat cheese in its Heart Italia frozen pizza line. New Flatbread Melts wraps under the Lean Cuisine line, meanwhile, feature such cheese varieties as cheddar, blue cheese and mozzarella.

"American, cheddar, Parmesan and mozzarella continue to be the top cheese flavors in the U.S. with usage figures varying between retail and food service," said Nicole Weber, marketing manager of Ingredient Solutions for Land O’Lakes, Inc., Arden Hills, Mich. "Food service drives usage of the Italian varieties, while in the retail channel American and cheddar are more popular. Yet other cheese varieties are gaining in popularity driven by changing demographics and consumer lifestyle trends."

For example, she said the rising Hispanic population is driving demand for Hispanic varieties and making the varieties more accessible to the general population.

Opportunities exist for food manufacturers to promote certain cheese characteristics in their products, said Diane Kussy, R.&D. manager for Land O’Lakes, Inc.

"My opinion is that this leans most toward what consumers will understand, such as products made with sharp cheddar cheese as opposed to cheddar cheese," she said. "Yet consumers also have a growing interest in cheeses with a sense of history or tradition, which can be translated a variety of ways."

The aging of cheese will affect any food category it is used in, Ms. Kussy said.

"Aging and ripening will affect both the flavor and the texture of the finished food," she said. "Where more body is required, such as with process cheese, a younger cheese is used and blended with an older cheese."

Cargill, Minneapolis, took ripening into account when developing its new natural specialty cheese flavor ingredients that produce the notes of Gouda, Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan, Romano and blue cheeses. The company used distinct and proprietary combinations of natural biological processes to develop the ingredients, which may be used in such applications as sauces, dressings and snacks.

The aging of cheese will affect its use in frozen food products such as frozen pizza, according to the white paper "Cheese in Frozen Food Applications" from Sargento Foods, Plymouth, Wis.

"A hard grating cheese like Parmesan or Romano is made in a fashion similar to cheddar, but with different starter cultures, cooked at a different time and temperature and aged over a couple of months instead of weeks," the white paper said. "Again, these cheeses will perform differently. For example, in a frozen application a hard grating cheese will exhibit quite a different style of rheology than a cheddar cheese and will not melt or stretch but retain its identity."

Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, Tenn., offers Italian-style grated cheese in the varieties of Parmesan and Romano. Parmesan offers sweet, fruity flavor notes while Romano is a naturally firm cheese with a sharp, biting flavor and aroma, according to Kraft Food Ingredients.

According to Sargento’s white paper, mold-ripened cheeses such as blue, Brie and Camembert have a lower melt temperature. They may become a value-added ingredient and provide flavor in a blend with other cheeses in a frozen food product.

Ms. Weber of Land O’Lakes added process cheeses may deliver a range of flavor, performance and cost options in food products. They may allow manufacturers to achieve needed melting properties.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, August 5, 2008, starting on Page 52. Click here to search that archive.

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