DAIRY FOODS : BASIC CHEESE CATEGORIES
DAIRY MARKET: NATURAL, PROCESSED/SUBSTITUTE CHEESES
Cheese is any product made from the curd (protein rich coagulated milk solids) of milk cows, goats and other lactating animals. Cheese is made by the coagulation of milk casein with rennin (enzyme), lactic acid (acetic, phosphoric acid), and possible further treatment of curd by heat, pressure, salt, or ripening (fermentation) with selected micro-organisms called starter cultures made from beneficial micro-bacteria. The process of making cheese requires the separation of milk into solids (curds) and liquid (whey) by acidifying or “souring” the milk batch and adding rennet.
There are over 800+ cheeses by name, but many are similar and can be broken down into simple but distinct categories.
Natural cheese is produced when cheese is made directly from milk by coagulation / curdling, stirring and heating the curd, draining the liquid (whey) and pressing the curds into block shapes. This process of separating the solid forming curds and liquid whey is usually accomplished by multiple steps of salting, rennet enzyme treatment, cutting and pressing the solid curds together combined with multiple steps draining the liquid whey in between so the drying process is graduated over time.
Process cheese is the process of mixing or grinding different natural cheeses together and melting them into a consistent mass at about 71 *C. American process cheese is made to improve the physical properties of cheese that will be used in a heated cooking application. The most common application people would think of would be adding cheese on top of a hamburger patty. Natural cheese would separate after heating, and the predominant water portion would run off of the hamburger patty and the other fatty portion would clump together and leave an un-appetizing mess on the patty. American process cheese is designed to keep the water and fat components of the cheese together during heating for excellent visual appeal, maintain elasticity during cooking, have a consistent melting profile and keep a full flavor profile while maintaining a rich creamy taste complementing the hamburger patty.
A typical starting point for manufacturers of American process cheeses is to take 500 lb blocks of both natural cheddar cheese and Colby Cheese and run them through an industrial grinder which mixes them uniformly together. Then concentrated blocks of milk fat are added for creaminess and flavor, which have an even higher fat content than typical butter. This improves the mouthfeel and flavor that full fat delivers to the rich and creamy cheese taste profile. Next, colorants and emulsifiers like sodium citrate are added to keep the water and fat components in the cheese together and help prevent separation.
The process cheese is pasteurized, and the melted cheese is pumped through four lines in a thin layer onto a five foot wide combination table and moving conveyor bed. This table is cooled with water and refrigerants from the underneath side which helps draw heat away from the cheese, and this lowers the temperature from 165 degrees F down to about 50 degrees F to ready the product to be cut and packaged. The five foot wide continuous semi-solid cheese layer is then cut into twenty ribbons, then each ribbon is cut into package sized slices to be wrapped in plastic and packaged for shipping. The cheese is tested to ensure the correct body, elasticity and meltability characteristics are achieved to meet the manufacturers’ specifications.
CHEESE SUBSTITUTES (Imitation & Analogs):
Cheese substitutes (aka imitation cheese, cheese analog) replace milk fat with vegetable protein and fat. This is done to create a perceived “healthier” product, appeal to changing consumer tastes and lower costs.
PROCESS CHEESE MANUFACTURING:
Process cheese production is in the next section.