Cheese hits all the trends
Whether you want to build in low carbs, health benefits or ethnicity, cheese is a delicious formulation solution.
Cheddar Shake from Cabot Creamery (www.cabotcheese.com
), Montpelier, Vt., has brought life back to many flavorless meals and can entice even finicky eaters to eat their vegetables. Because it is sparingly used, it’s a boon to dieters. A mere dusting of this naturally white cheddar powder adds pizzaz to vegetables, popcorn, potatoes or macaroni and adds only 25 calories per serving and 1.5 g of fat, 5 mg cholesterol and 210 mg of sodium.
One of the fun aspects of cheese is its melting characteristics. Melting depends on a number of factors including its composition, pH, degree of casein hydrolysis and the mode of heating -- i.e., thermal heating, direct or indirect, and microwave heating.
The constituents, especially fat and protein levels, strongly affect how the cheese responds to thermal heating. Aging further affects this property; older cheeses tend to be more stable. Cheese pH and extent of casein hydrolysis affects how the cheese responds to microwave heating.
Cheese elasticity depends on the pH and the extent of casein hydrolysis and subsequent dissociation. Calcium phosphate is generally added to cement the casein micelle and create the appropriate level of cohesion and elasticity. For pizza manufacturers, this means paying attention to the pH of the sauce and the extent of freeze thaw cycles the product is subjected to.Processing characteristics
The cooking quality of cheese is generally improved by high moisture and fat content, the addition of emulsifiers and extended aging.
Aged or ripened, hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano and Asiago have pronounced flavor, contain about 33 percent moisture and are suitable for shredding and grating. Soft cheeses such as ricotta and mascarpone have high moisture content and blend readily with ingredients such as eggs and milk and are ideal for fluid preparations such as sauces and soups.
Low-fat cheeses do not usually melt or blend as well as their higher-fat counterparts and often require the addition of emulsifiers for desirable processing characteristics.
The consistency of cheese and its moisture content govern its texture and mouthfeel characteristics. The higher the moisture content, the more spreadable the cheese tends to be. Higher fat levels help achieve smoother and creamier textures, enable smooth melting in the mouth and contribute to lubricity and the perception of richness.
Cheese is an interesting ingredient in that the solid form, when melted or stressed, can give rise to a wide range of viscosities and rheological properties - from creamy to runny, thick to thin, and crumbly to stringy. Heating cheese causes its fat component, generally solid at ambient temperatures, and its entrapped or emulsified moisture to liquefy and interact to create the range of properties we have come to expect from it.
Cheese suppliers have taken advantage of this property to tailor cheese-based ingredients for processors to suit the various processing conditions in the manufacturing plant.ApplicationsBakery:
In breads and bakery products cheese-based ingredients have been employed effectively to create flavor and texture in artisanal breads, to enhance flavor in cheesecake, and as a means to add flavor and texture to breakfast and dessert foods.
Even the venerable Pillsbury Bake-Off is working in some cheese. Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc. (www.generalmills.com
) this year partnered with the American Dairy Assn. to feature four awards in the cheese category -- a first in the 50-year history of the contest.Salad Dressings:
In salad dressing, where the fat-free segment continues to lead category sales, high-flavored cheeses such as gorgonzola and blue cheese help manufacturers create taste and texture without adding to the caloric content. Cottage cheese has proven to be excellent as a base in cream-style salad dressings and to help maintain the desired cream-style texture and dairy notes without the caloric burden of cream. Increasing popularity of ethnic and regional cuisines has helped boost Asiago and Romano as tasty replacements of the traditional Parmesan.Soups and Sauces:
Cottage cheese serves as a base in low-fat, cream-style sauces and soups. It maintains the desired cream-style texture while also contributing dairy notes and fewer calories.Ripe with opportunity
The time is ripe for cheese producers. Cheese hits on a number of trends and has some powerful health benefits going for it.
Sales of Hispanic-style cheeses have paralleled the explosion of the U.S. Hispanic population. Latin American cheeses such as queso blanco, cotija, and chihuahua, while lacking the complexity and distinct flavor characteristics of European cheeses, are essential ingredients for authentic cuisines. These cheeses and flavors are not just enjoyed by Hispanics, of course.
|Quality varies widely in cheese ingredients|
Absence of standards of identity for cheese-based ingredients such as cheese powder has resulted in a wide range of quality among cheese-based ingredients. Suppliers may opt to make their ingredient from the high quality premium raw material or from cheese that is out of specification or past its shelf life -- known in the industry as "opportunity cheese."
The key to success for formulators using cheese to create food products is to first develop a reference standard using the real cheese and to then re-create the desired characteristics of the cheese in the final product.
Product developers working with cheese and cheese powders should consider the ingredient primarily as a flavor ingredient instead of considering it as the "core ingredient" of the formulation. After determining that the cheese or cheese powder is indeed compatible with the processing parameters and any other restrictions or requirements - such as kosher, natural, low-fat or low-carb - formulators should next examine the cost implications on the final product.
It goes without saying that prior to all of this, the formulator should determine how the cheese powder will be used in the food product, how the manufacturing process will affect the physical and flavor attributes of the cheese under consideration and if the flavor will withstand the rigors of preparation, distribution, storage and consumer preparation and still deliver what the product promises.
To non-Hispanics or people not familiar with these cheeses, they seem bland or exceedingly salty until consumers realize that cheeses such as queso fresco are designed to counterbalance spiciness rather than to introduce another flavor. Savvy marketers like General Mills are adding blends of cheeses to enhance the "authenticity perception" of their foods and engaging evocative descriptions and creative signage to lure and further educate customers.