Processed cheese

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Processed cheese, compared to natural cheese, is a new product which originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Spoilage of cheese exported to distant places was the motive behind the trials to improve the shelf-life of cheese. Some of these trials succeeded in prolonging the keeping quality of soft or even semihard cheese by applying heat treatment, but the situation was not the same for hard cheese, due to shrinkage of the cheese protein by heat and separation of the water and fat phases. In 1912–13, the Swiss workers, Walter Gerber and Fritz Settler, solved these problems by heating hard cheese to which sodium citrate was added. This treatment was the real invention of processed cheese. Later, phosphate salts were introduced as emulsifying salts, and the development of the processed cheese industry continued and different patents were granted. 

Processed cheese is made by further processing of finished cheese, usually a blend of hard rennet varieties with different aromas and degrees of maturity.

There are two types of this cheese:

• Cheese blocks with a firm consistency, high acidity and relatively low moisture content.

• Cheese spreads with a soft consistency, low acidity and high moisture content.

Various flavourings can be added. Varieties with a smoked flavour can also be included under this heading.

Processed cheese usually contains 30 or 45% fat, counted on total solids, though leaner and fatter varieties are also made. The composition in other respects depends entirely on the moisture content and the raw materials used in the manufacture. Cheese for processing is of the same quality as cheese for direct consumption.

Cheese with defects regarding surface, colour, texture, size and shape, as well as cheese with a limited shelf life, can also be used for processing, as can fermented cheese where the fermentation has been caused for example by coliform bacteria, provided that it is free from offflavours.

Butyric-acid fermented cheese can cause problems, as the bacteria may cause fermentation in the processed cheese.

High-quality processed cheese can only be produced from high-quality raw materials.

Manufacture

The manufacturing process begins with scraping and washing the cheese, which is then ground. In large factories the shredded cheese is melted continuously and in smaller plants it is transferred to cookers, of which there are several types.

Firstly water, salt and emulsifier/stabiliser are mixed into the cheese. The mixture is heated to 70 – 95°C, or even higher (depending on the type of processed cheese), in steam-jacketed cookers and by direct steam injection to speed up the cooking time, 4 – 5 min. for block cheese

and 10 – 15 min. for spreads. It is kept constantly agitated during heating to avoid scorching. The process usually takes place under vacuum, which offers advantages from the point of view of heating and emulsification. It removes undesirable odours and flavours and makes it easier to regulate the moisture content. The capacity of a batch cooker is about 75 kg. The pH of processed cheese should be 5.6 – 5.9 for spreads and 5.4 – 5.6 for types to be sliced. Variations in the pH of the raw material are adjusted by mixing cheese of different pH and adding emulsifiers/stabilisers to adjust the pH. The emulsifiers/stabilisers also bind calcium. This is necessary to stabilise the cheese so that it will not release moisture or fat. The processed cheese is then discharged from the cooker into a stainless

steel container which is transported to the packing station and emptied into the feed hoppers of the packing machines. The latter are usually fully automatic and can produce packages of different weights and shapes. Normally the cheese is hot-packed at cooking temperature. The spreadable type of processed cheese should be cooled as rapidly as possible and should therefore pass through a cooling tunnel after packing. Rapid cooling improves the spreading properties. The cheese block on the other hand should be slowly cooled. After moulding the cheese is left at ambient temperature.

 

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