Cheese of the Month - March 2016

Top pizza topping Mozzarella still is increasing in demand

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Cheese of the Month,” Cheese Market News’ latest profile series. Each month, CMN will highlight a different cheese in this exclusive feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s pizza favorite: Mozzarella.

By Chelsey Dequaine

MADISON, Wis. — Demand for the United States’ most-produced cheese, Mozzarella, continues to increase, and new research has been developed for faster production and extended shelf life.

According to USDA, total U.S. Mozzarella production in 2015 was 3.97 billion pounds, up from 3.49 billion pounds in 2010. In terms of cheese volume in the foodservice channel, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) says Mozzarella is the No. 1 cheese used in U.S. restaurants, accounting for 29 percent volume share of total cheese usage (largely driven by the pizza segment).

According to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Mozzarella was purchased last year by nearly 60 percent of households, and homes with children purchased the most prepackaged Mozzarella.

While millennials and Generation X shoppers are heavy buyers, IRI says seniors, retirees, African American and Asian households purchase the least amount of Mozzarella.

Mozzarella has been made in southern Italy since Roman times and is believed to have originated in the Naples area. It is a pasta filata cheese, meaning that it is produced by dipping the curd into hot whey. The cheese then is stretched and kneaded to the desired consistency.

The cheese was invented when cheese curds accidently were dropped into a pail of hot water. Mozzarella traditionally was made using water buffalo’s milk, although today even in Italy the majority of Mozzarella is made with cow’s milk.

Today in the United States, there are various forms of Mozzarella as codified in the Code of Federal Regulations. For Mozzarella and Scamorza (a mild, slightly salty cheese similar to Mozzarella that is distinctively shaped into an oval or pear), the minimum milkfat content is 45 percent by weight of the solids, and the moisture content is more than 52 percent but not more than 60 percent by weight.

For low-moisture Mozzarella and Scamorza, the minimum milkfat content is 45 percent by weight of the solids and the moisture content is more than 45 percent but not more than 52 percent by weight.

Part-skim Mozzarella and part-skim Scamorza conform to the definition and standard of identity as prescribed for Mozzarella cheese and Scamorza cheese, except that its milkfat content is less than 45 percent but not less than 30 percent.

John Lucey, director, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), says Mozzarella’s performance attributes, such as melting, stretching and browning, are sensitive and determined by the amount of acid development in the cheese. Because of this, CDR currently is researching ways to standardize the amount of lactose in the milk to a specific number. The process, which CDR launched in 2015, is called lactose standardizing.

“Rather than cheesemakers fight the acidity, we control the sugar in the milk to end up with the cheese we want,” Lucey says. “The idea is to make it more easy and consistent to make Mozzarella.”

Lucey uses the analogy of a race car. The lactose in the cheesemilk is like the fuel. In a relay, race cars don’t want overfull fuel tanks, but only the exact amount of fuel needed to finish the race.

“We don’t want a lot of extra lactose in the system,” Lucey says. “We are trying to figure out how much sugar we should leave in the cheese milk before we start anything. By doing that we can start with the right amount of fuel in the tank.”

In Mozzarella, too much lactose can lead to excessive acidity, poor melt and extra browning.

CDR also has been researching high-pressure processing as a way to preserve cheeses for the extended times needed for transport involved in exporting. CDR has been testing the new technology on Mozzarella at American Pasteurization Co.’s facility in Milwaukee. Once Mozzarella is manufactured, CDR treats it at high pressure for 3 minutes, killing enzymes and bacteria.

“It slows down the ripening process in the cheese,” Lucey says. “In Mozzarella, we don’t want a lot of ripening. We want it to melt, stretch and shred well. Shortly after manufacture it is just right, but during further storage these attributes start to deteriorate.”
Using high-pressure processing, CDR has extended the performance shelf life of Mozzarella beyond 6 months. Without high-pressure processing, Lucey says Mozzarella’s shelf life in the United States typically is 1-2 months.

“This is new to the dairy industry, but it’s common in the fruit juice and meat industries,” he says. “We see this as on option for a company that exports overseas to places like Korea.”

Jason Mounts, director of marketing, Leprino Foods Co., Denver, says because the majority of Mozzarella the company produces ends up on pizza, Leprino challenges itself to not only be cheese experts, but also pizza experts.

“As the pizza industry grows, Mozzarella will grow,” Mounts says.

With Mozzarella, Mounts says Leprino works with its pizza customers to ensure the cheese delivers on specific consumer expectations, such as stretch, melt, color and flavor.

Leprino Foods also offers its innovation agency, Innovation Studio, which Mounts calls an extension of Leprino’s belief in delivering value to its customers beyond quality cheese.

“We recognize that if we help our customers grow through consumer-insight-driven innovation, we will grow, and the dairy industry will grow,” Mounts says. “A lot of the work we do manifests in pizza because it’s such a specific part of our business.”

Abigail Merz, director of cheese sales and marketing, Foremost Farms USA, Baraboo, Wisconsin, says consumers will always have a demand for pizza. Foremost Farms has doubled its production of Mozzarella since 2000.

“There will be a continued increase of Mozzarella driven by the pizza category,” Merz says. “The other thing you can attribute the growth to is the fact that pizza is more accessible than it has been in the past. A lot of people and businesses are serving pizza.”

Foremost Farms works with industrial pizza manufacturers and operators who want a high quality, premium Mozzarella.

“When we enter conversations with those different channels, we ask what they are looking for in a Mozzarella and customize our products to meet their needs,” Merz says.

The No. 1 attribute Merz says clients look for in a Mozzarella is consistent quality.

“They need to know every week when they get a load of cheese it will slice, shred or bake the same week in and week out,” she says.

Beyond that, Merz says clients look for bake appearance in Mozzarella, in addition to oiling, flavor and texture.

“The East Coast likes to see a lighter colored pie,” she says. “The Midwest likes a golden-brown pie.”

Foremost Farms offers a blending service of shredded Mozzarella and other cheeses for clients who want to feature specialty pizzas on certain nights of operation.

“They might blend Cheddar and Provolone with Mozzarella to make a more specific or unique pizza,” Merz says. “In a 5-pound bag of shreds, you could have 80 percent Mozzarella, 10 percent Provolone and 10 percent Cheddar.”

A desire for labor savings and operational efficiencies has led to an increase in demand of shredded Mozzarella at Foremost Farms, Merz says.

“Instead of the block, which we saw an increase in years ago, people are asking for it already shredded,” she says. “That trend continues as labor is a challenge and is costly.”

Foremost Farms works with industrial customers to make different shapes and sizes of Mozzarella for their operations.

“There are more forms and sizes offered today than 15 years ago,” Merz says. “We offer to meet customer needs, such as our addition of long styles of Mozzarella for more efficient slicing.”

According to IRI, the retail cheese market for shredded Mozzarella in the United States is approximately 221 million pounds, with a value of $968 million.

WMMB says shredded Mozzarella is popular and growing among American consumers. In the retail channel, volume sales of shredded Mozzarella increased by 6 percent from 2014-2015 and account for 72 percent of total retail Mozzarella volume sales.

“Americans consume about 34 pounds of total cheese each year,” WMMB says. “We eat more Mozzarella than any other cheese variety, about 11 pounds each year.”

Beyond pizza, Mozzarella is seeing growth from snacking trends. Mounts says snacking on cheeses such as Mozzarella is increasing as consumers eat smaller meals and look for healthier snack options.

“Mozzarella is an ideal snack choice because it’s lower in fat and calories than other types of cheeses,” he says. “We also see an opportunity to innovate through flavor. Mozzarella is a neutral flavor profile, so it provides a blank canvas for unique flavor options.”


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