Cheese of the Month - March 2017

Provolone offers distinctive flavor for various applications

Editor’s Note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this 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 featured cheese: Provolone.

By Stephanie Awe

MADISON, Wis. — Provolone, like Mozzarella, is a pasta filata — or “spun curd” — style of cheese that originated from the Naples area of southern Italy.

Pasta filata means that the cheese curd is partially melted and stretched before it is molded, cooled and brined. Because the cheese is partially melted, it is easy to form into shapes, says David McCoy, managing director, Dairy Insights LLC, Muskego, Wisconsin.

When making Provolone in the United States, the vat typically is set to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit with a mixed culture of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus, McCoy says. Calf or kid lipases may be added to accelerate the cheese’s flavor development, and, following a short ripening period, the coagulant is added and the vat is allowed to set. After coagulation, the vat is cut and slowly cooked to 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit before the whey is drained from the curd and allowed to continue acid development.

“In these general steps, Provolone is similar to Cheddar and other cheeses,” McCoy says, noting another step is needed for pasta filata cheeses. “At the end of the make, drained curd is cut into large ribbons, milled, then melted in hot water and stretched much as taffy is pulled.”

Finally, the cheese typically is molded, cooled in fresh water and brined before it is aged. Alternatively, Provolone also may be smoked by hanging it in a smoke house or dipping the cheese in a liquid smoke flavor, McCoy says. While young Provolone has a mild, milky taste, its flavor becomes more picante — or strong — as it ages.

The manufacturing process in the United States for Provolone is similar to the process for Mozzarella. However, Provolone does not require pasteurized milk like Mozzarella does — but if the milk is not pasteurized, the cheese must be cured at a temperature of not less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 60 days, according to FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations.

According to FDA’s regulations, both Provolone and Mozzarella must have a milkfat content of at least 45 percent but vary on moisture requirements. While Provolone has a maximum moisture standard of 45 percent by weight, low-moisture Mozzarella must range from more than 45 to 52 percent moisture, and higher moisture Mozzarella must range from more than 52 to 60 percent moisture.

• Retail sales

Provolone retail volume sales increased 6.9 percent in the last 52 weeks as of Feb. 19, 2017, continuing on a five-year positive trend (fixed weight only, total U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores), according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.

Provolone holds a 1.7-percent share of total natural cheese within the fixed weight cheese category in U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores, according to the IRI data.

Almost 96 percent of retail Provolone cheese in the United States is sold as sliced (fixed weight only, total U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores). Only 0.9 percent of Provolone is sold as String, but it is growing likely due to its “on-the-go,” convenience factor, the data says.

Smoked Provolone makes up nearly half of Provolone retail sales, up 5.7 percent in the latest 52 weeks as of Feb. 19, 2017.

Provolone cheese volume sales grew over the last 16 months as of Feb. 19, 2017, and price per volume has declined. The lowest average price per pound was $5.55 in July, with prices remaining under $6.00 per pound from summer through the winter 2016-2017 season, the data says.

In the latest 52 weeks as of Feb. 19, 2017, Provolone cheese private label had a 52.3-percent share among total Provolone sales (fixed weight only, total U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores), down 2.3 percentage points from 2012. Additionally, Provolone private label offers consumers about a 24.2-percent price per pound savings, costing $4.95 per pound compared to $6.54 per pound for national brands, according to the data.

• Marketing tactics, applications

Although there seems to be a growing acceptance of cheese with more flavor, Provolone has not benefitted from this trend, says Errico Auricchio, president, BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Green Bay, Wisconsin, which sells half of its Provolone to foodservice and the other half to retail.

Most consumers see mild Provolone as a bland flavor filler for sandwiches, where a “real” mild Provolone offers its own flavor and aroma. Aged Provolone has a much more pronounced flavor that is appreciated by older generations, Auricchio says, noting that the cheese needs to continue being introduced to younger people.

BelGioioso believes the cheese has a promising future and that it has potential to be rediscovered for its distinctive flavor.

“Using BelGioioso Provolone in a pizza or sandwich recipe will greatly increase its flavor profile,” says Jamie Wichlacz, marketing public relations manager, BelGioioso.

In an effort to promote Provolone and help it gain popularity, BelGioioso has included a list of recipes for the cheese on its website, such as Antipasto Platter with Sharp Provolone, Grilled Eggplant Panini with Sharp Provolone and Mild Provolone Lasagna. Traditionally, its best application is eating it sliced in sandwiches, Auricchio says.

In light of the bold flavors and unique ideas that customers seek, Foremost Farms USA, Baraboo, Wisconsin, has in recent years added varieties of blended shredded cheese in 5-pound bags that include mixtures of Provolone, Mozzarella and colored Cheddar cheeses. These primarily are sold to foodservice outlets and will be showcased at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s booth at the International Pizza Expo next week in Las Vegas.

“Consumers are looking for bold flavors, and Provolone is one tool or option that restaurants have to offer something unique or different,” says Abigail Merz, senior director of sales and marketing, Foremost Farms, adding that the cheese does well on pizzas, lasagna, salads and cheese trays.

Foremost Farms also recently developed an extended-length Provolone for industrial customers, offering them improved efficiency when working at the operational line, Merz adds.

At Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Kansas City, Missouri, growth for Provolone varieties mostly is seen in the foodservice sector.

“Foodservice is definitely our biggest growth area, as customers are switching from process cheese to higher flavor profile cheese in subs and sandwiches as well as adding variety to pizza components,” says Jason Hawkins, chief operating officer of ingredients, DFA.

DFA’s Provolone, traditionally used for sandwiches and subs, also can be used to add flavor in pizza applications and in veal and chicken Parmesan as well as French onion soup, Hawkins says.

To market its Provolone, DFA uses a nationwide broker network for both private label and branded varieties. The cooperative also participates in various food shows to help promote the cheese, Hawkins adds.

Noting that not all Provolone varieties have the exact same flavor, Scott Stocker, CEO, Shullsburg Creamery, Shullsburg, Wisconsin, says the creamery carries mostly Wisconsin-made Provolone, which can differ from traditional, Italian-style Provolone by offering a milder flavor.

In addition, he says some U.S.-made Provolone today is geared for foodservice because it is high volume. Because of this, Shullsburg, a smaller brand marketer that packages Provolone into different sizes and varieties, faces challenges attracting large manufacturers to make private label cheese. As a result, Shullsburg purchases the cheese in large sizes and does most processing in-house.

“The commoditization of Provolone is a good example of the direction of our Wisconsin cheese industry, as we need to compete internationally,” Stocker says.


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