Creative Design looks to partner on innovative ingredients technology

Editor’s note: Welcome to Ingredient Innovation, CMN’s new segment exploring recent innovations and trends in the dairy ingredients sector. For this segment, we will profile a leader in the ingredients industry as well as share updates on mergers and acquisitions and new offerings for cheese and dairy in ingredients — where flavor begins.

Photo courtesy of Creative Design & Engineering

FUN FLAVOR — The ability to add new flavors and ingredients to pasta filata-style cheeses would help cheesemakers capitalize on current trends among consumers who are seeking more healthy snacks and new flavors, notes Dan Lindgren, owner of Creative Design & Engineering. “With my method, it is now easy to add additional protein, pre-, pro- and postbiotics, spices, fruit, nuts, fiber and more into pasta filata-style cheese,” he says. Pictured above is a String with craisin and walnut.

By Alyssa Mitchell

REEDSVILLE, Wis. — While manufacturers of pasta filata-style cheeses have faced challenges adding unique ingredients under current production methods, one industry innovator is seeking a patent for a new production method that would allow these cheesemakers to innovate with new ingredients and flavors.

Dan Lindgren, owner of Creative Design & Engineering LLC, Reedsville, Wisconsin, recently filed for a patent for an alternative method of heating the curd that would allow the successful addition of various ingredients in pasta filata-style cheeses such as Mozzarella or String.

Lindgren notes that current methods using water to cook the curd during certain styles of cheesemaking limit the possibilities of ingredients as the cooker water can dilute or alter ingredients added to the curd.

Additionally, traditional brine cooling methods on the back end of production also can dilute or alter ingredients and contaminate the brine, he says.

“Adding ingredients or flavors when water-cooking cheese is just not feasible,” Lindgren says. “The vast majority of anything added is lost into the cooker water. After molding, brine chilling provides an environment that causes further losses to occur, and now the brine becomes contaminated as well.”

Creative Design and Engineering offers innovative “brineless” cheesemaking technologies for molding and chilling of Mozzarella blocks as well as String cheese and sticks. Lindgren says his process saves on floor space, increases sanitation, decreases environmental waste and produces a more consistent product.

He notes most pasta filata-style manufacturers use chilled brine to salt and chill their molded cheese products.

“Current manufacturing methods force this use,” he says. “If Mozzarella curd could be pre-salted, waterless cooked and then chilled without using brine, that would be the most economical, environmentally friendly and sustainable method to use.”

The equipment designs for ohmic cooking and block and stick/String molding and chilling allow this brineless methodology, he adds.

The term “ohmic” applies to methods that use electricity directly to heat, Lindgren explains.

“Fortunately, cheese curd possesses enough electrical resistance so that as the electrical current passes through the cheese, it heats it up in the process — much like an electrical current heating the elements in your toaster or oven,” he says.

He adds that the ohmic heating process is 97% efficient.

“Water, steam or microwave are only 67% efficient at best. Non-ohmic cooking processes rely on thermal conductivity of the cheese to transfer heat. Ohmic heating does not have that thermal barrier and heats the cheese curd volumetrically,” Lindgren explains. “Large or small curd pieces heat identically.”

He adds other major benefits of ohmic heating include:

• All the elements in the cheese curd remain in the cooked cheese. Butterfat, calcium, flavor, etc. are not lost since there is no cooker water to lose them to.

• The properties of the curd can be “tuned” prior to cooking. Additional moisture, nonfat dry milk, exact amounts of salt, post-cheesemaking cultures, etc. could be added at this point for unique flavor profiles. Vat-to-vat and season-to-season chemistry differences now can be altered to make a much more consistent final product, he says.

“My molding and chilling process for both String cheese sticks/shapes and blocks pulls the cooked cheese into the machine,” Lindgren explains. “Current molding methods push the cheese through the String cheese tubes or into molds for blocks. This pushing forces butterfat from the cheese. That butterfat then becomes waste and a potential environmental hazard.”

Conversely, he says the pulling process featured in brineless manufacturing is gentle, and no butterfat is lost.

“It all stays in the cheese. The pulling method also completely empties the machine of cheese at the end of the run. There is absolutely no residual cheese left in the equipment to deal with,” he notes.

Building on this, Lindgren now has filed for a patent to add ingredients to pasta filata-style cheeses.

Under this process, ingredients of any kind are simply “tumbled” with the curd and then ohmically cooked using only electricity, Lindgren says.

“There is neither cooker water nor brine used in the ohmic process,” he notes. “All the ingredients stay in the finished cheese. The ohmic cooker feeds cooked cheese to either my brineless String cheese machine or the brineless molder/chiller.”

The ability to add new flavors and ingredients to pasta filata-style cheeses would help cheesemakers capitalize on current trends among consumers who are seeking more healthy snacks and new flavors, Lindgren notes.

“With my method, it is now easy to add additional protein, pre-, pro- and postbiotics, spices, fruit, nuts, fiber and more into pasta filata-style cheese,” he says.

“I’m also not a food scientist; I don’t know what ingredients would pose problems with cheese chemistry,” Lindgren is quick to add. “I can tell you that I’ve concocted some pretty tasty String cheese using bacon, jalapenos, beer, wine and whiskey — and had fun doing it!”

He adds that brineless cheesemaking methods allow the production of a multidimensional product.

“This multidimension is both figurative and physical,” he says. “For instance, say a customer desires to create a flavored cheese product that contains ketchup, mustard and onions that would be used with a bratwurst and bun. That flavored cheese piece is now easily molded into the shape of a ‘plank’ that best fits with the shape of the bratwurst and bun. The desired dimension/shape of a product is no longer an issue since it is easily created with the twin-belt, brineless molding method.”

Lindgren adds that companies producing cheese trim in their slicing or harping operations now have a new way in which to add value to that trim. The trim could be crumbled or shredded and combined with Mozzarella cheese curd to create multiflavored products such as Sharp Cheddar/Mozzarella String snacks or Swiss/Mozzarella deep fried cheese sticks, he says.

“Companies slicing or harping do not have to be cheesemakers in order to take advantage of the brineless technology,” he notes. “They could simply buy Mozzarella curd from a cheesemaker, add their cheese trim and then ohmically cook and brineless mold/cool their final products.”

These innovative methods also have sustainability benefits for manufacturers looking to cut down on waste, Lindgren says.

“To me, ‘sustainability’ refers to allowing a product to be manufactured using the least amount of energy and the least amount of waste. Waste could easily include the expenses and environmental impact associated with cleaning both brine and cooker water,” he says. “The brineless process uses only the salt that is used in the cheese and no more. There is so much additional salt in brine that is never used in the cheese. The energy used to chill the brine is in addition to what is used to actually cool the cheese. That is just wasted energy and associated equipment and maintenance.”

Lindgren adds waste also could include floor space.

“That space needs to be cleaned, heated — it is not free,” he says. “The brineless process takes up a significantly smaller plant footprint.”

Lindgren says these innovative methods could start a “Brineless Revolution.”

“Sometimes it takes a revolution for drastic — and in this case, positive — changes,” he says. “I’d like to think that the cheesemaking folks now have a method that doesn’t squelch their creativity and saves them a ton of money at the same time.”

With this in mind, Lindgren is seeking a pasta filata-style cheese manufacturer or sanitary machine builder to license or sell his patents to.

“I believe these manufacturers could produce cheese with innovative ingredients to differentiate themselves from the competition,” he says. “Today in the dairy case you really only see regular, smoked and pepper String cheese — but there could be many more flavors or even non-cylindrical shapes created with emerging technologies.

“It’s also a method to capture shelf space by displacing the ‘me too’ manufacturers,” he adds. “I think the folks who could benefit most are the ones making snack products — you now have the opportunity to flavor anything you want and can react to market trends, whether it’s flavor or shape. There also could be possibilities to increase shelf life. The potential is there to do all kinds of stuff.”


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