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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Cheese Technology

Improved technology applications for dairy ingredients add value and safety

Dr. Mali Reddy

Dr. Mali Reddy serves as president of the American Dairy and Food Consulting Laboratories and International Media and Cultures (IMAC Inc.), Denver, Colorado. He holds several degrees including Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in food technology and microbiology. He is a guest columnist for this week’s issue of Cheese Market News®.

The past year has been one of panic with the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted a lot of food chains and their mode of operation due to severe lockdowns, specifically with closure of restaurants. Hopefully, the new vaccine and other control measures of the COVID-19 pandemic may bring the American and international economy back to normal. Under these circumstances, the cheese and dairy industry must be extremely innovative to keep the cost of the finished goods under control and to help the financially strapped consumer through innovative technology.

The most expensive ingredient that goes into cheese is milk. The two main milk ingredients which are of importance to the cheese industry are proteins and fat. Consequently, farmers must be taught the ways and means to improve the percentage of these essential nutrients in milk.

Unfortunately, the cheese plants do not have much control of the farm practices. However, after the milk is received at the plant, every possible precaution must be undertaken to maintain optimal composition of milk, specifically the total proteins as well as milkfat. A miniscule drop of 0.06% out of 3.5% protein, and 0.08% out of 3.2% fat in stored raw milk, will significantly affect the cheese yields, to the point of causing diminishing returns to the manufacturers since cheese yield is the main parameter that dictates the survivability of the business.

I have written several articles on this subject before in Cheese Market News. Milk silo cultures must be used to inoculate the raw milk as soon as it is received at the plant. The activation of the LP (lacto peroxidase) system in raw milk will curtail the proliferation of psychrotrophic bacteria which degrade protein and fat. In addition, all-natural end products of the activated LP system in raw milk will reduce the pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, Listeria, Staphylococci, enteropathogenic E-coli and some yeasts, etc.) and viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is an RNA virus. Besides, it will significantly improve the quality and safety of the subsequent whey products such as sweet whey, protein concentrate(s) and isolates. This has been time tested, with testimonials, for over 25 years and is being practiced by several major cheese producers all over the world, with great results. Under the circumstances, it is essential that every cheese plant should get into the practice of inoculating its raw milk with proven milk silo cultures.

The second factor to be considered to improve the cheese yield and quality of the finished cheese is starter cultures and media used. Starter cultures are the life blood of the cheese business. Active starter cultures and their growth end products have inherent capacity to inhibit the pathogenic and spoilage bacteria (and some yeasts) and viruses to safeguard the cheese, besides improving the flavor, rheology and other nutritional quality attributes.

In the past, every individual cheese plant used to boast about the quality and uniqueness of their cheese.

They used to develop their own custom-tailored procedures to make bulk starters (to arrive at proper coccus to rod ratio and/or proper acid to flavor ratio etc.), which would satisfy to produce the finest and unique functional cheese, as per the request of the customer. Accordingly, the customer used to pay them premium prices. Somewhere down the line, cheese plants decided to skip making bulk starters at their facility and start using direct sets (with little or no immunomodulins) for the sake of convenience as well as due to fear of unknowns i.e., bacteriophage etc. Although it is a good idea, there is nothing to brag about the cheese quality unique to their plant, since everybody’s cheese is made using same direct set cultures and with no improved custom-tailored culture technology. Consequently, the price paid for the cheese by the buyer is not on the basis of quality and uniqueness, but on negotiated lower prices (price wars).

It is distinctly proven that bulk starters are not only economical but also improve the cheese yield significantly.

More than all, each plant can have its own customized culture selection and rotation to produce superior quality cheese on a consistent basis. In addition, the bulk starters have significant amounts of immunomodulins which will improve the immunogenic properties of cheese. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic period and beyond.

The obvious question plants will have is what happens if a bulk starter dies due to phage infection? There is nothing to worry about, since there are proven and available phage-resistant media in the marketplace, which will ensure that bacteriophage will not infect the bulk starters. Of course, in the case of an unexpected accident etc., a plant should keep a reserve of the direct sets to get them through the crisis. I strongly recommend cheese plants make their own bulk starters to make the best quality cheese, with more immune boosting power. Well-balanced active bulk starter cultures, along with their immunomodulins (cultures growth end products including biopeptides), with good level of inoculation into pasteurized cheese milk (2%), will significantly improve the moisture retention and shelf life of the cheese, besides improving immunogenic and inhibitory properties against pathogenic bacteria and viruses.

Finally, the plant personnel must be trained and taught the microbiological aspects of cheesemaking, yield improvement techniques and sanitation (including the latest CDC recommended protective measures to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic) to safeguard the consumers at large with confidence.

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The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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