Thursday, January 22, 2015

Innovative (Process-Type Specialty) Cheese Concepts are Naturally Delicious

The Winter Fancy Food Show took place two weeks ago in San Francisco. It took me nearly five hours to walk more than seven miles (according to my Fitbit) to take in the entire show.

The headline of my post-show Food Business News column sums it up well: Cheese innovations take center stage at Winter Fancy Food Show. You can read the column and view the slide show HERE.

Natural cheese exhibitors were abundant and very impressive, but I noticed a trend of another cheese format. I’ll refer to them as "process-style specialty." It’s within this segment that some very innovative and on-trend creations are emerging.

Cheesy nomenclature
For the record, “natural” refers to the cheesemaking process where milk proteins coagulate by fermentation, enzymatic reaction or direct acidification; curds develop flavor through the addition of bacteria, mold or yeast; and whey drains and curd is collected and molded, pressed or stretched. Natural cheese is considered a living system, as the cultures and enzymes remain active through shelf life.

For this column, everything else is process-style. The product is based on natural cheese but is processed into a new format. There’s only one problem—and it’s huge—and it’s with the word “process.”

Often when consumers hear the term “processed cheese,” they think the plastic-wrapped slices of American or a loaf of Velveeta. I have nothing against these two process cheese concepts. In fact, you can find both in my home refrigerator. But, the fact is, they do give the category a bad rap, at least in the U.S., where many consumers refer to them as “fake cheese.”

Legally in the States, the term is “process” cheese, not “processed” cheese, and is always preceded by the descriptor “pasteurized.” There are a number of standards for various pasteurized process cheesy concepts in the States and they can be found in Part 133 of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which can be accessed HERE.

Source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

But here’s the deal, processed or process, whichever term, in this day and age of consumers seeking out clean, simple and minimally “processed” foods, using either word on package labels or marketing materials can be an aversion to many consumers.

So don’t use the term. Create a non-standardized process-style cheese and call it anything but process cheese. Spreadable is a common descriptor, as is blended. Some companies simply come up with a brand and use the noun “cheese” to describe the product. Interestingly, cheese is not legally defined…go figure. Seems to me like the standards police missed a big one here. Almost every other dairy product and ingredient has a standard of identity. Why doesn’t the word “cheese?”

Moving on...any American who has traveled outside the States knows that process-style cheeses are not only more dynamic in other countries, they are readily embraced as a snack and cooking condiment. Their formulation, shelf life and performance renders them suitable for all types of innovating. They can easily be made into portable snacks, one of the hottest trends these days.

To read more about “Cheese Trends: Portion Packs.” Link HERE.

Now, check out these 10 recent innovations.

Scott’s of Wisconsin recently debuted four varieties of Natural Cheddar Cheese Spreads. Varieties range from on-trend Buffalo and Buffalo Blue to the sweeter side, with Cranberry Cinnamon and Chocolate Walnut. And yes, that is cheddar with chocolate.

Pine River Inc., offers a range of cold pack cheese food spreads, with its most recent addition being Ghost Pepper. At the Winter Fancy Food Show the company sampled a Kimchi prototype that is to die for!

The company, too, has a new spreadable chocolate cheese that is more than 51% dairy, allowing it to sport the Real Seal. Pine River Dairy Fudge is a sweet chocolaty, protein-packed spread based on American cheese. It’s great with graham crackers, pretzels and apple slices.

Chocolate and cheese must go together. (They also both go great with wine!)

Moondarra Cheese Pty Ltd., of Australia, exporters to the States of its namesake uniquely flavored cream cheeses, now offers Chocolate & Hazelnut and Bruschetta varieties. The brand is known for its use of large, identifiable pieces of flavorful ingredients. Popular favorites include Apricot & Almond, Cranberry & Macadamia and Fig & Walnut. The product has an 8- to 10-month refrigerated shelf life.

Beer and cheese go together, too! Two local Pennsylvania companies—Victory Brewing Company and Key Ingredient Market--have joined forces to create the ultimate in cheddar cheesy, craft beer goodness: Victory Cheddar Spreads. The joint venture offers three head-turning cheddar cheese spreads that blend specialty Wisconsin cheddar with best-selling Victory beer brands. Varieties are: HopDevil Cheddar Spread (bold and balanced flavors of HopDevil Ale with jalapenos and chipotles in a creamy cheddar base), Headwaters Cheddar Dip (a blend of pineapple, papaya, ginger and curry with the crisp, clean essence of Headwaters Pale Ale) and Golden Monkey Cheddar Spread (the spicy, herbal qualities of the light-bodied, full-flavored beer with the classic, creamy tang of cheddar).

Here’s another head turner. Hunters Reserve blends game meat with cheese for a flavorful spread. This Minnesota-based game meat purveyor offers these four varieties: Bison & Chipotle Cheddar Cheese, Elk & Roasted Garlic Cheese, Pheasant & Smoked Gouda Cheese and Venison & Queso Cheddar Cheese.

Available in foil-sealed 3.5-ounce cups--individually, in variety gift packs or three same cups in a 10.5-ounce ceramic crock with lid—the shelf-stable dips can be served hot or cold. Each gourmet cheese cup contains a unique blend of creamy Wisconsin cheese surrounded by tiny morsels of the company’s signature wild game summer sausages.

On the tamer side of flavors, BC-USA recently introduced Alouette Brie Fondue, a 4-minute microwaveable fondue featuring brie cheese, a white wine reduction and spices. The new concept debuted for the Christmas holidays, making it easier for entertainers to serve a rich, creamy gourmet fondue perfect for dipping bread, fruit, veggies and more.

At that time, the company also added Cranberry Apple Spice Soft Spreadable Cheese to its Alouette spreadable line.

Bel Brands had something new for the holidays, too. Introduced under its Kaukauna Cheese label, new Peppadew Pepper Spreadable Cheese Ball combines peppadew, red bell peppers and cheddar cheese.

Pimento pieces look like peppadew and are the characterizing ingredient in pimento cheese spread, a staple in most southerners’ kitchens and now making its way across the States. This concept has real potential everywhere. It makes a great dip, bread spread and appetizer.

Red Clay Gourmet markets a line of namesake pimento cheese spreads. Handmade in small batches using local ingredients, the spreads come in four varieties: Classic Sharp Cheddar, Flame Roasted Jalapeno, Goat Cheese & Sundried Tomato and Hickory Smoked Cheddar. The recipe starts with aged, extra sharp white cheddar shreds. The firm texture of the aged cheese allows for the use of very little mayonnaise, as compared to other pimento spreads in the marketplace, according to the company. This is a huge selling point for most of their customers. 

At SIAL in Paris this past fall, I saw this new product line from Lactima in Poland. It’s in one of my favorite package concepts: the pouch. (Read more about the potential of the pouch for dairy HERE.)

In the marketplace for about a year, these process-style cheeses comes in four varieties: Blue Cheese, Emmentaler, Gouda and With Mushrooms. The cheese can be squeezed onto sandwiches, pasta, veggies and more. The product is available for export and has a 4- to 6-month shelf life. This product line screams convenience.
Brie gets more convenient. Lactalis introduces President Wee Brie, a creamy, brie-flavored spreadable cheese made from Wisconsin milk. These individually wrapped 40-calories wedges, which come in wheels of eight, are great for on-the-go snacking and lunchboxes.

I think you would agree these products are far from plastic-wrapped slices. They are “Process-style Specialty Cheeses,” a term coined by BerryOnDairy.

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