“Clean label,” it was the most prominent theme at IFT16, the annual meeting and food expo of the Institute of Food Technologists held in Chicago this past July. And no wonder, did you know that 73% of consumers find it important that they recognize a product’s ingredients?
Ingredion proprietary research, MMR, Consumer Study, 309 consumers, USA, April 2015
When it comes to clean label, dairy foods dominate the packaged foods sector. With minimal processing along with the addition of just a handful of ingredients, fluid milk may be converted into many different products, from cheese to ice cream to yogurt.
Dairy foods, by design, should be clean and simple. Take cheese for example, most natural cheeses are made with four simple ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. It’s the exact same ingredient statement for cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan.
It’s the specific selection of milk, cultures, enzymes and even salt, that influences flavor, texture and appearance. To read more about cultures and enzymes as the clean-label powerhouses behind dairy foods innovations, link HERE to an article I recently wrote for Food Business News on the topic.
There’s an incredible opportunity to get creative with cheese when you formulate non-standardized products, some of which are considered to be “process” cheese. I’m not talking the individually plastic-wrapped slices that often top a burger. Rather, many non-standardized cheeses encompass a range of premium, gourmet products that might contain a few more than those four simple ingredients, but they can be clean and simple ingredients nonetheless.
What most Americans don’t understand is that cheese terminology, including the term process, is highly regulated in the United States, but not elsewhere. (This is not taking into consideration common food names. That’s an entire different conversation. For the U.S. perspective on why U.S. cheesemakers should be able to call feta cheese feta and Parmesan cheese Parmesan, link HERE.)
The fact is, process cheese products can be clean label and natural, per definitions recognized by the industry. They are not “processed,” per the definition some consumers use interchangeably with “Frankenfoods” and laboratory experiments.
“Process cheese is not flagged as such in most countries,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation, Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands. “In Europe, especially, such soft, spreadable cheeses are used as flavorful condiments in sandwiches. They are also used as dips and for snacking. Process cheese technology allows for a great deal of flavor and texture innovation, something not typically possible with natural cheese, which is a living system.”
Process cheese products are also highly regarded by prepared foods manufacturers and foodservice professionals, as these cheeses typically provide superior meltability and improved versatility in a wide array of applications, as compared to natural cheeses.
Process cheeses, as well as non-standardized cheeses, can serves as a base for innovative dairy foods formulators to add layers of flavors.
Take for example this new gourmet spreadable cheese product from Lactalis American Group Inc. President Rondele Gingerbread cheese will be available from October 1 through December 31. This is the company’s first-ever, limited-time seasonal flavor. This spreadable cheese with a cookie-inspired flavor, features hints of molasses and ginger. It comes in an attractive disposable cup that resembles a white ramekin and can easily be placed right on the table for a convenient presentation.
The Code of Federal Regulations
Most natural cheeses, which are living systems that evolve over time in terms of flavor and texture, are made from only four ingredients: cultures, enzymes, milk and salt. In Title 21 Part 133 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), FDA legally defines cheese and outlines the requirements for more than 90 standardized cheeses, including natural varieties such as cheddar and mozzarella, as well as various process cheeses, including those that undergo heat treatment as well as those comminuted without the aid of heat.
Though natural cheeses can be and are used in food processing, more often than not, formulators rely on pasteurized cheeses. The heat treatment these cheeses undergo enables better control over functional properties.
Pasteurized cheeses start out by blending a minimum amount of specified natural cheese with other ingredients, including those with emulsifying properties. The pasteurization (high-heat treatment) step deactivates the enzymes and cultures, which stops the cheese from changing.
As mentioned, the CFR provides standards for a number of pasteurized cheeses, but there are also many such cheeses that are non-standardized, allowing for additional ingredients and process modifications to meet finished product specifications. This includes functional properties such as restricted melt, enhanced flavor and controlled browning. Because of the ability to control functionality, most cheeses used in food processing tend to be pasteurized.
The CFR provides a number of standards for pasteurized cheese based on total cheese solids content. This includes pasteurized process cheese, pasteurized process cheese food and pasteurized process cheese spread. Cold-pack and club cheese are also considered by many as process cheeses.
These products are comminuted without the aid of heat.
Process cheeses almost always requires the use of texturants and stabilizers. Clean-label native starches and select gums can assist with texture and melt management, without compromising key sensory attributes and consumers acceptance.
- Free from additives: remove or replace food additives.
- Feature a simple ingredient listing: choose recognizable ingredients that do not sound chemical or artificial.
- Minimally processed: process foods using traditional techniques that are understood by consumers and not perceived as being artificial.
Following widely covered news reports of adulteration and fraud in some sectors of Italian cheese, a leading company in the U.S. cheese industry, Schuman Cheese, announced in early August 2016 plans to introduce the industry’s first trust mark. The on-package seal is intended to verify product quality and manufacturing integrity.
The True Cheese trust mark will appear on Schuman cheeses and snacks sold in supermarket and mass retail channels. The company reported newly labeled products are already appearing in some stores and will be phased in as customer orders are filled. The announcement follows recent news reports of an investigation of Castle Cheese Inc., by the FDA. According to the report, Castle’s grated cheese was labeled as “100% Parmesan Cheese,” yet it contained no Parmesan cheese, a standardized product.
The first quality seal of its kind in the cheese business, the move follows similar food industry initiatives for olive oil, honey and fresh fish, intended to help consumers know the product they are purchasing is real, and indeed what it claims to be. The True Cheese label will mean the verified product is made only with milk, cultures, salt, enzymes, is aged as required, and that any use of an anti-caking ingredient is at or below industry accepted levels and properly labeled.
Schuman Cheese also announced a product testing agreement with Covance Food Solutions to independently test True Cheese labeled products. Periodic testing of randomly selected products taken from retail locations will be performed at Covance’s laboratory in Madison, WI.
“We guarantee that all of our products are properly labeled and produced in accordance with the strictest regulations. Our partnership with Covance provides us with an objective, third-party verification of that promise,” says Neal Schuman, third-generation CEO of his family-owned company headquartered in Fairfield, NJ. “Our goal is to assure consumers that they’re getting real Parmesan, Asiago and Romano cheeses when they buy cheeses with the True Cheese trust mark.”
According to the company, apart from the seal and related testing of items displaying the mark, there’s no real way for consumers to self-determine exactly how a cheese is made or if excessive fillers might be included in the package. To learn more, link HERE.