Friday, August 20, 2021

Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.


News broke this week that alternative meat company Beyond Meat filed a trademark application for “Beyond Milk” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. What the news failed to report is that the company did the same for “Beyond Cheese.” Impossible Foods already has the trademark of “Impossible” for non-dairy milk and milk products, too. 

Let’s discuss this. First off, for a point of clarification, plant-based butter is margarine and plant-based leather is plastic. Plant-based cheese is imitation cheese and has been around for a very long time. It refers to low-cost processed cheese in which the milkfat, milk protein or both are partially or wholly replaced with non-dairy ingredients, such as corn oil and soy protein. “Plant-based” does not mean “vegan” and neither does “imitation.” Vegan cheese, however, is a type of imitation cheese and should be labeled as such. So, while the dairy industry continues its fight about the use of the word milk on non-dairy white fluids, I think it might be a good time to change battles before things get ugly. It is paramount that every cheese-type product in the market that contains non-dairy fat or non-dairy protein, or both, and describes itself as being cheese, includes the word imitation on the label. 

And why? Because “real” cheesemaking is both an art and science. Imitation cheesemaking is just science. Both have a place in our evolving food scene, but we cannot dilute the beautiful art and science of cheesemaking. 

I made cheese for three years, from 1990 to 1993 with Kraft. I fully appreciate the importance of timing the addition of cultures and enzymes, managing pH and washing curd, the salting and packing process, and with pasta filata types, the temperature of the cooker/stretcher and the strength of the brine. Like I said, it’s an art and a science. 

That is something that the American Cheese Society (ACS) knows well. The group held a virtual conference a few weeks ago that enabled an international audience of cheese professionals-- from the U.S. to Europe to New Zealand--to interact and share knowledge and innovation. This would not have been possible without a virtual platform and indeed, virtual meetings are one of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic. The ACS voice will be amplified by its recent acquisition of Victory Cheese, an initiative launched by cheesemakers, mongers, chefs and cheese enthusiasts to help support and sustain specialty and artisan cheesemakers in the U.S. during and after the pandemic. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo

Every other year, ACS surveys artisan and specialty cheesemakers from around the U.S. to identify trends and guide benchmarking, policy recommendations and advocacy for the cheese industry. The 2020 survey was conducted two months into the COVID-19 pandemic. See infographics for some survey highlights. Infographics are courtesy of Saputo. (Click on infographic to enlarge.)

Real, natural cheese is made with only four ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. It is the careful selection of these ingredients and the handling of the finished curd that allows for the many varieties of cheese in the marketplace. Cheese is one of the simplest, yet most complex foods in the world and we must never let it be lost to imitators. 

Here are some great examples of keeping the art and science of cheesemaking alive. 

Marin French Cheese Co., is introducing Golden Gate, the first in its new line of premium cheeses handcrafted at the country’s oldest cheese company. This washed-rind, triple crème cheese is aptly named for the golden color of the cheese as well as the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic gateway to Marin County where the historic creamery is located. The unique cultures naturally present in California’s coastal air result in an artisan cheese with a true sense of place. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Golden Gate undergoes four rounds of handwashing in its 14-day aging process to lock in moisture that encourages the growth of Brevibacterium linens cultures. Multiple rounds of handwashing in brine score the cheese to help it develop the cultures and build an edible rind that preserves the cheese’s creamy texture and balances its earthy, rich flavor with just the right amount of salt. The striking orange rind occurs naturally without the use of added colorant like annatto. Throughout the process, Golden Gate is stored at optimal humidity and temperature. 

Creamery Manager Caroline Di Giusto says that Golden Gate requires additional training with personal attention from the cheesemaking team. “This dedication is what makes Golden Gate a truly artisanal cheese that’s interesting and enjoyable as it ages into a more pungent and gooier flavor profile for cheese aficionados, enthusiasts and explorers,” says Di Giusto. 

Marin French Cheese has been making high-quality, soft-ripened cheeses using French techniques in the coastal terroir of Marin County since 1865. Famed for its soft-ripened cheeses with bloomy white penicillium rinds, it has also been handcrafting washed-rind cheeses since 1901 using Old World techniques. 

According to the ACS, “washed-rind” describes the surface-ripening process of washing cheese throughout the aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy or a mixture of ingredients, resulting in cheeses with higher pH levels and lower acidity, high moisture content and a characteristic red-orange rind. Also typically pungent, the flavor profile of many washed-rind cheeses including Golden Gate is milder than their aroma would suggest. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Golden Gate offers a mature flavor that appeals to the evolving palates of today’s American consumers who are seeking nuanced profiles in their cheese,” says Manon Servouse, Marin French Cheese’s marketing director. “This cheese has a true sense of place and is a delicious, tangible representation of our unique Marin County terroir.”

Golden Gate is made in small batches with the highest-quality pasteurized milk from Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey cows pastured at North Bay dairies located near the Marin French Cheese creamery. A triple crème cheese means that cream is added to the milk for a richer flavor and texture. The vibrant edible orange rind reveals a supple, pale yellow interior with rich, botanical aromas and a deep savory flavor. Best enjoyed at room temperature, Golden Gate ranges from semi-soft, fudgy and robust when young to earthier oozing umami as it approaches its best-by date.

Rogue Creamery, which is known for its award-winning organic blue cheese, now offers a line of pre-packaged blue cheese wedges. Six varieties of Rogue’s certified organic, cave-aged blue cheeses come in convenient 4.2-ounce wedges. Varieties are Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue, Crater Lake Blue, Oregonzola, Caveman Blue and Bluehorn Blue. The company is using the rollout of the new format as an opportunity to rethink its case packaging and make its products more accessible to smaller independent retailers.

“We are always looking for ways to offer a cheese that’s on the cutting edge of sustainability,” says David Gremmels, president. “We aim to raise the bar and make our products more available to a broader range of consumers, all while reducing our plastic consumption and carbon footprint.”

Face Rock Creamery is an award-winning specialty cheese producer based in Bandon, Oregon. One of its newer concepts is the Face2Face blended aged cheddar, the creamery’s first mixed-milk cheddar cheese. The 12-month aged cheddar is made from a balanced blend of milk sourced from cow and sheep farmers located on the Southern Oregon coast. The cheese has a dense, creamy base from high butterfat cow’s milk and a slight salty piquancy from the sheep’s milk. 

It comes in 6- and 8-ounce blocks for retail and direct consumer sales, as well as 9-pound loafs for foodservice. It’s also available as a compact 7-pound clothbound wheel, aged for a minimum of 13 months. Face Rock takes a unique approach to its clothbound process by coating the wheels in butter made on site at the creamery using the same milk that goes into the cheese.

The company is one of four finalists among food and beverage startups vying for a $200,000 angel investment via Oregon Angel Food. Wishing them the best of lock at the finale on September 17, 2021.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Schuman Cheese continues to impress. Cello, one of the company’s handcrafted specialty cheese brands, added two products this summer to its portfolio of cheese flights: Cello Breeze and Cello Sunrise. Aiming to making cheese less intimidating for all through tasty products and educational resources, these new offerings deliver on both flavor and approachability, according to the company. 
The latest varietals feature paired trios of new and fan-favorite Cello cheeses in support of the growing cheese board trend. Cello’s cheese connoisseurs developed each flight to include an ideal combination of flavors, removing all the guesswork from building the perfect board. 

Cello Breeze couples Cello’s classic English Cheddar with two never-before-released offerings, Cello Blueberry Lemon Fontal and Cello Red Wine Soaked Goat Cheese. Cello Sunrise features Cello’s Cheddar Gruyere enhanced with roasted red and black peppers, a 10-month aged Asiago and a classic favorite, the Cello Hand-Rubbed Tuscan Fontal. 

“At Cello, we make it our mission to equip cheese lovers with the products and knowledge that will enhance every eating occasion,” says Mike Currie, marketing director at Schuman Cheese, the parent company of Cello. “We are thrilled to continue offering them even more ways to enjoy cheese through these exciting new flavors and flight pairings.” 

Speaking of the cheeseboard trend, Saga Ventures is introducing Cheeseboard Snacking Bar. The product is designed as a single-serve cheese snacking bar that provides healthy and satiable fuel between meals. It uses fresh California ingredients--two cups of milk, local fruits, nuts and spices—everything from apricot pistachio with rosemary and sea salt to chili mango with pepitas. It’s your all-in-one personal cheeseboard that provides 17 grams of protein.

In response to the growing demand for Gouda, Roth Cheese has introduced a new look for its line of Gouda products. The updated packaging--punctuated by easy-to-spot labels--features new wedges and slices for fan-favorites Roth Gouda and Natural Smoked Gouda.

“As trends and colors evolve, we want our packaging to stay current,” says Heather Engwall, vice president of marketing for Roth Cheese. “We are excited to deliver the same delicious Gouda cheese that our fans know and love, now with a bright and fun aesthetic that is sure to catch the eye of any cheese counter visitor.”

At the beginning of the summer, the company introduced Roth Spinach Artichoke Gouda. Made with the spinach artichoke flavors Americans know from one of their favorite party dips, this new gouda flavor was selected by consumers after a nationwide vote to “Choose Our Next Cheese.”

The crowd-sourcing campaign set out to take cheesemaking out of the creamery and into the hands of cheese fans who voted between four new flavors of gouda: Chimichurri, Hot Honey, Spinach Artichoke and Buffalo Ranch.

“As we are developing new products, we obsess over figuring out what the consumer will like, even when we’re creating a new flavored cheese,” says Samantha Streater, business development and innovation manager at Roth Cheese. “Spinach Artichoke Gouda was a clear winner in this contest and something we know consumers will love.”

Roth cheesemaker Madeline Kuhn spent several months perfecting this new cheese.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Taking a classic taste like Spinach Artichoke, and turning it into a cheese, is a great way to get creative with new recipes to reimagine the flavor,” says Kuhn. “The rich and savory flavor will make you feel the comfort of Spinach Artichoke dip.”

There’s a lot of cheese activity in the import space. Norseland Inc., for example, is starting to market and distribute Pastureland Cheddar in the U.S. This range of premium Irish cheddar cheeses from Dairygold hopes to capitalize on the growing consumer awareness around health and nutritional benefits of naturally produced dairy products. The range will be certified to the prestigious Bord Bia Grass Fed standard and will be the first dairy product to feature the Grass Fed logo on its packaging.

“Consumers are looking for brands that align with their personal values and sustainability is frequently at the top of the list,” says John Sullivan, CEO and president of Norseland. “It’s inspiring to see more brands become sustainability-minded and make products that are accessible to everyone. On top of the environmental appeal, the cheese is delicious.”

Trugman-Nash LLC, the makers of Old Croc Australian Cheddar, is bringing even more “bite” to the category with the introduction of Grand Reserve Australian Vintage Cheddar in a new convenient 7-ounce retail package. Previously only available in 10-, 16- and 24-ounce chunks, this smaller size package is designed to increase consumer trial and invite more specialty cheese lovers to enjoy this special cheddar at an attractive price. Grand Reserve is crafted with milk from grass-fed cows and non-GMO ingredients. Grand Reserve is the brand’s most mature cheddar and not for the faint of heart. It’s carefully aged a minimum of two full years for a bold, rich flavor. The cheese’s texture is surprisingly creamy, yet crumbly with noticeably crunchy crystals.

Trader Joe’s now offers a limited-edition Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers. Exclusive to the U.S. private-label retailer, new Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers starts with creamy milk produced by grass-fed cows. That milk is fermented into a full-bodied Irish Cheddar infused with flakes of fiery red chili peppers. The creaminess of the cheddar is said to temper the heat of the chili peppers, which in turn brings out some of the cheddar’s sharpness.

Earlier this year, Old Amsterdam, the market leader in branded aged gouda cheese in Holland and a product of the third-generation 100% family-owned and run Westland Cheese Company, debuted two new flavors: Old Amsterdam Mild and Old Amsterdam Reserve. Old Amsterdam Reserve is aged for a minimum of 18 months and has a multitude of deep, rich flavors with bourbon, caramel and pecan undertones and a firm, crumbly texture, sparked with lots of ripening crystals. Old Amsterdam Mild is a young gouda aged for a minimum of four months. It and has a creamy and semi-soft texture.

Just four ingredients is all it takes. Of course, it’s only possible with time, knowledge and care. There’s nothing beyond real cheese. 

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