Advances in Flavor - Enzyme Modified Cheese (EMC) And Flavor

Volume 134, No. 39 - Friday, March 26, 2010

The past two issues of the Dairy Pipeline, published by the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, featured articles directed towards the popularity of flavored cheeses. Certainly, cheeses with added condiments have grown in popularity and provide many cheese sub-varieties from which they are derived.

The opening paragraph of the most recent Pipeline (Volume 21 Number 4, 2009) “Flavored Cheeses are here to stay, Part two: The Cheese Stands Alone,” written by Karen Paulus, states “Remember that the cheese comes first; the flavor you add should complement your cheese, not overpower it.”

Interestingly, I entered a Jalapeno Monterey Jack cheese in the World Cheese Competition several years back (it placed 5th) and the comments were “not enough condiment flavor”!

The purpose of this article is not to dispute opinion in cheese flavor preference but to elaborate on where the industry is going relative to cheese flavor. I am not speaking about flavor or condiment added cheese varieties,
I want to address “does the cheese stand alone” part of the equation. If I didn’t know better I think we add condiments to mask cheese flavor or to disguise the lack of cheese flavor.

I have been fortunate to spend the past 35 years in the cheese industry. Relative to the cheese industry this is a very short time.

However, it is an eternity when considering flavor trend developments and technologies. Most cheese people will agree, when selecting an aged cheese at the retail market there is a high probability to find disappointment in the selection.

I say this with exception to the growing popularity of many artisan cheese makers and a few select companies that pride themselves in marketing aged cheese.

The demand or acceptance of milder flavored cheese from the younger generation has been well documented. Ethnic demands especially among the growing Hispanic population has also contributed the swing toward milder varieties of cheese in most parts of the US.

Combine this with the economy of cheese manufacture, storage and distribution, there is no wonder the
gap in differentiation between a mild and extra sharp Cheddar cheese, aged Swiss, Parmesan and other cheese varieties have lost their age differentiation.

There is no doubt that it is important to reduce cost of manufacture and storage to keep our products competitive with other food options. Unfortunately, cheese flavor development is highly influenced by these factors.

The processed cheese industry took advantage of controlled and uniform flavor development by the use of enzymes to modify cheese flavor in many of their formulations. Enzyme modified cheese (EMC) is a solution to providing consistent flavor as well as intensifying flavor in processed cheese.

Modifying cheese solids with enzymes is a precise process. Critical factors in selection of an enzyme are many; substrate to be modified (fat, protein or both), optimum temperature to be used, water activity of the substrate, pH of the process and time needed to complete the reaction.

Precise controls of these processes will determine the final flavor desired. Deviation of these processes will result in inconsistencies. What is great about the use of EMCs in processed cheese is the ability to denature the enzyme or shut off the reaction when desired results are achieved. Inactivation is generally from heat treatment or limiting the substrate.

In a way, all aged cheese varieties are enzyme modified. Bacteria added to milk during cheesemaking as well as those bacteria naturally occurring in the raw milk are nothing more than little enzyme packets just waiting to lyse and do their thing to the available fat and protein.

For thousands of years man was just fine with the natural maturation of cheese. It hasn’t been but the past 35 or 40 years that we have wanted to mess with nature’s balanced process.

Bring on enzyme modified cheese processes for the manufacture of natural cheese varieties. It was late in the 1970's or very early 1980's that the US began focusing on treating cheese with enzymes specifically for decreasing the time for aging.

Three major companies investigated enzyme technology for natural cheese during this time period. Chr. Hansen Inc., Marschall Dairy Products and Dederich, Inc. each introduced proprietary blends of cultures and specific isolated enzyme blends claiming to provide maximum flavor with minimum aging.

Some of these programs would require elevated temperatures during aging while some required fluctuating temperatures during aging. Generally, most of the applications resulted in technical success for the first few months of aging.

Unfortunately, the majority of the cheese meeting target flavor in less time than a control, sometimes three to four times faster, did not endure the test of time. Flavor quality was many times compromised before reaching the product code date.

Over the past couple of decades many other food ingredient companies have entered into the market of cheese flavor enhancement using enzymes, cultures and the combination. I have seen great improvement in the products and applications of the ingredients used to increase cheese flavor.

So, why is there a high probability that I will not be satisfied with the next package of cheese I purchase at my local market? It is a good question!

My initial thoughts would be; the cost of the systems available do not justify their use, the system used is not used to the suppliers recommendation or perhaps the retailer sees no value in paying for the difference at the store shelf (consumer indifference).

As a consumer I enjoy differentiation. As a cheese consumer I enjoy flavor in my product. When offering a variety of cheeses to my guests I like to show a difference.

I am on a mission to find out what the view of both the consumer and enzyme manufacturer is expecting. The technology of enzyme treatment of cheese to enhance flavor is here. However, I don’t believe it is being recognized to its fullest potential.

Mike Comotto will be writing several articles on culture technology for Cheese Reporter. In addition to his many years of dairy ingredient representation, he has served as cheese judge and grader for a number of international, national and regional cheese contests. You can get in touch with Mike by e-mailing:

The views expressed by Mr. Comotto and other columnists that appear in Cheese Reporter do not necessarily reflect those of the editor and Cheese Reporter Publishing Co. Inc.

Mike Comotto's Past Columns

Direct to the Vat Cheese Cultures - Suppliers, Part 1
Direct to the Vat Cheese Cultures, Part 2
Direct to the Vat Cheese Cultures, Part 1
Starter Culture Development
Mother Cultures
Initial Thoughts


Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
Visit John Umhoefer
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