In Defense Of Cheese And Salt

Volume 136, No. 40, Friday, March 30, 2012

The idea that natural cheese makers should spend valuable time coming up with ways to reduce the salt in cheese is a folly. There is little room for change in the salt content of cheese, as natural cheese requires salt in very precise ratios to its moisture and solids. In the world of cheese, there are cheeses and there are pseudo cheeses. These are cheese-like products that exploit their consumers for the primary reason of profit.

The true nature of cheese is sustenance and pleasure, but we have a range of products that contain highly elevated levels of salt. Many of the non-natural cheeses and other cheese bearing products are high in salt because they are literally filled with it (filled being a term for an ingredient inserted but not needed or essential).

Processed foods frequently contain salt or sugar (sometimes lactose) in amounts higher than in the natural product. Why is that?
Because salt and sugar increase the weight of these products without increasing the volume. Both these ingredients cost a fraction of the raw material cost and are inserted to the point of being problematic.

Salt in most processed foods is not a major contributor to shelf stability nor is the sugar. The sugar again is filler and can be used to offset acid balanced against sweetness and is inserted to the point of causing defects. Both salt and sugar are major money-making additions.

As you can see from the table to the left, natural cheese carries on average only 30 percent of sodium that processed products derived from that same cheese

Natural cheese makers step up! Begin a campaign to promote the health of real cheese and differentiate your product from the processed foods that malign your reputation. Cheese is not the problem, and perhaps salt isn’t either as witnessed by reports read in the the Cheese Reporter.

Many natural cheeses are already low in salt because cheese makers are a little paranoid about having too much salt. In fact, I saw a report last week that a substantial cheese inventory is about to be rejected because it was made with too little salt.

Another case this past year involved a relatively new cheese maker who was selling raw milk cheese across state lines. When it was picked up by the neighboring state inspectors, 10,000 cfu/g of Staph. aureus were present in the sample. This prompted a look at the remaining inventory and counts from 300 to 900 cfu/g were found.

But here’s the twist: there was a parallel inventory, cheeses that were made under our guidance which showed no staph. That’s right, none. I can still hear that cheese maker exclaim “how can that be?”

The answer lies in multiple aspects of the alternate production, and salt was a factor: slightly higher salt, slightly lower moisture put the S/M (salt in moisture) right at the 5.00 percent mark. Comparing this to the standard Cheddar produced by this cheese maker, which came in at 4.2 percent S/M, his cheese was also afflicted with bitter flavor. Salt in this case reduced the staph count AND eliminated the bitterness.

It doesn’t matter whether it is Camembert or Cheddar, the results are the same. Salt is essential, not optional. It is not an option to reduce the amount simply because you think it has a little much. In the case of surface ripened cheeses they will be unstable and become bitter, have limited shelf life and be rejected by consumers, retailers and distributors alike.

Salt performs such a basic role in food that it cannot be eliminated. However, that statement refers to real food, products that reflect a natural balance of what is necessary to make them real.

When we lump artificial or contrived foods into the mix of cheese we can clearly see the problem. Some processed “foods” may rely on artificial amounts of salt to add shelf stability, but most likely not. Salt (and sugar) are revenue generators. When cheese is eaten in a processed form it should no longer be thought of as food but rather processed food. Because processed foods have become the norm, we no longer as consumers view them objectively.

Cheese is what we make from milk with cultures, coagulants and a gentle hand; once that cheese is processed it becomes something else.

How are the statisticians sorting the data? Objectivity is a bit like communication: it’s great when it actually occurs. How much cheese consumed is truly natural and how much is processed, and where did it fall in the data?

Looking at my brief table above:
Cheddar is not the problem, an ounce provides 7 percent of your daily sodium, and the processed derivative provides 17 percent. The next two examples of processed variants are similar.

Swiss cheese, with its low 2 percent of your daily allowance and not shown high level of calcium, is a saintly product we should all eat more of. Look at the processed derivatives and it makes you want to cry. Salt soars to 18 percent of the daily allowance.

The Parmesan and Shredded Parmesan: it was unclear if this was a dried product, but if so, it wold make sense, as many Parmesans contain filler and are not 100 percent Parmesan. I did not have a chance to research the source other than to say, eating natural Parmesan in small amounts will not destroy your salt intake numbers.

Velveeta is probably in those cheese stats, and is a completely formulated product, not natural and very high in salt.

Blue cheeses are necessarily high in salt. Mozzarella, on the other hand, is showing virtuously low salts and should keep them on the low salt diet options.

Real/natural cheese is not the issue. Processed foods and cheeses are. Cheese makers need to inform their customers and the bureaucrats who will impose rules on us that they must be more objective.

Here’s standing up for Cheese and Salt!

Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New Zealand and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions. Neville will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will take any questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him at

Other Neville McNaughton Columns
Captain of Your Vat
Designing A Farmstead Cheese Operation
Judges Recognize High Art in Cheesemaking
Cutting the Curd
One Day Analysis - Beyond Being Legal
The Shape of Cheese
Adding the Extra Column
Pasta Filata Cheese
Very Hard Cheese
Hard Cheese with Eyes
Gouda, Edam And Other Washed Curd Cheese

Other Cheese Reporter Guest Columnists
Visit Dan Strongin
Visit John Umhoefer


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