Processed Cheese

Processed cheese is manufactured by blending shredded natural cheeses of different types, sources, and degrees of maturity with emulsifying agents, adding water and heating the blend under partial vacuum with constant agitation until a homogeneous mixture is obtained. High shear mixing or homogenization could be used in addition. Besides natural cheeses, other dairy and nondairy ingredients may be included in the blend.

A number of natural cheese varieties were known and appreciated as a valuable food component in ancient Roman times, more than 2000 years ago. There are also quotations about cheeses in the Bible and in old Greek and Latin poetry. Compared with these data, processed cheese seems to be a brand new product, originating in this century, although based on natural cheeses.

Initially, processed cheese was manufactured without an emulsifying agent. The first attempt was as early as 1895, but only after the introduction of citrate (in Switzerland in 1912) as a calcium-sequestering agent did the industrial production of processed cheese become feasible. Actually, Swiss inventors first succeeded in changing the state of casein from coarsely dispersed calcium paracas-einate in the raw cheese, by using heat and sodium citrate as a peptizing agent, into a homogeneous, free-flowing condition: the sol state. Phosphates, which were introduced a few years later, enabled the real expansion of processed cheese manufacture. Quite independently, the production of processed Cheddar cheese started in the United States, developed by Kraft in Chicago in 1917, by using the mixture of phosphates and citrates as emulsifying agents.

The idea of processing was first meant to make use of natural cheeses that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to sell (cheeses with mechanical deformations and localized molds and trimmings produced during cheese formation, pressing, packaging, etc) and to obtain a product of better keeping quality. While soft cheese and semihard cheese could be canned, pasteurized, and consequently stored for a long time or exported overseas (even to the Tropics), such a procedure for hard cheeses has not been developed. All experiments with the aim to heat treat hard cheeses (eg, Emmentaler) failed, resulting in the breakdown of the cheese structure with exclusion of fat and water. Proteolysis and lipolysis continue beyond the stage where the optimum flavor has been developed in any given cheese. Advanced decomposition of proteins/lipids leads to a nutritionally inferior product, causing detrimental changes in sensory characteristics, ending up with an unsuitable cheese for consumption. The invention of processed cheese was the perfect solution for long storage of all native cheese varieties. Even longer storage could be achieved with processed cheese powder or sterilized processed cheese. The assortment of processed cheese was further expanded due to numerous possible combinations of various types of cheese and the inclusion of other dairy and nondairy components, which make it possible to produce processed cheese differing in consistency, flavour, size, and shape.

The main characteristics of processed cheese are composition, water contents, and consistency. According to these criteria, three main groups may be distinguished: processed cheese blocks, processed cheese foods, and processed cheese spreads (1-5) (Table 1). More recent subtypes are processed cheese slices and smoked processed cheese. Processed cheese analogues are imitation, simulated, or alternative groups of processed cheese that contain no cheese and are usually based on vegetable fat and casein blends.

Processed cheeses are advantageous compared with natural cheese primarily because of the following:

• Reduced refrigeration costs during storage and transport, especially important in hot climates

• Better keeping quality with less alterations during prolonged storage

• Great versatility of type and intensity of flavor, for example, from mild to sharp native cheese flavor or specific spices

• Milk replacement: excellent source of nutritively high valuable milk components for children or people who dislike milk

• Adjustable packaging for various usage, economical and imaginative.

• Suitability for home use as well as for fast-food restaurants, for example, in cheeseburgers, hot sandwiches, spreads, and dips

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