Cheese important to Indiana dairymen
When consumers browse the cheese aisle at grocery stores, they see a popular and versatile dairy product that can be enjoyed in different ways, from grilled between two slices of bread to topping off a salad.
But there’s another side to cheese than simply Swiss vs. provolone, or shredded vs. sliced. Consumers should know more about the aging process that takes place before the product reaches a grocer’s shelf.
Flavor is a main reason cheese is aged, says Haley Oliver, Purdue University assistant professor of food science.
• Cheesemaking is important to Indiana’s dairy industry.
• Aging adds flavor to cheeses and increases their overall food safety.
• The process of aging also adds nutritional value and aids digestibility.
“It will change the flavor profile as microorganisms use food for their own use and break it down into lactose and casein,” Oliver says. “The longer it ages, the more sugars and proteins break down, and you have different flavors.”
Flavor isn’t the only reason to age cheese. Aging also aids in increasing overall safety. Raw-milk cheeses must age for 60 days before being sold in the United States, Oliver says.
“That gives organisms enough time to reduce water in that cheese to a level that won’t support growth of bacteria that can cause disease,” Oliver says.
A raw-milk cheese is typically a hard cheese, not American singles on top of hamburgers. A famous example of a raw-milk cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano.
In addition to aging raw-milk cheeses for 60 days, cheese producers must follow other food safety guidelines.
A high-moisture cheese, like fresh mozzaralla, must be made with pasteurized milk and then test pathogen-free, Oliver says. Milk is the most regulated commodity in the United States, and because of that, cheese is also highly regulated.
“It’s very specific [regulations] depending upon the type of cheese,” Oliver says.
Aging also adds nutritional value. Part of this added nutrition is digestibility.
“The more simple a food is because an organism has essentially digested those nutrients, the more easily digestible it is for us,” Oliver says. “We can extract more out of it.”
That’s why some people can eat cheese or yogurt, but not drink milk. If a person is lactose intolerant, in an aged cheese or similar dairy food, organisms have already utilized lactose.
Aging cheese is about time, temperature and water content, Oliver says. “It depends on the types of cheese, but it’s going to be a humidity and temperature-controlled environment,” she says.
Hann is a senior in Purdue University Ag Communications.
This article published in the February, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.