The process for manufacturing many types of cheese, including the Dutch type cheeses such as Edam or Gouda, requires the pressed cheese to pass through a curing stage in a brine bath to enhance the taste and texture. Over time the brine becomes enriched with fats, proteins and lactose out of the cheese. At the same time yeasts and molds can develop which might need to be cleaned: this can be achieved using, for example, microfiltration. However, as well as maintaining the shelf life of the brine, this process can also have an additional, and unexpected, benefit for the consumer.
The chemical and microbiological composition of the cheese brine is important for the optimal development of the cheese flavor. But cheese brine may contain undesired microorganisms such as gas-producing lactobacilli, pigment producing micrococcus, pathogenic bacteria, yeast and mold. Microfiltration has proven to be a superior technology for the sanitation and purification of cheese brine as it is a clean process which physically removes the microorganisms, dead cells and physical contaminants from the brine without any significant change to the chemical composition.
Microfiltration is now widely used as a practical and environmentally sustainable method of removing contamination from the brine and maintaining its chemical equilibrium. GEA has developed its COLDSAN™ technology expressly for this purpose. Using microfiltration the brine solution maintains a more consistent ionic balance which promotes salt uptake by the cheese and avoids cheese softening.
Maintaining the microbiological composition of the brine not only improves efficiency and reduces disposal costs for the manufacturer, it also has a consequential benefit for the consumer. After curing, most cheeses go through a maturation period in which they are stored for a period of weeks. During this time they are protected in many cases with a plastic film that prevents any bacteria on the cheese surface from growing. However, when the maturation is complete, cheeses are often sliced and repackaged conveniently for consumers.
Slicing the cheese may redistribute any surface bacteria onto the faces of the cheese slices. Repackaging is usually in blister packs in which the oxygen has been removed or replaced with an inert gas, such as nitrogen, to prevent bacterial growth. However, as soon as the consumer opens the package, the initial bacterial load on the surface of the cheese becomes important. The more bacteria present, the less time the cheese will remain usable.
Through efficient cleaning of the brine used for curing the cheese, the bacterial load on the cheese surface, and consequently on the surfaces of the cheese slices can be significantly reduced. This extends the usable life of the cheese, saves money for the consumer and avoids waste.
Olaf Drewelowsky from GEA said that although GEA systems are primarily aimed at creating efficiencies for manufacturers, in this case there was a clear benefit for consumers as well.
"All consumers are keen to keep food fresh as long as possible and reduce waste,” he said. “When manufacturers use COLDSAN™ to keep their brines in good condition, they are also adding value for the consumer and enhancing the perceived quality of their product. Everyone wins!”