New cheese ripening cultures can improve the flavour in low-fat products as well as speeding up ripening time, says manufacturer Chr Hansen.
The Danish ingredients group developed the new cultures to meet rising demand from a growing category of low-fat dairy products.
The culture blends - CR-530 and CR-550 - work by speeding up the breakdown of compounds during the cheese ripening process that typically cause a bitter taste in low-fat cheeses. In full-fat cheeses, the taste of these compounds are masked by the fat, explained Nanna Borne, marketing manager at the firm's Cheese Cultures division.
"One of the big problems with making low-fat cheese has been the bitterness," she told FoodNavigator.com. "You can taste the broken down peptides and amino acids."
"The new ripening blends speed up the process so that the compounds are already broken down to something you no longer taste."
The cultures are included in Chr Hansen's Flavor Control CR-500 series and targeted at producers of low-fat variants of traditional yellow cheese with high moisture content, such as Continental, Gouda and Cheddar cheese.
While it remains 'almost impossible' to create the same flavour as the full-fat cheeses, the ripening cultures can at least add some of the sensory notes missing from low-fat cheeses, said Borne. They also give reduced and low-fat cheeses a firm and sliceable texture.
"For example, it is possible to have low-fat Continental without bitterness - or reduced fat Cheddar with full savoury flavour."
The cultures have been tested in low-fat Gouda cheese and Cheddar cheese with "significant" results, according to Mikkel Laust Broe, application manager for cheese in the innovation department.
Test cheeses made with two different blends were evaluated after maturing for nine weeks. They were described as having "no bitterness", "high intensity", "complex cheese flavour" and "sweet and nutty flavour". The labels were in contrast to a reference cheese made with starter cultures only, which was found to have "bitter notes" and "simple flavour".
Low-fat cheese is growing strongly in popularity as consumers increasingly focus on healthy diets. More than twice as many new low-fat cheeses were introduced in 2007 compared to 2005, according to data supplied by market research firm Mintel to Chr Hansen. In the last quarter of 2007, nearly 90 new low fat cheese products were introduced globally, says Mintel.
The Scandinavian market has led the way in developing low-fat dairy products, testing some of Chr Hansen's previous ripening cultures. Borne expects the new ripening blends to see significant demand across northern Europe where low-fat products are most popular.
The cultures can also bring out a rich flavour profile in full fat cheese, meeting growing interest in gourmet cheeses, she said. "In full fat cheese the CR-500 ripening cultures are typically used to brand a special flavour and the manufacturer can sell brand cheese with a premium."
In addition, Chr Hansen claims customers using the cultures will see cost savings as speeding up cheese ripening will shorten storage time in dairies.
The new ripening blends will be on display at the IDF Symposium on Cheese Ripening in Bern next week.