How do you persuade an almost fat-free cheese to behave like a fat? RISE coordinated an EU project to develop a low-fat pizza cheese.
“We succeeded in creating an emulsion to be sprayed on cheese to enable it to melt as normal,” explains Anna Fureby, RISE senior researcher and technical manager of the project.
The project, a reaction to public health concerns regarding increasing levels of obesity among the European population, brought together 3 SME associations, 1 large end-user company and 4 research centres/institutes from Sweden, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the Netherlands. The project, which ended in 2014, received funding under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.
“Our task was to develop a mozzarella-style cheese with hardly any fat content but with a consistency and flavour indistinguishable from a normal mozzarella. We were also restricted to using only dairy and natural products in producing the cheese,” says Anna Fureby.
Easier said than done, one might think; however, after a long period of testing various starter cultures, curdling methods and process techniques, as well as a great many tastings, the results were ready for presentation. The project has also came up against another problem – the melting process of the cheese in the oven.
“It is the fat in a cheese that causes it to melt; here, we had created a low-fat cheese, with less than 3% fat, that refused to melt. We needed to find a solution.
RISE succeeded in melting the new cheese
RISE researchers succeeded in developing an emulsion – a type of surface treatment – that could be sprayed on the cheese so that it would melt once in the oven. Here too, the only ingredients where dairy, with innovative process technology playing its part in the solution. Testing later demonstrated that a pizza contained 50% less fat when the low-fat mozzarella substitute, plus emulsion, was mixed with normal mozzarella. The project developed a complete concept from starter culture to grated, emulsion-treated, ready-to-use cheese.
As yet, there are no pizza manufactures in the food industry using the low-fat cheese. According to Anna Fureby, it is difficult to find a reasonable solution for implementing the entire production chain. Sufficient demand is a prerequisite for cost-effective manufacture of the starter culture, which is the key to a successful cheese.
“We have had a number of inquiries but one should bear in mind that it needs to function at all stages; from curdling through production and on to distribution and sales. I am however delighted and proud that we succeeded in developing a wholly acceptable cheese under the existing conditions, and that we managed to do so using only dairy products, that is, completely naturally. This bodes well for future research and work with public health.”