IFF > Media > Our Blog > Creativity & Innovation > Ask The Experts: How Can I Increase Profitability in Cheesemaking? 

Ask The Experts: How Can I Increase Profitability in Cheesemaking? 

March 13, 2024

Welcome to our Ask The Experts Series where we sit down with an IFF technical team member who specializes in helping our customers achieve their goals with unmatched expertise in their field. Here we talk with James Musetti, Senior Application Scientist for Cultures and Food Enzymes, who specializes in cheesemaking, but also troubleshooting problems our customers incur during the cheesemaking process. Check out the interview below.  

James, is getting profitability in cheese a new challenge?  

James Musetti: 

Even before inflation profitability was a hot topic in the cheese industry and that’s only gotten more pressure as ingredient costs have gone up. Raw material costs have gone up, labor has gone up, energy has gone up, etc. Pretty much everything has gotten more expensive. But the price of cheese is not necessarily getting more expensive in proportion to cost. And just to provide a little more context: for a lot of our customers, their projects are driven right now by reduction of cost-in-use in their process, the cost of the ingredient to produce a unit of product or by improving their profitability, through improving yield and quality consistently. But right now, I see more of a focus on cost-in-use than improving yield. So, it’s more about cost-in-use and efficiency in the plant.  

IFF in Motion - Dairy

Can you give some tips on how cheese manufacturers can improve their profitability in their cheesemaking operations? 

James Musetti: 

Of course. I think there’s multiple ways that cheese makers can improve their profitability and I’d like to go through each one of them. And first, I’d start off by saying one of the largest risks to manufacturing cheese is product loss. And among that, one of the main ways that can happen is through a phage attack where the starter culture is killed by a virus, and the culture fails to ferment to product on time or at all. Meaning the entire vat or most likely multiple vats can be lost or off specification. This would result in a catastrophic loss of product. So, one way is eliminating this product loss through different training programs on bacteriophage management, performing a bacteriophage risk assessment, sanitation and then your selection and maintenance of cultures in your process. 

But product loss can also occur in many other ways during the manufacturing process. It can occur through fines loss or fat loss into the whey and it can occur through different mechanical processes. So that leads me to my next way in which we can improve the profitability of a cheesemaking operation, and that’s through the continuous improvement of yield through reducing whey fats and minimizing curd fines and loss of product. 

Our expertise in the cheese plant and process in partnership with other technical experts throughout the cheese industry and the dairy industry can help with this challenge. And then of course the optimization of the use of the ingredients and the different cheesemaking steps, especially coagulation, the setting of the milk and the cutting step. The next part of this is also optimization of the texture for conversion to reduce losses. The cheese producer makes a block of cheese, whether in a 40 LB block or a 640 LB block, and that cheese must be converted into that small slice that goes on to your hamburger, and during this step a lot of product loss can occur. 

Either through poor texture or rejection of the quality of the cheese, crumbling or breaking of the cheese as it’s being mechanically sliced or shredded, so optimization of texture here can be in the process, recipe, and the ingredients. Cheesemakers can optimize that texture for better conversion and better yield and achieve higher grades on your cheese. 

The next step I would take is reducing the cost-in-use of ingredients and this really comes down to ingredient selection. Choosing the ingredient that will give you the most benefit for the most value in your operation at the lowest cost. And then of course the optimization of that ingredient, working with your suppliers and other technical experts to use the minimum amount required of any of your ingredients to achieve a consistent result, again maximizing your value.  

And then lastly, I would say improving consistency and this really starts with the standardization of the process and the ingredient performance. For example, standardizing the milk that goes into the vat: you put the same composition of milk in the vat at the same pH, and you follow the same process consistently. 

With the same process inputs, timing, and the same ingredients with consistent performance, you will have the same cheese at the end of the day. Of course, the ingredients supplier then also needs to ensure that the production and performance of their ingredients are also consistent from one day to the next. One batch to the next, helping cheese makers to improve their product losses and profitability. 

Do you have an example or case study of how cheese manufacturers can improve their profitability and cheese quality?  

James Musetti: 

Absolutely yes. I have a recent case study here where we had a customer who we approached about one of our ingredients, a coagulant (enzyme). We sat down with that customer and did a paper exercise to see how we could optimize their cost and use of coagulant and found we could save them money by switching to our coagulant.  

And we were able to achieve this because our coagulant has a higher concentration, meaning that a lower amount goes in at a competitive price. So, we were able to save this customer some money on the use of the ingredients. But not only that, we were able to optimize the use of this ingredient, so we use the minimal amount. We were also able to optimize the coagulation and cutting steps so that there was an increase in their moisture and reducing their whey fat and fines losses as well. So not only saving them money, but also increasing their profitability through increasing yield and eliminating product loss into the whey. I went to their manufacturing facilities to run the product and ensure they were happy with the results, in real-time, not just on paper. I do this weekly.  

Even when customers’ problems don’t include, or have nothing to do with our product, we will go and assist them. Just last week for instance, I was in a cheddar plant that put in a new piece of equipment. They’re struggling with this new piece of equipment and weren’t getting the needed support from the manufacturer. I went in and looked at their process and started making some process changes that were going to be required. We helped them make better-quality cheese with this new piece of equipment that had nothing to do with our ingredients. That is what makes a good partner. We are here to assist and support in any way our expertise allows us to. 

Having challenges like these in your cheese operation? Get in contact with one of our cheese experts and solve your production hurdles today.