Cottage cheese is a special kind of cheese. In many ways, it is demanding to produce due to its characteristics: the delicate grain, its wide range of sourness (pH) depending on recipe, the variety of dressings such as sweet or sour cream used in the process. And it is also of great importance to make sure the end-product has just the right appearance in the package. The curd must look deliciously smooth and the grain size needs to be homogeneous. Other challenges affecting product quality and process efficiency are protein losses in whey, clean label and product shelf life.
The road to success goes through an optimised production process – and the selecting the optimal equipment for continued growth. Mateusz Pawlik, Portfolio Manager Fresh Cheese, explains:
“Obtaining good grains is what defines the quality of the final product. Our Tetra Pak® Grainy Cheese Vat E4, with its closed design, ensures both repeatability and full control. It uses a dimple jacket for the heating of the vat; by using hot water instead of steam, we reduce the risk of overheating the curd and denaturing precious whey proteins. The difference between the temperature of the heating medium and the actual product is also strictly controlled. This is important to avoid burning.”
Another feature is the waffle plate. “This is a special design that, together with the single run cutting method, maximises the amount of perfectly cut curd,” says Mateusz.
Tetra Pak equipment enables flexibility and a modular approach. Small-batch production can be done efficiently, which makes it easy to innovate and, for example, experiment with new flavours. It also means existing equipment doesn’t become redundant when increasing production capacity.
“If a customer wants to start small, say with around 16,000 litres per day, they only need a cheese vat, a drum drainer to separate the whey from the curd, and a vertical blender to mix the additives. When they want to increase their capacity, they don’t have to replace anything, they just add more equipment – such as a drainer washer,” says Mateusz.
Compared to production of low pH cheese, the setup for high pH cheese generally requires more machines. There may be a need to flush lactic acid, something that requires a cooling tower. But again, pieces of equipment are easy to add as new product ideas arise.
When it comes to the handling of recipes, the Tetra Pak PlantMaster automation solution is partly why small batches can be produced so efficiently.
“There are two aspects to how we support flexible recipe management,” says Mateusz. “One is Tetra Pak PlantMaster, with its embedded out-of-the-box functionalities like, for example, flexible recipes. It lets you manage everything from order intake to production schedule and execution. So there is a software aspect of having a large variety of products in the portfolio. And in addition, we have the vertical blender. It makes it possible to mix multiple additives and really small portions of curd in an efficient way. The blender has enough capacity to work with our biggest vats, but at the same time it can mix the curd when it’s only 25% full. Horizontal blenders need a higher filling volume to work. The vertical blender also has a hygienic design. It is easy to empty and clean.”
Easy and efficient emptying reduces product losses, as very little curd stays inside the blender. But what else contributes? Mateusz explains:
“The features that are embedded in the vat cut the curd and protein losses. For example, the cutting tools are positioned closer to the jacket, which minimises the volume of uncut curd. Secondly, cottage cheese is very fragile and the curd is easily damaged. But in our blender we have an agitator that is both gentle and efficient. And thirdly, the integration of it all – how the line and the production process are designed – is of course also very important.”
And when optimising those production processes, cottage cheese producers can get all the support they need.
“We train plant managers, we offer support from our cheesemaking experts during and after the commissioning and handover phases, we optimise production time schedules... and we adjust process parameters to increase the capacity or improve product shelf life. So it’s not just a matter of delivering hardware – we continue to work with our customers.”
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