With over 2 billion kilos produced every year, cheddar is one of the world’s most popular cheeses. The category is expected to grow, estimated CAGR is 4.1%. Increased demand can be met with new production units. But what does a cheese producer setting up a new plant need to think about? We talked to Senior Cheese Application Specialist Steve Kindschuh, Cheddar & Mozzarella Portfolio Manager Grant Nesheim and Cheese Services Manager Todd Stertz to find out.
When you are doing something for the first time, it tends to be tricky. Inexperience comes with a price: things take longer than you anticipated, and you – sometimes – make mistakes. But if a cheese producer planning for a new site already has several production lines – why can’t they just copy what’s already working? Because if it’s the same type of cheese, surely processes and recipes of success can be reused?
“Yes, but every plant is different, at least to some extent,” says Steve Kindschuh. “For example, there will be variations to the local supply and quality of milk. So maybe producers want to concentrate the milk a little more than at their ‘old’ plant, maybe they want to process more milk on their new line ... it’s never exactly the same.” Steve adds “Working with a supplier such as Tetra Pak that can design and supply an entire cheddar production line will reduce the challenges of a new factory start up.”
So every site is unique and has its own specific conditions and requirements. But how can and should producers approach this challenge? An important part of the solution is a holistic view. Grant Nesheim says:
“You need to look at the interplay between machinery and people when you are optimizing a plant. You need the big picture, not limited perspectives. To maximize your investment, you need to have training, you need to have an understanding of the food technology, you must have an understanding of machinery and best practices. And you need equipment that's dependable, with guaranteed performance. The commissioning is just the beginning of the journey. Take training as an example. The more efficiently operators are able to do things, the easier it is to pick up those extra savings. Customers can rely on us for training, they can count on us for continual innovation and upgrades throughout the life of the machine. That’s what we mean when we talk about a holistic approach.”
“Looking at the milk flow, and how you manipulate the milk to make the cheese – it gets extremely complex. It is highly important to understand these flows, because you have to size the equipment right, there's seasonal variations and milk protein. So it's not just a matter of the flow of each component. This entire mass balance that we're dealing with, it's difficult. If you have a supplier that's only doing one component of it, they may not have an appreciation of all the potential different scenarios,” adds Steve.
Equipment flexibility is also something to consider. Will there be a need to switch between stirred and fused curd (as a rule of thumb, stirred curd is used for fresh young cheddar varieties, while products that are aged for more flavour development are typically produced with fused curd)? If so, it makes sense to choose machinery that can handle both.
Another piece of the holistic puzzle is whey. Native whey (or ‘ideal whey’, as it is usually called in Europe), which is produced from the unprocessed raw milk before the cheese is made and therefore is cleaner, is in particularly high demand.
“We can standardize milk for our customers, we can help with equipment that meet their needs for flexibility, and we can, of course, also process whey. We have an entire powder portfolio supported by application experts ready to collaborate,” says Grant.
Cheddar is made using starter cultures, so it is a cheese that is very sensitive to bacteriophages. Steve explains:
“It's extremely important that plants are sanitary and apply good cleaning practices – that they have a mindset that it's a commitment to make sure things are being cleaned right. And that requires equipment that can be successfully cleaned. So it’s a matter of equipment and the actual cleaning process. If both are designed in a good way, you reduce the opportunity for phages to attack the starter cultures and cause inconsistency.”
A smart cleaning process can also help producers reduce their environmental impact. For example, it may be possible to re-use water from the whey process in the CIP process instead of letting it go down the drain.
Once a new plant is set up and operating at its peak, you want to maintain the high level of production and product quality provided by your investment.
Todd Stertz works as a Cheese Services Manager at Tetra Pak. He explains:
“Our goal is to partner with our customers to keep their plant operating at its best during the life of the investment. This can mean different things for different people. Whether they need high quality parts delivered to OEM specifications or maintenance of equipment to OEM standards, our dedicated service experts are always available to support along every step of the way. We can even provide complete service solutions to help eliminate equipment demands from your operation.
Another consideration is plant maturity. As a plant matures, we can provide customized upgrades to keep aging equipment operating to new standards and meet the changing needs of your business. For mature plants, our expert services can recommend ways to gain efficiencies with production of existing cheese products – or even determine how to produce new products in an existing plant. High quality service can be one of the keys to getting the most out of a plant. Tetra Pak services cover every aspect of your cheese production through the entire plant lifecycle.”
“To summarize, the challenges a new cheddar factory faces can be reduced by working with a supplier that can deliver an entire production line. That includes everything from cutting-edge automation solutions to digital tools that improve efficiency and production control,” adds Grant.
Want to discuss how your cheddar operations can be optimized?
A Tetra Pak® Blockformer system 6 is not just a machine. It’s a prefabricated and validated blockforming solution, enabling cost-efficient production of consistently high-quality cheddar. And it is always configured to your plant and capacity requirements – it’s your needs and wishes that dictate the solution.