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Hispanic cheese under the knife


Hispanic-style cheese made in Mexico may provide US scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the chief scientific research agency for the US department of Agriculture, with a better scientific understanding of how to improve the overall quality of cheese in general.

ARS scientists at Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania are working to mimic the desired properties of Hispanic cheeses at the same time as following US cheesemaking practices and standards. Using different Mexican cheeses as models to better understand how specific processing techniques result in certain desirable qualities, they hope to transfer their findings to improve the processing techniques of other cheeses.

Hispanic cheese is one of the fastest growing food segments in the United States with production leaping about 52 per cent from 1996 to 2001, according to US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Some Hispanic cheese tastes like fresh milk and becomes soft and creamy when heated but does not lose shape or run. Other cheeses melt but do not separate into greasy solids and liquids. Hispanic-style cheese does not mean hot and spicy - other ingredients must be added to make Hispanic dishes "hot".

Although some American companies are producing good quality Hispanic-style cheeses from pasteurised milk, according to ARS, they do not exhibit the full flavours, textures and cooking properties of those made from raw milk.

Diane L. Van Hekken, a research chemist at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center's Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit in Wyndmoor, is studying the properties of selected Hispanic cheeses. She hopes to modify existing cheesemaking techniques or develop new ones to improve the shelf life of Hispanic-style cheeses, in a bid to expand their marketability and to ensure high food safety standards.

A taste panel in Wyndmoor has been working since May 2001 to define the flavour profiles of both raw and pasteurised cheeses.

Van Hekken co-hosted a symposium at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting in June 2002 to discuss this market.

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