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Common Mistakes At Retail Turn Cheese From Incredible To Inedible

Cheese makers can deliver a near-perfect product to retail cheese counters, only to have common mishandling diminish quality in both taste and appearance.

The topic of “cheese abuse” at the retail level was outlined recently at a virtual meeting of the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute (WSCI).

Dean Sommer, food technologist and senior manager of the cheese team with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), along with CDR distinguished scientist Mark Johnson, presented research on how good cheese can go bad after it hits retail shelves.

My hypothesis is there’s a lot of bad cheese at the retail level, but it was good cheese when it left the plant, Sommer said. Somewhere along the distribution and retail chain, the cheese was abused and became bad cheese. Sadly, it’s very easy to find cheese defects at retail.

One of the most common factors that damages cheese at the retail level is light, he noted.

A bright light in a display case can wreck a lot of cheese, he said. Many retailers store cheese in transparent, plastic containers. This is just begging for problems, because light can easily penetrate most types of transparent containers and damage the fat that’s on the surface of cheeses like Ricotta, Feta, and softer goat and sheep’s milk varieties.

When we buy those types of products for a sensory evaluation short course, more often than not, they’re so heavily oxidized that they’re virtually inedible, Sommer said, especially on the surface.

These containers are also not typically gas-flush, so there’s lots of oxygen in there, he said. When you combine oxygen and light, you’re just begging for problems.

Unpleasant flavors yielded from light-oxidized cheese are described as “cardboard-y” or “crayon-like.” It destroys great cheese at the grocery store, wrecks repeat sales, and causes the formation of unhealthy compounds, he said.

Lower Light Reduces Pinking

Light intensity is the obvious solution to light oxidation, Sommer said. Retailers are recommended to lower the light intensity to between 160 and 200-foot candles in the cheese
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