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Photo: Using a torsion gelometer, chemist Diane Van Hekken examines the fracture properties of Hispanic-style cheeses to establish their texture profiles. Link to photo information
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Read the magazine story to find out more.

Studying Hispanic Cheese May Help Scientists Improve Other Cheeses

By Jim Core
December 3, 2002

Hispanic-style cheese made in Mexico may provide Agricultural Research Service scientists with a better scientific understanding of how to improve the overall quality of cheese in general.

ARS scientists at Wyndmoor, Pa., are working to mimic the desired properties of Hispanic cheeses while following U.S. cheesemaking practices and standards. They're 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 markets in the United States. Production jumped about 52 percent from 1996 to 2001, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Some Hispanic cheese tastes like fresh milk and becomes soft and creamy when heated but doesn't lose shape or run. Other cheeses melt but don't separate into greasy solids and liquids. Hispanic-style cheese does not mean hot and spicy; other ingredients make Hispanic dishes "hot."

Some American companies are producing quality Hispanic-style cheeses from pasteurized milk, but they don't exhibit the full flavors, 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. This will expand their marketability and ensure high food safety standards.

Van Hekken co-hosted a symposium at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting in June to discuss this growing market with other researchers and producers. A taste panel in Wyndmoor has been working since May 2001 to define the flavor profiles of both raw and pasteurized cheeses.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.

Read more on this research in the December 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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