The specialty cheese industry has seen tremendous growth over the last decade, and with that rise has come advancements in equipment to make the process easier.

The same holds true for custom cheese processors, who have seen demand for their products reach historic highs in the past few years, and the need for more reliable and faster equipment has been paramount.

As a result, a number of companies have released new equipment that is helping these cheese producers keep up with the growth.

New and Improved

There is a whole array of equipment designed for producing specialty cheeses.

Some of the newer equipment is designed to fill and handle cheese molds at increased speeds.

For instance, the Tetra Pak Mould Handling system is a new solution utilized for pressing and forming of semi-hard and hard cheeses in closed presses with complete mold and lid handling.

With this system, curd blocks are transferred from the draining forming equipment to the handling system and collected in a mold. Once covered by a lid, the molds are then conveyed to the final pressing section in closed execution and the curd block is pressed to shape the cheese. Then, a uniform rind around the cheese forms, the result of a gradually increasing pressing force. From there, the cheeses are de-molded and conveyed to a brining system.

Downstream in the final pressing section, the cheeses are de-molded in the de-molding line and conveyed to a brining system.  The molds and lids are turned upside down before they are cleaned by the rinsing machine and are ready to be reused again.

The Tetra Pak Mould Handling system is PLC controlled. The closed final presses are cleaned in place. The benefits of this equipment are full automation, flexibility to press cheeses of different shapes and sizes on the same equipment and has a capacity of as much as 100 tons a day.

Tetra Pak also offers its Cheese Former, which provides a method of fresh cheese production in which whey draining, cheese forming and final shaping in an individual unit.

More advancements have been made with continuous cheese lines. In these solutions, a conveyor line gets started with basins or containers, which are taken through all the steps of production, including coagulation, cutting and draining.

Neenah, Wis.-based Nercon offers its HydroCore sanitary line of conveyors and equipment, which provide such solutions to cheese manufacturers who work with various product and packaging sizes. By combining the steps in one system, it offers increased operational efficiency, reliability and durability, minimalizing physical damage and decreasing cost.

Tetra Pak Salt-Dispenser 2 cheese dairy industry equipment manufacturing processing

Tetra Pak's Salt-Dispenser 2 is designed for cheddar and other cheeses.

| Images: Tetra Pak

There also is new equipment designed to help cheese makers with the process of dry salting cheese and evenly distributing salt on the cheese’s surface. Salt can stop bacteria from forming while also adding to the flavor of the cheese.

Tetra Pak offers its Dry-salter for mozzarella cheese, its Salt-Dispenser 2 for cheddar and other types of cheeses, and a White Cheese Salt Dosing unit, which adds the salt to storage tanks, ensuring a consistent salting of cheese.

Weber, a Kansas City, Mo., equipment manufacturer, added an integrated X-ray and 3D scanning technologies to its cheese processing equipment, which was designed to slice, package and deliver cheese more efficiently.

Reiser’s offerings in the cheese industry include the Vemag Cheese Block Former for portioning and forming a variety of cheese or butter products. The Vemag helps produce everything from cheese spreads and dips to reforming of semi-hard cheese into snack sticks, cheese slices, or bars and loafs that can be used in further processing.

“For cheese production, our Seydelmann bowl choppers are used for making cold pack cheese, along with flavored cheese where inclusions can be uniformly mixed in,” said Adam Wozniak, dairy application specialist with Canton, Mass.-based Reiser. “Our bowl choppers are also used for size reduction of hard cheese types such as parmesan or Romano.”

Additionally, Holac, Reiser’s brand for dicing/shredding and cutting, offers machines to handle small enterprises to high-capacity operations. For packaging, Reiser offers horizontal form/fill/seal machines and the Supervac as a bag-sealing machine.

“The Holac Cheesemaxx 200 is one of our latest advancements,” Wozniak said. “The design eliminates precutting and transforms 40-pound cheese blocks into shreds, cubes, crumbles, sticks in a compact footprint. The Cheesemaxx can also process odd-sized pieces from conversion lines and turn them into shreds.”

A cut above

Urschel, Chesterton, Ind., focuses on food cutting technology, partnering with cheese processors to deliver high-capacity, precision shredders and dicers to fit their production line needs.

The company said leading cheese processors also may benefit from its network of sales and support, as well as free-of-charge test cutting of their products.

“Urschel engineering develops patented cutting methods to improve customer profitability,” said Alan Major, chief sales officer for the company. “Cutting principles, including knives, mechanics, drive parts and powerful motors, work in sync to deliver targeted, in-spec cuts.”

For example, its SH-14 MicroAdjustable Shredding Head employs 14 shredding stations, almost doubling the capacity of normal CC series shredders.

“The head was developed so processors could produce more cheese shreds without the expense of purchasing an additional machine,” Major said. “The knives and modular construction reduce time spent on maintenance and head changeovers are much easier for the operator. The SH-14 also offers significant cost-savings through a reduction in blade changes and overall reduction in part consumption.”

For cheese dicing, Urschel’s Affinity Series processes high-fat, cold-temperature and normally difficult-to-cut products.

“The feed roll and feed drum offer additional assistance transitioning product throughout the cutting zone,” Major said. “Optional outboard bearing reinforces the cutting components to handle even the toughest applications.”

Not only does Urschel manufacture high-speed cutting equipment, it also produces all crucial knives and cutting components and critical parts to make sure cheese quality is maintained throughout the process. And the company offers more knife options to increase knife life.

With advancements in equipment happening so rapidly, it could be that specialty cheesemakers and processors may decide to wait a while before making any change in equipment, but industry insiders believe they should be updating more frequently, as it will save time and money in the long run.

Major said newer equipment offers increased capacity and simplified maintenance and sanitary design. Newer cutting machinery also offers simple, lock-in adjustability.

“This leads to cost-savings in terms of less operator involvement,” he said. “Higher capacities in less time improve profitability.”