Develop a Standard for Kefir Cheese Spread and Establish Benchmarks for Aging a Raw Milk Cheese Spread

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,348.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Rose Marie Belforti
Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: display, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: value added

    Proposal summary:

    The purpose of this project is to design a high moisture, raw milk Kefir cheese spread, cultured with kefir grains (a matrix of micro-organisms that ferment milk), and to determine the best way to age and package a raw milk cheese spread for the USDA required sixty days. Owner/operator of Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, Rose Marie Belforti will work with a team of four Cornell University affiliated professionals associated with the Food Processing Pilot Lab in the Department of Food Science to set a new standard for the Kefir cheese spread, and to establish benchmarks for aging a high moisture raw milk cheese.

    The outcome will result in a new recipe (make-sheet) for the spreadable Kefir cheese, never before processed on a commercial scale anywhere in the United States; and to document a protocol for aging and packaging a high moisture raw milk cheese spread that will effectively eliminate contamination and spoilage. The outcome will be a new added-value probiotic dairy choice for the consumer, and new information for the agricultural community that can be utilized in any cheese processing facility to age other raw milk cheese spread recipes. This project will lead the way for a variety of new dairy products to enter the marketplace, produced by small, sustainable family dairy models, and target emerging consumer groups who are eager for healthy dairy options. Outreach will be in articles will be submitted about the new cheese to appropriate journals such as; Creamline, a small-scale cheese makers quarterly; Culture, an artisanal cheese magazine, The American Cheese Society News, Cornell Small Farm Journal, ACRES,etc. An open house at our dairy facility will be planned with support from Cayuga County Cooperative Extension, to inform other farmers of our project results. Rose Marie will give a presentation at the Annual meeting of the New York Cheesemakers Guild, and the American Cheese Society Conference.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires a raw milk cheese product to age for 60 days or more, and a moisture standard of 44% [Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 2, Revised as of April 1, 2009, Citation: 21CFR133.123,124]. These facts have inhibited dairy producers from processing and marketing a high moisture cheese made with raw milk. Designing a raw milk cheese spread will require a new look at recipe protocol, packaging technology, and must address product safety and appeal. Because of the SARE grant awarded to us in 2006, we were able to start up our kefir cultured product line. We cannot keep up with the demand. We have had numerous offers from distributors to bring our cheeses to NYC, but we do not produce enough at this time.

    Rose Marie Belforti, owner and operator of Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery has been awarded a 2009 grant from New York State Farm Viability Institute (NYSFVI) to be used towards this project. She will work with a team of advisors at the Cornell Food Processing Pilot Lab at Stocking Hall, Cornell, University, Ithaca, New York to design and package a raw milk Kefir cheese spread according to the USDA standards. The team consists of four Cornell U. affiliated professionals associated with the Food Science Department. They are Dave Barbano, Robert Ralyea, Joseph Hotchkiss (since proposal inception Prof. Hotchkiss has left Cornell for another university, but is still available via email and telephone), and Kathryn Boor. They will bring together experience in cheese making, manufacturing, production efficiency, and a knowledge of sanitation regulations. The NYSFVI project titled, “Develop a Standard for Spreadable Kefir Cheese and Establish Benchmarks for Aging a Raw Milk Spreadable Cheese” (AIC 09 005) will identify barriers, document benchmarks, and set a new standard for producing a safe, marketable raw milk cheese spread. The NYSFVI funds are allocated only for the rental of the Pilot Lab at Cornell U. Rose Marie is applying for a Northeast SARE Farmer/Grower Grant to meet some of the costs of conducting the research at Cornell U., to develop a marketing strategy, and for outreach efforts that will inform other dairy producers of the new findings.

    Consumers will be the primary beneficiaries of the project for two reasons:
    1. The demand for authentic, wholesome foods is a growing trend and does not show signs of slowing down. With allergies and gastronomic ailments on the rise, people are learning about the benefits of kefir products cultured from living kefir grains. The matrix of symbiotic micro-organisms that make up the kefir grains are known to support digestive health (see for scientific studies, history and use of kefir grains). Kefir cultured milk products are consumed by traditional peoples known for long life and excellent health. Our current efforts to design the new Kefir cheese spread are primarily to meet the demand for this product.

    2. The procedures and results of this project will become public information. Other cheese producers will be able to take the information we document for aging and packaging a raw milk high moisture cheese and adapt it to their own raw milk spread recipes. This will bring more innovative value-added dairy choices to the northeast region and beyond. All procedures and documentation will be done at the Cornell U. Pilot Lab. Subsequent batches of cheese will be made at Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery to fine tune the recipe and make needed adjustments based on limiting factors identified at our own dairy facility. The 2006 SARE grant project taught us that it can take many more batches to translate what we did at the Pilot Lab to our own facility.

    There will be two approaches to recipe development. Approach A. Re-hydrate the aged cheese that we now produce with modifications to the current aging process, and additional ingredients added to acquire the desired moisture content.

    1. Make the cheese according to our current ‘make sheet’ process. Activity: Run two or more batches of Kefir cheese using our current recipe, both with Dexter cow milk from Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery and Holstein milk from Cornell U. Kefir grains, rennet, salt and other needed ingredients provided by Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery. Half of each batch will be vacuum packed and aged, the other half will be aged the same way that we do for our current product. Evaluate and compare moisture content, flavor and texture of the vacuum packed cheese to the other cheese.

    2. Re-hydrate the cheeses after 60 days of aging. Activity: There are a few different approaches to adding moisture to the aged cheese. One is to add cream, water, or other ingredient to reach the required moisture content. Several methods and ingredients will be discussed and tried, based on discussions with Dave Barbano and Rob Raylea. The combined ingredients will be blended or mixed before adding herbs, or fruit.

    3. Document protocol for each batch recipe for the new cheese. Activity: Notes will be taken and data collected and documented for each batch. Test pH levels. Flavor and texture will be examined and discussed with the team of advisors to determine the most effective recipe. Moisture and salt content will be measured.

    Approach B. Create a completely new ‘make sheet’ for the cheese spread.

    1. Set a standard for the new Kefir cheese spread recipe. Activity: Run two to four batches of Kefir cheese spread with Holstein milk from Cornell U. Kefir grains, rennet, salt and other needed ingredients provided by Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, according to new methods discussed with the advisory team.

    2. Document protocol for each batch recipe for the new cheese. Activity: Notes will be taken and data collected and documented for each batch. Test pH levels. Flavor and texture will be examined and discussed with the team of advisors to determine the most effective recipe. Moisture and salt content will be measured.

    3. Determine how long to age the cheese in the packaging materials designed to work best for the project. Activity: Pack the cheese spread in identified containers indicated by advisors to be appropriate for the required outcome. The cheese will be aged at the Pilot Lab facility at Cornell U. When the best approach is established, the following will occur:

    1. Design a safe and economical container-packaging system that will allow the cheese spread to maintain appropriate moisture content and best shelf life. Activity: Consult with the professional team for best method and materials available to pack the new cheese.

    2. Sample and evaluate results. Activity: After each trial packaging system has reached a designated aging date, sample the cheese for flavor and texture with the professional team to determine the best and safest way to package the cheese for market. Test moisture and levels again.

    3. Document and evaluate results for packaging. Activity: Document each method of packaging, and evaluate results up to sale.

    4. Test samples for pathogens. Activity: Test for coliform and other typical or potential pathogens in the cheese after the aging date has been met.

    5. Test new cheese at Silliker labs for content of probiotic organisms. Activity: Send samples aged 90 days or more.

    6. Develop a marketing strategy. Design informational materials, update current brochure, and website to market the new cheese spread. Create a new label for the cheese. Activity: Heather McCarty of Grower’s Discount Labels will be hired to work with Rose Marie Belforti to design the informational materials, new labels, and update our current brochure and website.

    7. Identify the market. Activity: A new market will be identified through advertisement, cheese tastings, samples offered to potential retail outlets, and through educational outreach. Our new cheese has no set standards for production at this time. We will establish a baseline method for the new cheese. A key component will be to create a ‘make sheet’ to include each step documented to insure quality control, identify the composition of the cheese, and establish the process that can be used in any dairy facility with consistent results. Levels of pH will be measured with an Exstick pH meter to establish acidity levels necessary to control fermentation. A forced air oven method will be used to identify the composition and establish moisture level for the cheese. Salt levels will be determined by the Volhard Method, and fat content will be tested with a Babcock test bottle. To establish consistency in flavor and texture we will use sensory analysis. The first batches for each approach will be a trial run.

    Based on the results, the subsequent batches will be modified for the desired taste and texture. Each batch will be labeled for accurate information. At the end of the aging periods, each batch will be evaluated for texture, color, and taste. Each method of packaging will be evaluated for safety standards, flavor, and texture. At the end of the project there will be a defined cheese spread with a specifically defined moisture content, and packaging system. Our new high moisture cheese spread, made with raw milk and aged for 60 days or more, along with appropriate packaging methods, may then be utilized by other dairy producers who may have their own cheese spread recipes they would like to produce and sell. The technology and materials identified from this project will add new information to the dairy industry, and will benefit current and future cheese makers who would like to expand their product lines.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.