When product development company Maritek decided to tackle mozzarella processing machinery, it discovered just how difficult it is to replicate the ancient Italian process of creating this cheese without losing yield in the process. Janice Gable Bashman reports on how Maritek succeeded with the innovative FusionCooker.
The growing demand for pizza throughout the world has led to a huge need for mozzarella cheese. Today’s industrial production plants rely on the process of the ancient Italians whereby mozzarella curd is massaged under warm water to heat it very gradually until it reaches the consistency that is needed to mold it. This process causes a loss of milk solids to the water and results in lost yield. But that process will soon change thanks to Maritek and the FushionCooker.
The recently created Maritek Company is associated with the Blentech Company, which came into existence 22 years ago. “Blentech is an innovative based company that specializes in solving customers’ problems, which has resulted in the development of a whole line of patented equipment over the years,” says Darrell Horn, president. “We have in excess of 25 patents on the machines we build, and we bring innovation to the machines we build for different customers, satisfying them in unique ways.”
Blentch services the poultry, red meat, cheese and general food industries, including the processing of soups and sauces and the production of ready-made meals. It also manufactures equipment for the fruit industry, and its batch and continuous cooking systems are used by all of the major processors including Nestlé, The Campbell Soup Company, HJ Heinz Company, Tyson Foods and Unilever.
Industrial production plants throughout the world work, mix and stretch mozzarella cheese under warm water using large machines. Although this process is mechanized, it does not differ from the process used by the ancient Italians, and that leads to yield loss of milk solids which dissolve into the hot water used to heat the cheese curd.
Over the years, various attempts have been made to resolve this problem by heating the curd with direct steam instead of submerging it in hot water. But because direct steam is over 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it poses the danger of overheating the particles of cheese and causing the cheese to denature and lose moisture. “The machines that have been developed to use direct steam have failed because they do not inject the steam gently enough to heat the cheese curd gradually and mix the steam energy throughout cheese evenly,” says Horn. “Those machines heat the cheese at too high a temperature which melts it to a viscosity where it can be mixed properly, and in the process they have destroyed the quality of the cheese because of denaturing and loss of moisture.”
So what’s the solution? Developing a machine that not only heats the cheese curd slowly and evenly so it does not denature but also stretches and mixes the cheese to distribute the heated particles evenly throughout as it passes through the cooker. That is exactly what the FusionCooker does. It is designed to process all types of pasta filata cheeses, including mozzarella, provolone and string.
A NEW WAY OF COOKING CHEESE
The FusionCooker derives its name from the fact that it gently fuses steam into cheese. It is a continuous machine that pumps conventionally produced cheese curd through a horizontal heating column containing direct steam injectors along the sides where the curd is heated, mixed and stretched. The steam injectors distribute the steam horizontally, a full 360 degrees along the walls of the FusionCooker, over the surface of the cheese, heating the cheese slowly so it does not denature. The homogenous product then leaves the FusionCooker and goes directly to the forming and cooling machines, eliminating the need for a water bath. “The exciting thing about this process is the heating with direct steam,” Horn says. “Steam condensate is created from the steam when it condenses, and that moisture is added to the cheese. This means that not only do you not lose the milk proteins and solids to the water, as in the conventional system, but you add water to the cheese.”
The FusionCooker also stretches the cheese using intermeshing agitators coated with a proprietary permanent non-stick formula that was originally developed for NASA for use on the space shuttle. This unique coating does not chip or peel off and is embedded into the surface of the agitators. The inside of the cooking barrel of the FusionCooker is also coated with this material.
The two agitators rotate at a low 75 revolutions per minute but mix the steam particles evenly and effectively because they overlap. As the agitator fingers overlap and pass each other they move apart, which stretches the cheese the same way as if it were done by hand under water. “One of the critical results you want from a machine of this type is that the cheese it makes has to produce an evenly blistered and browned surface on the pizza,” says Horn. “The FusionCooker accomplishes that because the agitators run at a very low RPM and effectively mix the cheese at that RPM.”
Maritek developed the concept of the FusionCooker two years ago, created a prototype a year ago, and has been testing it for the past year. It also adapted the basic design to create the InfinityCooker, a machine that cooks processed cheese and a variety of other pumpable products such as fruit fillings, meat fillings, and taco meat. “We feel there will be many benefits from this product in addition to mozzarella cheese,” Horn says. “And we’re surprised that the FusionCooker has been successful on this previously unconquerable problem of mozzarella cheese. The FushionCooker will revolutionize the industry because of its improvement in yield and quality. By adding extra moisture it makes a cheese that has a wonderful texture.”
WHERE IT ALL BEGINS
Blentech, a small company with 50 employees, is located in Santa Rosa, Calif., and all of Maritek’s equipment is manufactured at Blentech’s 100,000-square-foot facility. It designs, engineers and manufactures everything it makes. Through the development of Maritek, Blentech is reinvesting from 4 to 6 percent of its revenue back into pure research and development. “Our business is a custom business, and we are developing and adapting our designs to new applications all the time, which is a form of research and development,” says Horn. “We’ve built our business around solving customers’ problems.”
Blentech is recognized as an innovator in its industry, and many companies that develop new products but have no idea how to produce them in large quantities turn to Blentech for solutions. “They develop something in their lab but have no idea how to make three to four tons at a time,” Horn says. “They come to us and we determine if our type of equipment can be adapted to make that product. Sometimes we say we can’t help them, but many times we can solve the problem. They are looking for an innovator and that is our company.”
VALUE EQUALS GROWTH
Blentech is fortunate because its food processing machinery is found in many industries. As a result, growth or retraction in a particular industry has not affected Blentech’s success. In the past five years, it increased revenue more than 10 percent per year.
Although Blentech’s machinery is not the least expensive on the market – it tends to be towards the top of the range –its value is least expensive when compared to competitors’ products in performance and productivity in both the long and short term. “Our business philosophy is to provide more value to the customer through innovation, and that’s what we do – provide maximum value,” says Horn. “Our customers recognize that our processing machinery produces a more cost-effective product while maintaining and often increasing quality. What has caused our business to grow is by taking very labor intensive processes and mechanizing them. We have been able to improve quality by the precision we built into our machines.” That’s what the FusionCooker does best. It creates a high-quality mozzarella with increased yield through a simplified process using revolutionary technology. And it is this revolutionary technology that will change how mozzarella is made.