Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association is pleased with today’s announcement from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration declaring that ultrafiltered cow’s milk can be used to make all types of natural cheeses. The dairy industry has been seeking approval for this natural dairy ingredient in cheesemaking for nearly 20 years.
“FDA’s announcement is an important win for Wisconsin and other great cheesemaking states,” said John Umhoefer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, a trade association representing dairy manufacturers for more than 125 years.
Umhoefer noted that FDA’s decision will allow cheesemakers to use this natural, concentrated form of milk in cheesemaking with flexible labeling restrictions and the decision will open the door for Wisconsin and other states to produce and market more fresh, ultrafiltered milk to cheesemakers across the nation.
“There’s been an oversupply of milk in the U.S. for over a year, causing real financial stress for dairy farm families. This decision can lead to more production of fluid ultrafiltered milk, and find new markets for our abundant milk supplies,” Umhoefer said.
The dairy industry has been working with FDA for nearly two decades to allow the use of ultrafiltered milk in cheeses with a federal standard of identity – such as cheddar, mozzarella, Colby, and brick. Ultrafiltered milk is fresh farm milk run through a filter to reduce the amount of water and the milk sugar, lactose, and concentrate the natural proteins in the milk. “It’s more practical and economical to ship this liquid, filtered milk to cheesemakers, other dairy manufacturers and even food processors in this concentrated form,” Umhoefer said.
FDA has allowed the use of fluid ultrafiltered milk in standardized cheeses if the filtration took place at the cheese factory where natural cheese was made, and the agency has issued three exceptions to allow for the use of ultrafiltered milk over the years. For example, in 2005, the agency allowed for the use of fluid ultrafiltered milk in Swiss cheese manufacture. Umhoefer stated that today’s news means that ultrafiltered milk can be brought in as a natural dairy ingredient to make any natural cheese, provided that the physical, chemical, and flavor properties of the cheese are not affected.
FDA will also relax the position it has taken on the ingredient statement for natural cheeses made with fluid ultrafiltered milk. The agency had held the position that the words “ultrafiltered milk” would be required on the ingredient panel. In public comments offered to the agency in 2005, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association explained that this labeling requirement would burden smaller cheese manufacturers with limited budgets and create a difficult packaging and labeling environment for companies that cut and shred cheeses which may or may not have been made with ultrafiltered milk. FDA will continue to encourage this labeling, but will use “enforcement discretion” on this issue.
“Fluid ultrafiltered milk is a natural dairy ingredient – it’s concentrated milk that helps cheesemakers, and ultimately dairy farmers, because great dairy products can be made more economically,” Umhoefer said. FDA’s discretion on labeling will give cheesemakers the flexibility to use or not use this ingredient without needing redundant packaging materials noting this milk ingredient, he said.