30 August 2018

Chilling cheese for the Big Cheese

The article originally appeared in the August issue of Dairy Industries International magazine.

The ability to efficiently and reliably chill product is one of the essential ingredients for success in the cheese processing industry.

Cheese cooling tunnels are an innovation that was developed by New Zealand-based engineering company Milmeq in the 1970s. Today, Milmeq is the global leading supplier of automatic cheese cooling tunnels to the meat, poultry and dairy industries. With more than 60 years’ experience in the industry, Milmeq understands the specific strains for dairy processors and has designed solutions to meet their specific needs.

A completely automated piece of machinery, the tunnels provide a true first in, first out, 24-hour cooling cycle for cheese that ensures product quality, colour and flavour are maintained. They are suitable for chilling a range of cheese products including cheddar, mozzarella and cream cheese.

Application of very low temperature airflow in a controlled environment enables a fast chill, which can avoid bitter flavours developing in the cheese. It also controls colour and consistency as the cheese cools. The tunnels feature interfacing conveyor systems for automated loading and unloading, eliminating manual handling and reducing the incidence of injury, while preserving product quality.

Milmeq tunnels allow control over air temperature, air velocity and retention time, meaning they can be custom designed to handle any product in a carton, box, case, mould, crate or plastic liner.

Interfacing conveyor systems provide completely automatic, hands-free loading and unloading of product.

As consumer demand for cheese continues to increase, so does the need for reliable machinery that can deliver a continuous performance. With their simple design and few moving parts, the tunnels have proven their value, especially for Arla’s Taw Valley Creamery in North Tawton, Devon.

A UK-based cheesemaker, the creamery specialises in manufacturing hard and cheddar cheeses. Taw Valley had reached the point where its cheese production throughput was greater than the capacity of its existing cheese cooling tunnel, and asked Milmeq to provide a new tunnel that would meet its current and future throughput requirements. Milmeq’s solution was a tunnel that holds 7,128 20-kilogram blocks, cooling them from 34°C to 14°C in a 24-hour cycle.

Arla project manager Darren Westlake said since the new tunnel’s installation, cheese is coming out at a lower temperature than what they were able to achieve before, giving the cheese a better flavour, texture and shape.

“The tunnel installed didn’t disappoint and is helping us deliver a consistently high-quality product to our customers,” he said.

As an automated technology, Milmeq cheese cooling tunnels have revolutionised food processing systems by eliminating labour costs and worker injury risk.

Deliberately designed to ease the headache of finding and retaining reliable labour, no staff are required to either load or unload cases to and from the tunnel. All cases, or totes, are conveyed into the tunnel, and then, after being cooled, are conveyed out.

The integrated control system designed for each system delivers complete tracking of all product within the system, which aids inventory control.

The technology is well-respected in the dairy industry and Milmeq tunnels are known for their reliability. It was this reputation that Glanbia Ingredients Ireland drew upon after it acquired the Wexford Creamery in the UK in 2014.

The creamery’s old tunnel from another supplier was no longer operating reliably and required too much maintenance downtime and cost. A wider project to increase the plant’s production also required an increase in cooling capacity. Milmeq supplied a tunnel that holds 10,360 20-kilogram blocks, cooling them from 35°C to 12°C in a 24-hour cycle.

Glanbia project manager Rick Nally said the new tunnel has already proven its worth with less maintenance downtime, and the cost of that downtime being significantly reduced.

“Our throughput is up, and we’ve been very pleased with the result; knowing the tunnel’s reliability isn’t going to let us down means we can work confidently and more efficiently.”

As businesses continue to grow and develop, the tunnels can be designed with a plan for future expansion to be incorporated. The tunnels are manufactured to meet the client’s specific throughput requirements, but the capacity is easily expandable by lengthening the tunnel when required.

The tunnels can be designed to use a variety of refrigerants to suit site preferences, including CO2 and ammonia.