Imagine if you read that food producers were trying to make “reduced fat” oil, or “reduced sugar” fruit. You’d expect both of those tasks to be very difficult, as they would involve replacing the very essence of a food in a way that lets it stay tasty.
You now have some idea of the task facing cheese processors trying to reduce the levels of sodium and fat in cheeses. Salt and milk fats are basic components of cheese, just as sugar is to fruit and fat is to oil. One South Dakota State University dairy scientist told The New York Times: “If you really want to make bad cheese, make a low-fat, low-sodium one.”
That said, food companies are working on lower-fat, lower-sodium cheeses in the hopes of finding replacement options for people who want both cheese and reduced fat and sodium in their diets. Processors hope that by using replacement ingredients—like artificial sweeteners that replace sugars in diet soda —or by changing production methods — like the decaffeination process that yields decaf coffee — they can find ways to create these options for consumers. Cheese makers haven’t quite succeeded yet, but given time, they might find something.
This might appall Michael Pollan and other activists who hate modern food advances, but technology offers a much less onerous path to healthier food (to say nothing of food safety) than a heavy book of dubious “food rules.” And should the technologists succeed and make tasty but better-for-you cheese, their success will also presumably draw criticism from activists like David Kessler and Kelly “Twinkie Tax” Brownell who think the only way to stop Americans from becoming “addicted” to food is to make it taste worse.
Of course, cheese isn’t crack (sorry, ex-PETA Foundation President Neal Barnard), and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it healthier while still tasty. But that didn’t stop activists from “sliming” lean ground beef, so cheese technologists should be sure to be on guard.