Like Switzerland, France and Italy, the Netherlands is one of the classic cheese countries in Europe. In addition to well-known sliced cheese varieties such as Gouda, Edam or Maasdam, the Netherlands also has a wide range of much less well-known cheese specialities, which even today are produced with old traditional hand-made methods.
One Dutch cheese producer, which is famous for its particularly diverse range, is Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten. The company produces at its Rouveen and Molenschot sites more than 400 different cheese varieties, among them those of the “Bastiaansen Bio” own brand. Annually some 150 million litres of milk from cows, goats and - at special customer request - from buffalo are processed in the cheese factories.
The company produces the cheese blocks, which weigh up to 16 kg, in several sizes and shapes - round, rectangular, loaf-shaped and bar-shaped - and each batch can be up to 1,000 kg. Essential nutrients include calcium, lactic acid cultures and animal or vegetable lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Thanks to a modern brine system, Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten can adjust the salt content of its cheese varieties to the particular wishes of its customers. “Salt gives the cheese taste and also has a preserving effect”, explains Arjan Hoekman, who is responsible for the maturing process in the cheese factory. After they have been in the brine bath, the blocks must be packed in vacuum pouches within 24 hours, so that they do not dry out or become contaminated with undesirable bacteria.
Up to 2013 Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten used a chamber belt machine and a chamber machine with a soft vacuum. Both machines were already quite advanced in years and no longer met the current requirements of the cheese producer: “The output of less than four packs per minute with the chamber belt machine was too low for us. We were also not satisfied with the differential pressure process on the chamber machine, on which we packed our delicate herb cheese and goat’s cheese varieties”, says Arjan Hoekman, explaining the reasons that were soon to lead to a change of system. In addition to this, the cost-intensive operation of two different machines had become a thorn in the side for Production management. It was no surprise therefore, that the company looked around for a new packaging solution.
Instead of the previous two machines, the intention was that in future just one high-output chamber machine with SES would be used. The new packaging solution had to be able to achieve an output of six to eight cheese blocks per minute, in other words be able to pack two to four times as many cheese blocks as the previous machines. The chosen model also had to be able to pack a wide range of cheese varieties and block sizes in shrink bags: 80 different rectangular cheese blocks with a size of up to 300 x 500 x 110 mm and a weight of up to 16 kilos, as well as 30 different types of film-matured cheese in a round shape with a weight of up to 12 kilos. The shelf life of the packaged products had to be at least three months.
Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten placed particularly high demands on the quality of the soft vacuum for the new packaging solution. This technology is used to pack delicate cheese varieties, such as goat’s cheese or cheese with holes in, as gently as possible under vacuum. “If the air is evacuated too quickly from the film pouch, the abrupt pressure difference that arises causes the holes in the cheese to expand, so that the volume of the block increases. In the case of very delicate cheese varieties, the structure of the cheese block and rind can therefore be destroyed during vacuuming. We can then obviously no longer sell this cheese”, explains Arjan Hoekman.
When looking at the packaging solutions on the market, the project team quickly decided on the B 510 chamber belt machine from MULTIVAC. The model not only has a roomy vacuum chamber with 2 x 1,300 mm sealing bar length, but it also achieves a speed of more than 2.5 cycles per minute. The B 510 can be loaded with three cheese blocks per cycle, so that it was able to meet the capacity required by the manufacturer.
The project team from Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten also learned about the MULTIVAC Soft Evacuation System (SES), with which the B 510 is equipped. In contrast to a standard evacuation process, it enables products to be vacuum packed without exposing them to a high pressure difference. This allows delicate products, such as cheese with holes, to be packed safely and gently.
Following some tests with different cheese blocks and pouch sizes, the decision was made at Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten in favour of the B 510. The chamber belt machine is equipped with an automatic transport conveyor. This allowed it to be easily integrated into existing lines with third-party components, such as the cheese producer’s brine system. No extra investment was required either for the vacuum pumps. Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten was able to continue to use its existing 2 x 250 m3/h pumps. Today they are located approximately 30 metres from the B 510.
The loading process was accelerated by the fact that the MULTIVAC technicians were able to implement software integration with the existing semi-automatic pouch-feeding unit. This prepares the correct pouch sizes on a precise cycle basis, and it then inserts them fully opened into the vacuum chamber, so that the operators only have to slide the cheese blocks into the pouches. There were certain challenges at the start of the project with regard to sealing different pouch materials, but this hurdle was overcome to the satisfaction of all.
The chamber belt machine has since been in use with the Dutch cheese producer for almost two years. Arjan Hoekman reports on everyday production routine: “We have had very good experience with this technology. The possibilities, which the B 510 has opened up for us, are fantastic. The packaged product looks much better because the seal seam is stronger and the pouch neck shorter. The SES also functions more than reliably. The pack quality is absolutely consistent. The complaints about open packs or changes in the cheese structure have also gone down. We have therefore been able to increase our range of delicate cheese varieties.
The machine supports the production staff at all stages of the process. It measures everything that has to be measured in the course of the process, and it then shows the parameters clearly on its graphic display. As with all MULTIVAC chamber belt machines, the B 510 is equipped with an intuitive operating concept. All settings can be saved as a recipe. When it comes to using the SES, the desired target pressure in the small chamber and the required differential pressure with the large chamber can be selected via the IPC06 industrial machine control of the B 510 chamber belt machine. No other mechanical settings are necessary with the MULTIVAC SES. Parameters such as chamber pressure and differential pressure can be stored for each product in the machine control and can be called up at any time. In this way the procedure is reproducible and reliable. A consistently high pack quality is also achieved, if the size, weight or number of products vary. The procedure itself does not require any maintenance at all.
When compared with the two previous packaging solutions, a lot has changed for the better at Rouveen Kaasspecialiteiten, and the decision at the time has proved today to have been correct: “The B 510 is not only the best in terms of price-performance ratio. We also had the feeling throughout the entire course of the project that MULTIVAC listened to us, acted on our wishes and always tried to find the optimum solution. Instead of just a supplier, we have gained a partner who acts in concert with us”, sums up Arjan Hoekman.