A BYU team that wrapped cream cheese in Swiss cheese, then breaded and fried it, won first place at the Idaho Milk Processors Association competition this summer.
The competition is part of the IMPA annual conference where dairy industry members and other regional colleges come together to discuss the advancement and development of the industry.
Cheese Squared, the winning appetizer, took eight months of hard work by the BYU product development team to produce. This is the third time BYU has taken first place in the four years they have entered the competition. The team beat out graduate and Ph.D. dairy science students to win the $10,000 grand prize.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” said Mike Dunn, professor of food science. “It’s not magic, you just get on the bench, you make something, it’s a total failure that didn’t work so you try something else.”
Dunn, along with fellow food science professor Lynn Ogden, were the team advisers.
To be eligible to enter the competition, the product had to be at least 50 percent dairy by weight.
“The hardest part was coming up with a realistic workable concept that hasn’t been thought of,” said Marshall Dunn, a junior from Salem in the food science program. “It is incredibly difficult because there is only so much you can do with milk.”
To help get their creative juices flowing, the team walked up and down grocery store aisles, looking for ways to incorporate dairy into everyday foods.
After a series of brainstorming sessions and time spent in the lab concocting ideas, the team decided on a dairy chip — the initial inspiration for Cheese Squared. Some of the ideas that did not make it were a vegetable yogurt drink, a scoopable refrigerator ice cream and dairy bread with a serving of a cup of milk in one slice.
The team spent hours in the lab each week to test and perfect the product. They conducted a series of taste tests and focus groups to get consumer feedback on the product. Participants were asked to compare Cheese Squared to similar products — TGI Friday’s mozzarella sticks and Hot Pockets’ Snackers.
After receiving feedback from the focus groups, team members realized they had to change their product before they entered the competition.
“[Before the focus groups] it didn’t have breading and it was fried. We decided we needed to do something with the outside of the shell,” Dunn said. “When in doubt, bread and fry.”
Aaron Andersen, a junior from Farmington in the food science program, and a member of the team, said he was at a party when some cheese fell to the bottom of the oven and baked. Inspired by this, they started baking different types of cheese to try a new type of chip.
“One day we tried Swiss cheese and it puffed, almost like a souffle, and we were like, why don’t we put the cream cheese inside of the Swiss cheese?” Andersen said. “It was delicious so we just started to play with it from there.”
The team also had to think about packaging to market the product.
“A lot of the frozen appetizers are a little too flashy, and [we] wanted to go for more of a homey feel, a vintage feel for the packaging,” said Jonathan Kershaw, a senior in the food science program, from Garland, Texas.
To achieve the “vintage” feel, they used the same font as the inscription on the plaque left on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969.
“It was real popular in the ’60s,” Kershaw said. “[We] wanted it to remind people of back in the day when people prepared meals at home.”
Now the team is working on marketing the product to restaurants and retail outlets, including Iggy’s Sports Bar and Grill and Wingers. Their flavors come in herb and garlic, smoky chipotle and creamy spinach.
With cheese, bread and hot oil, how does Cheese Squared fare on the health front?
“It’s not the most healthy,” Mike Dunn said. “It’s an indulgent appetizer.”