• consumer acceptance;
  • lexicon;
  • mild Cheddar cheese;
  • preference mapping

ABSTRACT:  Flavor is an important factor in consumer selection of cheeses. Mild Cheddar cheese is the classification used to describe Cheddar cheese that is not aged extensively and has a “mild” flavor. However, there is no legal definition or age limit for Cheddar cheese to be labeled mild, medium, or sharp, nor are the flavor profiles or flavor expectations of these cheeses specifically defined. The objectives of this study were to document the distinct flavor profiles among commercially labeled mild Cheddar cheeses, and to characterize if consumer preferences existed for specific mild Cheddar cheese flavors or flavor profiles. Flavor descriptive sensory profiles of a representative array of commercial Cheddar cheeses labeled as mild (n= 22) were determined using a trained sensory panel and an established cheese flavor sensory language. Nine representative Cheddar cheeses were selected for consumer testing. Consumers (n= 215) assessed the cheeses for overall liking and other consumer liking attributes. Internal preference mapping, cluster analysis, and discriminant analysis were conducted. Mild Cheddar cheeses were diverse in flavor with many displaying flavors typically associated with more age. Four distinct consumer clusters were identified. The key drivers of liking for mild Cheddar cheese were: color, cooked/milky, whey and brothy flavors, and sour taste. Consumers have distinct flavor and color preferences for mild Cheddar cheese. These results can help manufacturers understand consumer preferences for mild Cheddar cheese.