The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put in a $292,080.60 order for string cheese on Thursday, as part of its "entitlement food" offered through the National School Lunch Program.
The nearly $300,000 worth of lite mozzarella string cheese will be used for federal school lunch programs that supply local districts in Texas and Arkansas for three months.
Miceli Dairy, the "makers of fine Italian cheese," was awarded the contract. A total of 113,400 pounds of the product will go to Van Buren, Ark., and Texas school districts in Austin, McCallen, San Antonio, Grand Prairie, Lubbock, and Dallas.
The order will be delivered beginning April 1 and go through June 30.
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency has strict requirements for the quality of mozzarella cheese that is used in domestic food programs, which the contractor must follow.
For instance, the string cheese has to be made in America and "not previously owned by the government."
"Mozzarella cheese which deviates from the specifications and the schedule of discounts contained herein will be rejected, or at the discretion of the contracting officer, accepted at discounts to be determined by the government," the requirements said.
Under "Additional String Cheese Requirements," the USDA requires "Protein strands shall be properly aligned lengthwise to ensure that fibrous strings can be pulled from the string."
The string cheese "shall be pliable and elastic so that string can be bent without breaking upon itself," its "texture shall be firm and rubbery," and "somewhat glossy, smooth and shiny."
The USDA also regulates the length of the string cheese for school lunches, with measurements of 3.875 to 4.752 inches and a diameter of 0.375 to 0.729.
Mozzarella cheese in general must have a "natural white to light cream, uniform bright color, and an attractive sheen." It cannot contain more than 200 milligrams of sodium per 28 gram serving, and must have a pH value ranging between 5.0 and 5.5.
The flavor and odor "shall have a mild pleasing flavor and may possess a slight acid and slight feed flavors, but not possess any undesirable flavors or odors." The "presence of any extraneous material in the Mozzarella cheese will be the basis for rejection."
"Vinegar flavor will not be acceptable," the USDA said.
A special "note" added, "Lite mozzarella may also be sticky and rubbery to a slight degree."
The USDA lists string cheese as a "meat/meat alternate" that is low in sodium to meet the new nutritional standards that originated in the Michelle Obama-championed "Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010."
In its instructions for school nutrition, the USDA recommends serving string cheese on "salad bars, with pasta, sandwiches, salads, etc." "Cheese sticks can also be included in lunches for field trips," they said.
"It has a mild pleasing flavor and is an excellent source of calcium and protein," the USDA said.
However, "If any part of a package of cheese contains mold, discard the package," the USDA warned.
"Schools are entitled by law to receive USDA foods, called ‘entitlement’ foods, at a value of 23.25 cents for each meal served in fiscal year 2012-2013," the USDA said.
The federal school lunch program cost $11.6 billion in 2012. Its budget has nearly doubled since 2000, when the program cost $6.1 billion.