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Cheese, Please!

November 8, 2021

Nothing satisfies like the creamy, comforting goodness of cheese.  Beloved in many parts of the world and still an emerging trend, cheese is enticing in all forms and to all ages.

Snacking has most definitely changed during the pandemic.  Cheese has always been a big part of snacking and many consumers are seeking out new flavors and cheese varieties. So, naturally, we’re seeing ready to eat snacks including bolder flavors of cheese-flavored popcorn and chips.
 
These flavors translate to restaurant menus as well.  Cheeses like smoked gouda, provolone, asiago, gruyere, feta and burrata are becoming more and more common.  And its no surprise given that cheese can be incorporated into virtually any dish and any daypart, cheeses are offered from breakfast to dessert after dinner.  Consumers will want more of what’s new, different, imported or local.  And as chefs, yes, we can do that!
 
Back in my operator days, I had great success with a sharable Raclette – A slowly melting Swiss cheese that I served at the table with a specialized cheese melter.  Guests could just scrape off the melting gooey cheese onto toasted baguette slices. 
 
Food trucks focusing on cheese are certainly abundant across the country – mac n cheese, fondue and grilled cheese varieties are rolling down a highway near you as we speak!  A few of the best in the US include Ms. Cheezious in Miami, Curd Girl in Wisconsin, and let’s not forget a great cheesy pizza from Crust Culture in Chicago. 

Of course, we know that the plant forward movement is here to stay.  And it seems that every day I hear about another person that has sworn off dairy.  Innovative vegan alternatives are exploding onto the scene with surprisingly tasty spreads and other cheese alternatives in all forms from sliced to diced to shredded and more.  And we’re sure to see more of these plant-based options coming our way.
 
So, cue the plant-based cheese!  The vegan cheese market is poised to grow faster than dairy cheese over the next several years.  Consumers are hungry for plant-based, clean label and sustainable options, and manufacturers are answering the call. So whether it’s a dairy free cheese on a plant-based burger, real cheese on an all-beef burger, or any combination thereof, consumers will always demand cheese.
 
I spent the first half of my culinary career in hotels.  As a Garde Manger Chef, I’ve built hundreds of cheeseboards.  Some very basic with Swiss and American, and some much more adventurous with cave-aged brie and pungent bleu cheeses.
 
Called the “best cheese in the world”, and winning 2019/2020 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy, Rogue River Blue from Oregon is a decadent, rich blue cheese, with calcium lactate crystals that develop with age.  This award really demonstrates that bolder cheeses are coming more into fashion than ever before.  Serve on its own, in a salad, or with fresh fruit, and along with a nice Riesling, chocolate stout or a great bourbon.
 
While the vast majority of artisan cheese is made in Europe and the United States (representing about 80% of the world's cheese), Japanese cheeses have been entering the marketplace in recent years.  I love Sakura, a Camembert-style cheese that is matured on top of cherry blossom leaves, then garnished with pickled cherry blossoms.

I mentioned sustainability, and with every aspect of our industry, sustainability becomes more important every day.  Even a process as old as cheesemaking can incorporate sustainable practices.  A few examples include Arethusa Farms in Connecticut, who converts whey into soil regenerator.  And Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese – a woman-owned farm, by the way - converts methane to renewable energy, among many other Earth-friendly practices. 
 
Like to make your own?  The New England Cheese Making Supply Company has a great website where you can find various kits, supplies, recipes and more.  I’ve had great success making fresh mozzarella.
 
Our Culinary Team has developed many recipes that incorporate cheese.  Try a few from our website and experiment with various cheeses.  Substituting your favorite cheeses works almost every time! I love a good cheesy polenta and this plant-forward recipe features a wild mushroom ragout and Pecorino.  I like to fold some crumbled goat cheese into the hollandaise too. And this flank steak recipe features an authentic Spanish Cabrales blue cheese sauce.
 
I hope you’ll get in on the cheese trend.  Experiment with new recipes, incorporate different cheeses into classic recipes or find other ways to include cheese on your menu.  Any way you slice it, your guests will love it!
 

Chef Michael Speranza, CEC