Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board Dishes on Cheese Trends

Lobster Mac with four cheeses (left) and Cheddar Cheese Curds with Roasted Tomato Coulis (right). Photo by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Knowing Current Cheese Trends Can Improve Your Menu

Cheese and cheese products are an integral part of any menu, whether they are used as a burger topping or on their own as an artisan cheese plate. Due to the massive variety both taste wise and geographically it can be difficult to keep up with current trends and demands from consumers. Enter the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, perhaps the most well qualified organization to speak on what’s trending in the foodservice industry. The WMMB represents 9,500 dairy farm families in Wisconsin that produce more than six hundred varieties of cheese, accounting for 25% of the world’s cheese production. The four biggest trends they see range from how producers are making cheese to how foodservice operators are selling it.

Cheese Curds no Longer a Regional Item

Allen Hendricks. Photo by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Allen Hendricks. Photo by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

“The biggest thing we are seeing right now is the rise of the cheese curd, especially in  national chains like Yard House and Chili’s” says the WMMB’s Vice President of Foodservice Allen Hendricks.

Often called “squeaky cheese”, cheese curds are traditionally a Midwest food item but are appearing on menus across the US as a garnish, deep fried or as part of the Canadian dish Poutine which is a combination of French Fries, cheese curds and gravy. Hendricks says they are even sold at fast food restaurants like Dairy Queen and A&W.

Blue Cheese and Burgers

Black and Blue Burger. Photo by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Black and Blue Burger. Photo by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

More than forty types of blue cheese come out of Wisconsin, but it is smoked blue cheese that is making headway on the national scene. “Our producers are taking wheels of blue cheese and smoking them in their natural smokehouse, giving it an interesting flavor profile for burgers and cheese plates” says Hendricks. This trend morphs with another, which is the shift toward natural cheese varieties on burgers instead of more standard American cheese. With the cheeseburger now commanding a higher dollar amount and being marketed as a gourmet meal restaurants can set themselves apart by using cheeses like Provolone, Havarti and soft or crumbly cheese like gorgonzola.

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Snacks and Spreads

As snacking and eating smaller plates with more variety becomes more popular, the uses for items like cheese spreads are evolving. Now they are popular with many restaurants as appetizers and snacks. “Restaurants are trying to deviate from the traditional cream cheese and spinach dip so they use a wide variety of cheeses like asiago or parmesan” Hendricks adds.

Preparation and Serving

The Wisconsin Cheese Marketing Board works closely with their foodservice clients so they also recognize what restaurants are serving to their customers and how popular their dishes are. These include fried cheese appetizers that while always popular are enjoying a renaissance, in addition to gourmet mac & cheese. “Like the cheeseburger, mac and cheese is now a higher end item. Restaurants are using gourmet cheese blends and adding garnishes like green chile or meat and seafood like lobster or crab: Hendricks says.

Although cheese will always remain a staple on most restaurant menus, how it is used and whether it satisfies the demands of customers can be the difference between a successful operation and one that feels tired or out of date. For more ideas on how your foodservice operation can make use of Wisconsin cheese products visit www.wisconsincheesefoodservice.com.