Cheese Focus: Cheeses for the Chef [Video]
These specialty varieties offer the flavor, convenience, and consistency needed to be successful in the kitchen—and on the plate.
Specialty cheese producers who target the foodservice market must address a raft of concerns that don’t apply at retail. Chefs want versatility, convenience, and sensible packaging. They care little about label aesthetics but a lot about consistency. A cheese intended for a restaurant recipe must perform the same way every time, and “out of stock” is not an acceptable reply when a chef reorders cheese for a dish on the menu.
Nevertheless, several American creameries have profited from the growing demand for specialty cheese in foodservice. Here’s a look at 10 products—many of them new—that may inspire other specialty cheesemakers to consider this niche and raise the bar for cheese options in foodservice.
Plus, scroll down for a video on what makes goat cheese great for foodservice.
Beehive Cheese Company Big John’s Cajun
Not a new item but a Cheddar-style wheel that delivers built-in seasoning, Big John’s Cajun has proven popular for panini and macaroni and cheese. “It’s meaty-seeming so chefs use it in vegetarian applications,” says Pat Ford, one of Beehive’s co-owners. A chef friend developed the proprietary cayenne-laced blend that transforms Promontory, the creamery’s signature cheese, into an item useful in Southwestern, Cajun, and Latin concepts.
Initially, Beehive attempted to market the cheese as a whole 20-pound wheel, but chefs balked. “Nobody wanted that much cheese,” says Ford, so the format changed to quarter-wheels. Some chefs trim the quarters to make a loaf that can be sliced for sandwiches.
BelGioioso Black Truffle Burrata
Responding to the burrata boom and brisk sales of everything truffled, BelGioioso introduced this product expressly for chefs in mid-2014. At San Matteo Pizza and Espresso Bar in New York, chef Fabio Casella serves a whole 4-ounce Black Truffle Burrata on a prosciutto-draped wooden board with cherry tomatoes and arugula. Christopher Mangless, a chef and caterer in Green Bay, Wis., has used it on butternut squash bruschetta and for a salad course with a ginger-pear preserve and pumpernickel crumbs.
BelGioioso’s cheesemaker uses Italian summer truffles, folding them into the creamy heart of the burrata. First-year sales have been strong, reports Jamie Wichlacz, marketing manager for the Wisconsin creamery. The unopened package’s 37-day shelf life takes some of the fear factor out of menuing such a perishable item.
Cypress Grove Chevre Bermuda Triangle &
Mini Truffle Tremor
This acclaimed California goat cheese producer debuted Bermuda Triangle several years ago but recently increased the size, from 1 pound to 1½ pounds, to slow the ripening. The pyramidal bloomy-rind goat cheese was designed for chefs and is still foodservice only, notes creamery founder Mary Keehn. “Chefs want presentation,” says Keehn. “They can cut Bermuda Triangle with a thin wire, have a beautiful piece for a cheese plate, and get the drama.”
The new 1-pound size for Truffle Tremor, a truffled goat cheese (whose original is 3 pounds), gives chefs greater portion control, says creamery sales director Bob McCall. The mini wheel is easy to cut into 16 one-ounce servings, and the small case count (two wheels) makes sense for small wine bars and brewpubs.
Grafton Village Smoked Chili Cheddar
Introduced last summer, this 5-pound loaf is a departure for Grafton, which doesn’t produce many flavored cheeses. “The combination of heat and smoke is what’s exciting,” says Meri Spicer, vice president of sales and marketing for the creamery. “How great would this be on a burger at a brewery?”
The raw-milk cheddar is laced with three chiles (pasilla, habanero, and jalapeño), aged 90 days, and then smoked with maplewood chips. A good melter, the cheese has a flavor profile that would enhance quesadillas or grilled sandwiches. “We’ve had some fun making cornbread with it,” Spicer reports.
LaClare Farms Martone
This small Wisconsin creamery recently introduced a new “chef’s pack” for its popular Martone, a mixed-milk (part cow, part goat) soft-ripened cheese. The 6- to 8-ounce cheeses were packed individually in wooden boxes, but chefs disliked having to unwrap and dispose of all the packaging, says cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann.
For chefs, the creamery now packs six cheeses per box, cutting the packaging cost while still protecting the fragile disks in transit.
[Find more specialty cheeses for foodservice and retail in the Product Marketplace.]
Rogue Creamery Crumbles &
Blue Heaven Cheese Powder
Produced from Rogue’s Oregon Blue and Smokey Blue, and occasionally with other rindless blues from this creamery, Creamery Crumbles are hand-chopped cheesy bits that are easy to scatter on salads or sprinkle on burgers. Crumbling cheese reduces its shelf life, says Rogue marketing director Francis Plowman, but chefs make that tradeoff for convenience.
For Rogue, the 1- and 5-pound bags of crumbles provide a way to monetize the trim from its precut program. And as a foodservice-only item, the crumbles don’t require costly packaging or labeling.
Responding to demand for a shelf-stable version of blue cheese, Rogue introduced Blue Heaven Cheese Powder three years ago. Wheels that don’t meet the creamery’s quality parameters are sent to a processor, who dries, grinds, and packs the powdered cheese in retail and foodservice sizes. “We expected it to be a retail item,” says Plowman, “but our 4-pound and 25-pound bags have been even more successful.”
A popcorn manufacturer is a big customer, as is a chip company. “It’s like a finishing spice,” says Rogue co-owner David Gremmels. “It’s all umami.” Gremmels says chefs are sprinkling the powder on french fries and nut mixes, and adding it to mayonnaise and compound butters. One chef puts Blue Heaven on the rim of her bloody marys.
Roth Ultimates, Grand Cru Reserve & 6th Pan
Ultimates are new grated cheese blends aimed at chefs and deli personnel who prize convenience, says Emmi Roth sales director Jodie Wische. Packed in 5-pound bags, they capitalize on the lively market for “shreds” with three distinct melanges for macaroni and cheese, flatbreads, and grilled sandwiches.
Also new from Roth is Grand Cru Reserve, the company’s award-winning alpine-style cheese, in a 7-pound loaf intended for slicing. For deli managers who want to give their sandwiches a quality boost, that’s a breakthrough.
6th Pan are new 20- to 26-ounce plastic pouches designed to fit a sixth-size steam-table insert. The four options include Grand Cru shreds and crumbles of Roth’s Buttermilk Blue, Buttermilk Gorgonzola, and goat cheese. Many chefs have a hard time using a 5-pound bag of crumbles before they mold, says Wische. The smaller inserts mean less shrinkage at many establishments.
Cheesemakers say that one key to success with chefs is versatility—providing product that works both on cheese plates and in cooking, for example. Even more important, perhaps, is reliability and consistency. “You can give the snowflake excuse only so many times,” says McCall. “After our 30 years in business, restaurants expect us to be more professional.”
Montchevre: Why Goat Cheese Is Great for Foodservice
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Janet Fletcher writes the email newsletter “Planet Cheese” and is the author of Cheese & Wine and Cheese & Beer.
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