Creamy, comforting, and oh-so-versatile, it’s no surprise that more items on major restaurant chain menus feature cheese than any other ingredient. Cheese is simply synonymous with many consumers’ favorite dishes, such as pizza, burgers and pasta. And 46% of consumers look forward to trying signature cheese dishes at restaurants. Creative operators are taking the opportunity to play up the indulgent appeal of cheese across the menu, from shareable appetizers all the way to desserts.
Mac-and-cheese mashups are having a moment in the spotlight. Dressing the kid-friendly favorite with premium ingredients and add-ons gives the dish a signature touch—and serves as an appealing option for customers choosing carryout or delivery. Unique examples on current menus include spaetzle mac and cheese (topped with beer-brined corned beef), short rib mac (with horseradish sour cream) and shrimp scampi mac (tossed with roasted tomatoes). One New York–based ice cream shop even teamed up with a classic macaroni and cheese brand to create a limited-edition sweet and savory flavor.
With so many types of cheese produced around the world, international ingredients and dishes can also serve as menu inspiration. Paneer, an Indian soft cheese, can be cut into chunks and hold its shape in soups, curries or as a topper for flatbread. Manchego and quince paste serve as the ideal fillings for Spanish-style hand pies or empanadas, while Mediterranean halloumi is found grilled atop salads, on sandwiches and in wraps as a replacement for chicken or other meats.
Which brings us to another cheesy trend: the plant-based revolution. Some of today’s most interesting cheese products and menu items are actually dairy-free. Aquafaba mozzarella, cashew bleu cheese and macadamia nut queso fresco3 are just some of the vegan options that can deliver an indulgent experience. Cheese can even be used to create a savory substitute for bacon. Try baking a seasoned blend of smoked cheeses into crispy strips to dress up a plant-based BLT.
However you choose to innovate, Brie-lieve in the power of cheese and you’ll be Gouda to go!
Cheese makes it easy to serve up memorable twists on dishes that may already be a hit on your menu. Changing up fillings, carriers or prep methods to incorporate cheese can truly set your offerings apart.
Our culinary team has developed cheesy menu concepts that showcase today’s hottest culinary trends featuring a variety of Custom Culinary® sauces, bases and gravies. From comfort food classics to globally inspired dishes, try them across your menu!
The rise of flexitarian, or semi-vegetarian, diets presents an opportunity to drive cheese consumption. As consumers look to reduce their meat intake, cheese stands out as a delicious alternative protein source. Vegan cheese and dairy are categories with tremendous growth potential in the plant-based product space. The ability of plant-based cheese to be used as both a substitute for meat and a complementary ingredient demonstrates its appeal and versatility.
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 ages.
Snacking has most definitely changed during the pandemic. Cheese has always been a big part of snacking; many consumers seek 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 increasingly common. And it's no surprise 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!
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 scrape off the melting, gooey cheese onto toasted baguette slices.
Food trucks focusing on cheese are 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 tremendous cheesy pizza from Crust Culture in Chicago.
Of course, we know the plant-forward movement is here to stay. And it seems that I hear about another person who has sworn off dairy every day. Innovative vegan alternatives are exploding onto the scene with surprisingly tasty spreads and other cheese alternatives, from sliced to diced to shredded and more. And we will surely 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 consumers will always demand cheese, whether dairy-free cheese on a plant-based burger, real cheese on an all-beef burger, or any combination thereof.
I spent the first half of my culinary career in hotels. As a Garde Manger Chef, I’ve built hundreds of cheeseboards. Some are basic with Swiss and American, and some are much more adventurous with cave-aged brie and pungent bleu cheeses.
Called the “best cheese in the world” and winning the 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 demonstrates that bolder cheeses are coming more into fashion than ever. Serve on its own, in a salad, or with fresh fruit, along with a lovely Riesling, chocolate stout or a great bourbon.
While most artisan cheese is made in Europe and the United States (representing about 80% of the world's cheese), Japanese cheeses have entered the marketplace in recent years. I love Sakura, a Camembert-style cheese that is matured on top of cherry blossom leaves and then garnished with pickled cherry blossoms.
I mentioned sustainability, and with every aspect of our industry, sustainability becomes more critical daily. Even a process as old as cheesemaking can incorporate sustainable practices. Examples include Arethusa Farms in Connecticut, which 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 with 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 kinds of cheese. 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. 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!
Mike Speranza, CEC
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Mike Koysto, “Flavor in Focus: The Big Cheese,” Flavor & The Menu, September 15, 2021.
Datassential, “Foodbytes: The Big Cheese Report,” May 2020.
These 25 Vegan Cheeses Will Make You Quit Dairy Forever,” Green Planet, June 2021.
Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2017-2021.