Friday, November 6, 2015

Natural Cheese: Understanding its Complexity to Best Market its Deliciousness

Photo source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

The majority of people, including many in the dairy industry—that’s you—do not realize that almost all of the 1,400-plus natural cheese varieties cataloged in the World Cheese Exchange Database are made with the same four ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. That’s what’s listed on the ingredient statement. Of course, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the words “cultures” and “enzymes” are simplified terms for very complex, powerhouse ingredients capable of turning milk into a Brie, a cheddar or a mozzarella.

To learn more about the role of cultures and enzymes in cheese product development, please link HERE to an article I recently wrote for Food Business News on this topic.

If you missed last week’s blog on innovations in natural and process cheese products, as experienced in person at Anuga 2015, the world’s largest food fair, you can read it by linking HERE.

It truly is amazing how three ingredients—cultures, enzymes and salt--can transform milk into so many different cheeses. And with the help of herbs, spices, peppers and other flavorful additions, cheesemakers can create entertaining masterpieces.

And entertaining with cheese is the name of the game during the winter holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Super Bowl Sunday, cheese is on the menu. It’s that time of year when consumers are often very willing to reach deeper into their pockets and splurge on specialty cheeses. Will your cheese be part of the story?

Here’s something to keep in mind. Many of today’s consumers—the millennials--spend more time talking about their food—or taking pictures of it and posting it in social media—than eating it. Cheese makes a great story, and it’s yours to tell. The holidays present an incredible opportunity for cheese marketers to tell stories…and to package and merchandise cheese in holiday-ready formats.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) provides tools to assist in communicating and marketing the deliciousness and versatility of cheese. Did you know that Wisconsin offers more than 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese? Cheese can star as an appetizer, an exceptional entrée or a memorable dessert. The possibilities are limitless and always delicious, explains WMMB.

Flavored cheese is one of the “hottest” segments right now and represents a growth opportunity for the category. Recent data from IRI show that the U.S. retail flavored cheese market is $1.5 billion. In volume, that’s close to a quarter-billion pounds or 7% of the total cheese category. Year-to-date 2015 data from IRI find flavored cheeses up by 4.5% in volume sales and year-to-date dollar sales of flavored cheeses are up 8.3%.

The most popular flavors used in cheese are:
1.      Jalapeno
2.      Smoked
3.      Taco
4.      Pimento
5.      Berry
6.      Habanero
7.      Onion
8.      Herbs
9.      Garlic
10.   Vegetable

The fastest-growing flavors enhancing cheese are:
1.      Spice
2.      Vanilla
3.      Bacon
4.      Caramel/Maple/Sugar
5.      Cajun/Creole
6.      Fruit
7.      Alcohol
8.      Hot
9.      Seafood
10.   Olive/Olive Oil
11.   Cinnamon
12.   Nut
13.   Mushroom/Truffle
14.   Buffalo
15.   Roasted

New Flavored Cheese Products from Wisconsin 
Country Connection Cheese Co., a company known for its flavored and smoked cheeses, does a fabulous job of communicating the premium nature of its products. This 40-year-old Wisconsin dairy handcrafts all of its cheeses in small batches. Traditional cheesemaking techniques and attention to detail give each Country Connection cheese a distinctive texture and flavor.

Country Connection doesn’t just toss a handful of a flavorful inclusions, such as bacon pieces, into a vat of curd to make a bacon cheddar. “What we do is combine various natural ingredients and age them in the cheese so that the marriage of taste sensations is complex, harmonious and unique,” according to the company’s website.
One of the company’s most recent additions is Cheddar Sriracha. Sriracha’s heat is balanced and cooled by the cheese so that even those with a low tolerance for hot spices can enjoy the actual taste of sriracha. For more information, link HERE.

Buffalo Wing Monterey Jack has a smooth, creamy texture with the distinct flavor of ever popular Buffalo wings. The cheese is produced by an award-winning Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker. For more information, link HERE.

Saxon Creamery Big Ed’s with Serrano Peppers is a rich, young, buttery Gouda style cheese that that brings the heat. Bits of Serrano Peppers deliver a nice warmth that will have you coming back for more.  This semi-soft cheese is great on sandwiches and bold enough to stand alone on a cheese platter. The rich milk flavors speak of the lush green pastures where the cows are grazed, the season in which it was made, the particular craftsmanship of the cheesemaker, the time the cheese spends in the aging rooms. For more information, link HERE.

Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman crafts her award-winning Gouda cheese using an Old World recipe with fresh milk from the family’s farm in northern Wisconsin. This new addition to the lineup--Marieke Gouda Truffle--is a flavorful variation made with raw cows milk, cultures, enzymes, salt, Italian black truffles and Italian truffle oil. For more information, link HERE.

Many of these products, and so many, many more, will be featured in the WMMB booth (4713) at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which takes place in San Francisco January 17 to 19. For more information, link HERE. Hope to see you there. I’ll be the one in the WMMB booth enjoying the magic of milk, cultures, enzymes and salt.

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