Specialty Food Guide: Cheese

Cheese Trends 2018

Specialty cheese saw an exuberant burst of growth in 2017 as the category continued to gain even more popularity. Last year, specialty cheese sales alone grew five times as fast as the industry overall, prompting cheese makers to produce more specialty cheese than ever before. The production of specialty cheese in particular had also grown, increasing by 7% to meet consumer demand.

When it comes to Wisconsin cheese in particular, there are numerous “tried and true” products shoppers have been drawn to consistently over the years. These cheeses have appeared on several delicately crafted cheese boards, a trend that began growing in 2017.

One of the cheeses predominantly seen on these elegant boards is Little Mountain Cheese by Roelli Cheese Haus, also doubling as winner of the American Cheese Society’s Best in Show award in 2016. Others like Upland’s Pleasant Rich Reserve, Hooks 10-Year Aged Cheddar have also made board appearances, along with Sartori’s Black Pepper BellaVitano, a specialty cheese rubbed in black peppercorn. Sartori’s cheese was also named Cheese Champion at the U.S. Cheese Championship in 2017 with an impressive score of 99.02 out of 100. “A lot of cheeses that are winning awards are growing in popularity,” says Lizzie Duffey, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s (WMMB) public relations specialist. “People are talking about them more than ever and continuing to buy them and love them.” Since WMMB is a non-profit organization of dairy farmers promoting the consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy products, Duffey is one of the individuals in charge of compiling Wisconsin’s future cheese trends. With 237,000 images of beautifully crafted cheese boards on Instagram to date, Duffey says they will continue to skyrocket in 2018.

“Everybody wants to take a picture of a cheese board, millenials specifically,” she said. “They like to take pictures or videos of the food they’re trying. The intrigue of knowing where their food is from and making sure it’s the best of the best is important to consumers today.”

Cheeses with bold, rich flavor will also dominate the market. As of current, sales on this category of flavored cheese are outpacing the growth of the total cheese category, increasing by 1.5 percent in comparison. This primarily includes smoked cheeses, spicy cheeses and cheese with urban vegetable flavors.

According to the WMMB’s most recent press release regarding cheese trends, Wisconsin dairy farmers are prepared to embrace the market’s shift in flavor preference. Smoked cheeses like Red Apple Cheese’s Smoked swiss, herb and vegetable flavored cheese like Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese’s Onion and chive Cheddar are all fast-growing segments of the cheese category. Varieties and blends of Wisconsin specialty cheeses are also appearing on restaurant menus across the country. Some of these blends, like Roth Buttermilk Blue Cheese with Sartori Montamore, are a few examples of these unique combinations.

With gourmet snacking also on the rise, cheese is already the fastest growing savory snack consumers reach for between meals, according to the NPD Group. Wisconsin cheesemakers are now thinking beyond older versions of classic snacks, like string cheese, adding their own modern twist. Award winning company Carr Valley Cheese is an example of this shift in innovation, developing a mature flavored Cranberry Chipotle Cheddar cheese stick.

“When people look for snacks between meals, they are turning toward cheese,” Duffey said. “And they want it to be the best cheese, gourmet specialty cheese.”

Meal kits are also a rising trend this year, giving consumers an easy way to enjoy fresh and local cheese ingredients every night of the week. WMMB’s press release also stated that Blue Apron, who offers Wisconsin- Style Potato Cheddar Soup made with Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese, is one of the many meal kit companies incorporating specialty cheese into their recipes.

Aside from this year’s soon-todevelop trends, Duffey says she, along with all of Wisconsin, is looking forward to sharing their cheesemakers personal stories.

“Everybody wants to know where their food is coming from and who makes it,” she said. “We have a long tradition here of 3rd and 4th generation cheesemakers, or maybe cheesemakers who are new to the game.” Duffey says for these cheesemakers, the craft goes even farther beyond what consumers are eating. “[It’s about] learning about the cheesemaker’s passion and stories, and teaching people about that in 2018 is something we’re really excited about,” she said. “Our cheesemakers put their whole heart and soul into these products that consumers are loving.”

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