Prepared Foods: What have been a few of the most interesting culinary or menu trends involving cheese?
Glenda Murray: I can still remember my mom always coming home from the store with a plain, big, 5lb block of cheddar cheese. It wasn’t even pre-sliced. By comparison, now we enjoy so many varieties, such as Oaxaca or those flavored with chilis, basil and smoked meats.
We see so many new offerings everywhere. In restaurants, there are flavorful new, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers with cheeses incorporated into them, melted over the top, or cheese appetizer platters that are paired with complementary preserves and salsas. Deep-fried cheese curds are made with more flavorful cheeses. In the freezercase, we see bagels with cheese toppers and appetizers with cheese featured in crunchy toppings. I was just in a local retailer and discovered some amazing flatbreads with cheese baked on the top.
PF: What’s something new you’ve learned during the past year?
Murray: I learned about Burrata, which is just a ball of heaven. It’s mozzarella with a cream and mozzarella filled center. It’s solid mozzarella on the outside but when you cut into it, you discover this wonderful blend of cream and mozzarella.
PF: What ethnic cheeses are on-trend?
Murray: Hispanic varieties. Sargento sent me to Oaxaca where I learned from a master cheese maker. They are quite passionate about true flavor. They want an authentic product, which is far removed from what we would have made years ago by simply mixing in some jalapenos. Ethnic cheeses—everything from manchego, cotija and queso fresco, all the way to to feta—often are white cheeses that you can build on for a more interesting product.
Hispanic consumers, in particular, will demand authenticity. It’s an experience they can smell and those flavors remind them of home.
PF: Where have you seen interesting new product applications involving ingredient cheeses?
Murray: With steaks, we see mixtures of cheese and herbs that melt as a topper over the meat or as a stuffing inside a chicken breast. As I mentioned earlier, the original cheese curd has changed dramatically and you see them now feature smoked cheeses and others with complex flavors.
I’ve been working lately with cheeses enhanced by chilis, spices and pastes such as harissa, gochujang or mole. Going back to the comment about my mom’s block of cheese, we’re no longer seeing just one type of cheese.
PF: What’s your advice for chefs working with food scientists?
Murray: Example: If you make sriracha flavored product, consumers must be able to taste the garlic, the acid and heat. Consumers are too educated now and you can’t fool them. That’s why it’s important that chefs and food scientists work as a team and do as many cuttings as necessary to get the flavor. When these professionals work together, a company can put its best foot forward, so respect the product and keep the flavor “real.”