Bits & Pieces: Market data, new products and the big cheese at this years' U.S. Championship Cheese Contest

According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's 2001 Cheese Channel Volume Study, foodservice is the largest end-user of cheese, utilizing 43% of all cheese made in the United States. A mere 18% goes into food processing, while the remaining 39% is sold through retail channels. With that much cheese going into foodservice, cheesemakers need to be aware of what helps sell cheese on menus, and how they can assist their foodservice customers with effectively marketing cheese on menus.

A February 2003 Menu Enhancement Study by Dairy Management Inc., indicates that enhanced menu descriptions featuring cheese increase purchase intent. Specifically, highlighting the inclusion of cheese blends in menu items, as well as the use of romantic/sexy cheese descriptors (i.e., quesadilla with mouth-watering, creamy Monterey jack cheese), significantly increases purchase intent over similar products without the cheese marketing efforts.

Here is an opportunity for cheesemakers to work with their foodservice customers, educating and impressing upon that cheese has a high-perceived value and using cheese in their menu offerings can grow their business.

So what types of foodservice operations use the most cheese? According to a January 2003 report from the Foodservice Research Institute, 23.0% of menu items at casual dining restaurants feature cheese. Family-style establishments come in second at 15.3%, while Mexican restaurants place third with 13.0% of menu items including cheese. Of course, Cheddar and American remain the leaders; however, cheeses like blue, Monterey jack and mozzarella (in applications other than pizza) fare very well.

New cheese offerings

Minneapolis-based Land O'Lakes Inc., is making it easier for prepared food manufacturers and foodservice operators to create cheesy lower-fat dishes by offering Land O Lakes[r] Reduced Fat Pasteurized Process American Cheese in 45-lb blocks. This full-flavored American cheese, which can be shredded, cubed, sliced and diced, works in cold and hot applications. It contains 50% less fat per serving than the company's regular process American cheese.

Sorrento Lactalis Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., has rolled out a premium mozzarella called Prima Cucina[tm]. The company says that the rich and creamy flavor and uniform melting texture of Prima Cucina mozzarella perfectly complements all types of pizzas. It maintains excellent stretch and texture after cooling, and stays highly consistent under heat lamps. Prima Cucina performs in all types of ovens, and won't burn or blister like ordinary mozzarella.

This past fall, Pizza Hut Inc., Dallas, rolled out authentic Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Developing an authentic Chicago-style pizza that can be delivered quickly to table or door is challenging because real Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is massive, and it can take up to 45 minutes to prepare and cook. But, after years of development, the Pizza Hut team cracked the code. The company even has a patent pending on certain aspects of the pizza-making process.

"The Chicago Dish Pizza is the first true Chicago-style pizza available nationally, and with the speed people expect from a Pizza Hut restaurant," says Leah Evans, senior v.p. of R&D. "This is the pizza everyone has been waiting for. It took more than 10 years to get it right."

According to Evans, Chicago-style pizza is different from other pizzas. Chicago-style pizza has a butter-flavored, flaky crust with tall sides. The dough is made with a hint of corn meal for taste and texture. The build of the pizza begins with a thick layer of sliced 100% mozzarella cheese. It's filled with an abundance of toppings, shredded cheese and then chunky marinara sauce is poured on the top of the pizza. The finished pizza winds up containing about twice the amount of cheese of a typical medium pizza.

To validate its authenticity, the Pizza Hut team invited Gale Gand, world-renowned pastry chef and partner in the fine-dining Chicago restaurant TRU, to try the Chicago Dish Pizza. Although best known for her dazzling desserts, Gand knows pizza, because not only is she from Chicago, her experience includes working for three years in London with Bob Payton, who introduced Chicago-style pizza to Europe at his famed Chicago Pizza Pie Factory restaurant. The Pizza Hut pizza received Gand's approval.

In Gand's own restaurant, a gourmet cheese course is offered nightly, and many entree' and dessert items feature cheese. In fact, TRU hosted a recent Master Cheesemaker reception, and for the event, Gand created a Cheddar cheese ice cream to top a fig and walnut tart.She used four-year-aged Wisconsin Cheddar cheese made at Widmer Cheese Cellars, Theresa, Wis., to make the ice cream.

The big cheese

The Great Lakes Cheese Co., Hiram, Ohio, has won an unprecedented three Best of Class Gold Awards at the recent United States Championship Cheese Contest, hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Assn. No other cheese company in the country has ever received as many Best of Class Gold Awards.

A select panel of 10 expert independent judges evaluated entries on many quality attributes including flavor, body, texture and finish. The Best of Class awards were for aged Cheddar, Provolone and whole milk mozzarella. In addition, eight other Great Lakes Cheese entries earned top-10 recognition in this contest that featured nearly 700 entries from cheesemakers throughout the country.

Since its founding by Swiss immigrant Hans Epprecht in 1958, the company has grown from a single operation in Northeast Ohio to a national company with multiple state-of-the-art facilities. In the past 15 years, Great Lakes Cheese has earned more than 75 major awards in regional and national competitions.

Great Lakes Cheese remains privately held with more than 20% of company ownership shared by employees. Today, the company is ranked as one of America's top cheese producers with annual sales in excess of $800 million.

Cheeses manufactured by the company are sold under a wide variety of private labels and the Great Lakes name. In addition, the company offers many popular imported cheeses. In total, Great Lakes markets more than 60 types of cheese making it a one-stop supplier for many of its customers.

Congratulations Great Lakes Cheese!