Americans' love affair with specialty cheese isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Volume sales of specialty cheese have grown five times as fast as the cheese category overall in the past year, said the Madison, Wis.-based Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), citing data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

In Wisconsin, specialty cheese production increased by 7% in the past year, according to USDA data.

With this increase in mind, WMMB predicted the top five ways consumers will look to enjoy Wisconsin specialty cheese in 2018:

  • On a cheese board. Sixty-nine percent of millennials report taking a photo or video of their food before eating, WMMB said, citing a study by Maru/Matchbox. Creating Instagram-worthy foods like cheese boards is a growing trend among millennials. To date, more than 237,000 images of beautifully crafted cheese boards can be found on Instagram, many of which feature award-winning Wisconsin specialty cheeses such as Upland's Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Hook's 10-Year Aged Cheddar and Roelli Cheese Haus' Dunbarton Blue, to name a few.
  • With bold flavor. Wisconsin cheesemakers are embracing bigger, bolder flavors by developing unique flavored cheeses and specialty products. Smoked cheeses such as Red Apple Cheese's smoked Swiss, herb and vegetable flavored cheese such as Henning's Wisconsin Cheese's onion and chive Cheddar and cheeses with spicy flavorings such as Nasonville Dairy's Carolina Reaper cheddar are all fast-growing segments of the cheese category, WMMB said, as consumers increasingly reach for more flavorful cheeses. Retail volume sales of flavored cheese are also outpacing growth in the total cheese category, with flavored cheese increasing by 1.5% compared to the total cheese category.
  • Blended with other varieties. Unique cheese varieties and blends of Wisconsin specialty cheeses are popping up on restaurant menus across the country. Wisconsin Swiss, Burrata and Gouda are three of the fastest-growing cheeses currently being blended and used on pizza, WMMB said,while unique blends such as Roth buttermilk blue cheese with Sartori Montamoré and Marieke smoked Gouda with Clock Shadow Creamery ricotta are examples of “standout combinations.”
  • For a gourmet snack. Cheese is the fastest-growing savory snack between meals, WMMB said, citing findings from the NPD Group. This reality is driving Wisconsin cheesemakers to think beyond the mozzarella cheese stick and develop sophisticated snacks made with Wisconsin specialty cheese. New products such as Carr Valley Cheese's cranberry chipotle cheddar Cheese Stix and BelGioioso's provolone cheese & Genoa salami Snacking Rolls are two examples of Wisconsin cheese companies embracing this trend.
  • In a meal kit. Meal kits are a quick and easy way for consumers to enjoy fresh, local ingredients every night of the week. According to Nielsen, one in four adults purchased a meal kit in the last year, and 70% percent continue to use them after making their first purchase. Blue Apron, which offers a Wisconsin-style potato and cheddar soup made with Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese, is one of the many meal kit companies incorporating specialty cheese into their recipes, WMMB said.