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Modern Cheese Trends A dozen ways to capitalize on today’s best cheese-centric menu ideas

Even exotic cheeses are go-to ingredients for comforting yet innovative treatments in items like these chorizo tacos with juustoleipä cheese.
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Even exotic cheeses are go-to ingredients for comforting yet innovative treatments in items like these chorizo tacos with juustoleipä cheese.

Let’s face it—cheese is always on trend. But menu distinction resides in the home of innovation. With cheese, that’s not solely about exploring flavors and forms, it’s also about featuring delicious cheeses in unexpected but welcome places on your menu. The built-in beauty of cheese is its premium positioning and its inherent tie to authenticity. Opportunity here reflects a bigger trend in foodservice today—pay attention to the details because diners are looking for the “Wow!” factor at every turn. Here are 12 ways to wow them with modern cheese trends.

1. Cheese Plates
Charcuterie plates have taken off, speeding onto menus nationwide. Cheese plates, reinvigorated by charcuterie’s success, are ready to take the baton. Some charcuterie offerings already feature a token cheese or two, but opportunity awaits with a shareable plate of delicious regional, local and/or artisanal cheeses—along with on-trend garnishes like savory jams, spiced nuts and artisan toast. Today’s cheese plates stand out with localized, casual, hand-crafted touches—they are not the formal cheese tastings of the past, with clockwise positioning of strong-to-mild cheeses. They are fun, approachable, and the garnishes get as much attention as the cheeses. At The Avenue Pub in New Orleans, a rotating cheese selection is accompanied by toasted baguette, candied bacon, local blueberry compote, macerated strawberries and seasonal pickled veggies.

  • Meat & Cheese Board: Prosciutto, pepperoni, salami, goat cheese, Brie, smoked cheddar, whole-grain mustard, olives and homemade crostini—Brick House Tavern & Tap, multiple locations
  • Stick & Bindle: Midwestern artisan cheese, charcuterie, pickled market vegetables, crusty bread—Farmhouse Chicago, Chicago

2. Mac & Cheese
Gourmet mac and cheese is not new—the lobster mac was welcomed into the pantheon a number of years back now. But innovation in this beloved category is crucial. Whether operators pull from larger trends like modern German (spaetzle with Emmentaler, for example) or show off regional flair, this classic continues to offer a creative platform with a built-in fan base.

  • Louisiana Crawfish, Bacon & Jalapeño Mac & Cheese topped with fried oysters—Richard Fiske’s Martini Bar & Restaurant, New Orleans
  • Mac and Cheese with spaetzle, Fontina and bacon—The Windsor, Chicago

3. Italian Fresh Cheeses
Call it the counter-trend to funky, savory flavors, our exploration of fresh cheeses reveals an exuberance in dairy-forward flavors. Leading the charge is burrata, that Italian fresh cheese made with an outer shell of mozzarella and a soft center made with mozzarella and cream. Stracciatella, thin strands of fresh mozzarella soaked in heavy cream, is another fresh cheese making moves on menus, maybe dolloped over flatbread or spread onto a burger. Stracchino, a very young, soft Italian cheese, is often seen folded into a piada, or perhaps added over roasted asparagus. Signaling indulgence, authenticity and menu innovation, fresh cheeses find a happy home across the menu.

  • Stracciatella Brussels Sprouts Toast—Nico Osteria, Chicago
  • Burrata Ice Cream —Dominique Ansel Kitchen, New York

Presidio Social Club in San Francisco serves burrata cheese with Early Girl tomatoes, gypsy peppers and toasted levain.

4. Cheese in Salads
It’s all in the details here—diners are looking for special touches and layers of flavor in every part of the menu. Cheese in a salad offers contrasting texture and flavor, but the trend has moved beyond cubes of mild cheddar. The opportunity to give guests the premium value they’re looking for is ripe in the salad category.

  • Fig & Olive Salad: Manchego, Gorgonzola dolce, fig, apple, tomato, walnut, olive, romaine, mesclun, scallion, fig balsamic, Arbequina olive oil—Fig & Olive, multiple locations
  • Brie & Berry: Mixed greens, smoked Brie, pickled strawberries, candied almonds, spicy honey mustard—Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar, St. Louis

5. Cheese Sauces
Silky, rich and indulgent, a good cheese sauce can be transformative. Today, it’s getting artisan touches, and its role is to help elevate a dish, setting it apart in surprising ways. Moving the ball down the field here is creativity and quality, adding flavorful cheese sauces in unexpected places, like pizza or seafood dishes. Sauces can also offer a smooth vehicle for local and/or artisan cheeses, promoting that connection from farm to fork. So, the familiar mac and cheese gets localized with its community-sourced product. Although that can be challenging on a national scale, this kind of authentic linkage works wonders in promotional LTOs.

  • Fried Gnocchi with Manchego Sauce—Hot & Soul, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Braised Lamb Pizza with goat cheese sauce—Area Four, Cambridge, Mass.

6. Toasted Sandwiches
A comfort food for the ages, toasted sandwiches are following the path carved out by the better-burger category. Each layer is an opportunity—and the greatest chance to shine is through the cheese. Gooey, stretchy, lovely cheese makes a toasted sandwich. The trend here is all about elevation in flavor experience, making this a grown-up, steamy affair.

  • Tea-smoked tomato, pulled mozzarella, Brie, Parmesan-rubbed bread, mint-cashew pesto, tomato bisque—Prep & Pastry, Tucson, Ariz.
  • BLT + Blue: Bacon, blue cheese, mozzarella, hardy white bread—Tom & Chee, multiple locations

7. Fried Cheese
Fried cheese has moved leaps and bounds ahead of mozzarella sticks, but it still offers the same promise of gooey-meets-crispy indulgence. The perfect bar bite, chefs are using the deep fryer to extol the craveable virtues of varieties like cheese curds, halloumi and queso blanco. Taking it even further, chef José Gutierrez serves Camembert cheese beignets alongside a creamy ratatouille at River Oaks in Memphis, Tenn.

  • Pulled Pork Sliders with truffle slaw and fried cheese curds with Sriracha-lime mayo—El Gaucho, multiple locations
  • Guru Sticks: Queso blanco, wonton skin, Guru’s pink dipping sauce—Guru Burgers & Crepes, Sugar Land, Texas

A slice of curried American cheese enhances the craveability of the Shiitake Beef Burger, on the happy hour menu at Chicago’s Embeya.

8. Cheese and Produce
As the veg-centric trend gathers momentum, putting produce in the flavor spotlight, cheese is one of the ingredients it turns to for flavor building and textural heft. It’s a perfect fit, as veg-centric extols the virtues of produce without binding the dishes to vegetarian or vegan constraints. In fact, veg-centric dishes often rely on items like cheese (or bacon or beef stock) to help ratchet up the produce experience. Adding a distinct and often crucial layer of flavor and mouthfeel, cheese helps achieve craveability here.

  • Greek street corn with smoked salmon taramasalata, halloumi, olive, dill—Sarma, Somerville, Mass.
  • Blistered Shishito Peppers with roasted corn, Sonoma goat feta cheese, lemon aïoli, sumac—Not Your Average Joe’s, multiple locations

9. Melted Cheese
Rip away the image of fondue houses from the 1970s. Whether you call it fondue, fonduta or melted cheese, modern versions are showcasing the beauty of melted cheese in refined, menu-ready perfection. Endlessly shareable, raclette, Gruyère, Reblochon, Fontina, cheddar and Emmentaler are all great choices, with finishes and garnishes offering opportunity for signature touches. At Equinox Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore., a creamy Fontina-leek fondue accompanies the chicken breast with fingerling potatoes and braised kale.

  • Fondue of Alpine Cheeses with toasted levain—Cheese Bar, Portland, Ore.
  • Wood-Grilled 16-oz Bone-In Ribeye with bone marrow, anchovy butter, horseradish, rye and raclette—Cadet, Santa Monica, Calif.
  • Baked Cauliflower with Fontina fonduta, prosciutto and scallion curls—Volterra, Seattle

10. Spiced Cheese Slices
Adding premium, flavor-forward elements to your burger or sandwich is a must in our modern better-everything culture. And although a dollop of goat cheese is a wonderful thing, it doesn’t necessarily offer the melt, stretch and mouthfeel of a slice of cheese. Innovation in this familiar cheese category is seeing spices and chile peppers added, offering an eclectic take on an American favorite.

  • Pork tenderloin sandwich with smoked cumin Gouda—Chef Michael Symon
  • Arizona Smashburger topped with habanero cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, chipotle mayo, fresh jalapeños on a chipotle bun—Smashburger, Tempe, Ariz.

11. Cream Cheese Flavors
Yet another sign of the times is how we’ve moved beyond cream cheese with chives, looking for adventure even in our morning schmear. Flavor-infused cream cheese elevates the pedestrian bagel. It can also add dimension to sandwiches, dips and spreads. At Schmear It, a food truck in Philadelphia, customers can customize their cream cheeses with add-ins like Greek yogurt, wasabi, soy sauce, jalapeños and maple syrup.

  • Hot Pretzel: Pretzel-salt mini bagel stuffed with cheddar-Dijon cream cheese—Bantam Bagels, New York
  • House Beet Lox Sandwich with horseradish cream cheese, radish and herb—Black Seed, New York

12. Cheese in Desserts
With many cheeses boasting creaminess and richness, and with more diners responding to contrasting flavors of sweet-salty and sweet-savory, adding cheese to dessert can be a beautiful thing. Montrio Bistro in Monterey, Calif., serves a seasonal dessert of California strawberries and melted Brie with cocoa crumble. And mascarpone plays the starring role in the newest dessert at Frankenmuth Brewery in Frankenmuth, Mich.: the Pistachio Mascarpone Cake is layered with smooth pistachio mascarpone, iced with creamy mascarpone frosting and finished with roasted pistachios.

  • Roasted peach with melted Teleme—Toro Bravo, Portland, Ore.
  • Ricotta Cheese Crème Brûlèe with hydrated apricots and toasted almonds—Roberta’s by Joe Muldoon, Northfield, N.J.

About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.