DECEMBER 2016 / JANUARY 2017

Smooth Operators

   

By Anna Wolfe
 Made in-store or prepackaged, cheese spreads are in the spotlight

Your mom was right. It's what's inside that counts.

And that goes for cheese spreads. A new generation of cheese spreads, including those made in-store by gourmet retailers with high quality and wholesome ingredients, are hitting the refrigerated case.

Whereas cut-to-order artisan cheese can be intimidating, cheese spreads, in their grab-and-go plastic tubs, are unpretentious and approachable, and in most all cases, affordable. They're versatile — and can be used on a cracker, as a dip, a sandwich spread, or as a secret ingredient in a sauce or mashed potatoes.

Cheese spreads are part of Di Bruno's store brand. The Philadelphia-based retailer wholesales its cheese spreads and other private-label items.

Retailers of all sizes are selling cheese spreads. Goose the Market, a specialty food store just north of downtown Indianapolis, has a cut-to-order artisan cheese program, but cheese spreads and dips also sell well, explains Christopher Eley, who co-owns the specialty food store with Molly, his wife. Goose the Market is known for is 50+ varieties of house-made charcuterie, all of which are available at its two retail stores and available wholesale under its Smoking Goose brand. But when it comes to cheese spreads, "The two most popular in our store are pimento cheese spread and Fromage Frais from Tulip Tree Creamery" in Zionsville, Ind., says Eley. The fresh cheese is made with whole cow milk and cream and is available in an 8-ounce tub.

Goose the Market also offers a variety of items that are prepared in-house, and sometimes the lineup includes cheese spreads. "Our cheesemongers do occasionally make their own," Eley adds. "One of the best ones that I recall recently was a cheese spread we made with grilled and finely chopped zucchini, peppers, squash and tons of herbs."

Cheese spreads are a great way to maximize an overabundance of products. For those looking for some culinary inspiration: A quick search on Pinterest netted more than 1,000 cheese spread recipes. And a regular lineup of house-made cheese spreads that are exclusive to a store create cachet and customer loyalty.

Selling consumables, such as cheese spreads, wines and other specialty foods, has been key to Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium's on-going success.

At the kitchenware retailer and cooking school in Brandon, Fla., chef Dave West makes the line of Chef Dave's Creations cheese spreads in-house. The line includes four varieties that are available year-round: Southern Pimento Cheese with Sriracha (based on his grandmother's Pimento Cheese recipe, but he made it more on-trend by adding the Sriracha hot sauce), Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomato, Roasted Garlic and Blue Cheese, and Smoked Salmon and Green Onion. Dried Beef and Chive is available October through January.

When Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium relocated to its current location in Brandon, Fla., in 2006, Dave and Karen West, the owners, added a cheese case. It is stocked with items such as pre-cut cheeses, Devon cream, butter and cheese spreads.

In addition to its selection of high-quality cutlery, cookware, bakeware and fine kitchen textiles, the store, The Gourmet Retailer's Kitchenware Retailer of the Year in 2014 and the U.S. gia winner for independent kitchenware retail, has made it a point to stock specialty foods and wines, items that Dave West says customers "eat up, use up and come back" for on a regular basis. "The only way we are going to survive in this world is by selling consumables," he adds.

Selling specialty foods and boutique wines drives repeat business at Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, Fla. Dave and Karen West, owners, sell cheeses and house-made cheese spreads. 2014 TGR file photo.

When Dried Beef and Chive was reintroduced in October, Rolling Pin sampled it for a few days. Otherwise, the cheese spreads are usually not offered as the store's core customers are familiar with them. On most days, the store is sampling eight to 12 specialty food items. "Sampling is key," he says. "Anyone who is not doing consumables and sampling, I'm not sure how they are staying alive. It is keeping us alive. It is also expensive."

Wholesale Success
More than 50 years ago, the founders of Di Bruno Bros., Danny and Joe Di Bruno, made cheese spreads for their specialty food store in the Italian market of Philadelphia. Three generations later, the company offers its line of cheese spreads not only to customers of its five retail stores and website but also via wholesale to retailers throughout the country. Back in the '90s, demand from local restaurants led to Di Bruno Bros. offering some of its cheeses wholesale. These days, the wholesale line includes pre-cut cheeses, extra virgin olive oils, cheese accompaniments, salumi, crostini, flatbreads and snacks.

Emilo Mignucci, vice president of culinary pioneering at Di Bruno Bros., explains that the recipe development is done in-house and the cheese spreads are produced with a copacker.

Over the years, the Di Bruno line of cheese spreads has evolved with food trends.

Back in the '90s there were 10 varieties, then the line was whittled down to the top six best sellers: Spicy Abbruzze, the flagship cheese spread made with aged cheddar, hot pepper garlic and herbs; Roasted Garlic & Herbs, Port Wine, Gorgonzola, Provolone & Chianti and Cheddar & Horseradish. Always innovating, Di Bruno added two on-trend flavors to the cheese spread line in November: Pinot Grigio & Fig and Smoked Gouda & Beer with Pimentos.

"Our customers across the country, and especially Philadelphia, love the original six spreads, and people were asking for more," says Mignucci.

Pinot Grigio & Fig Cheese Spread is a sweet and savory spread made with aged cheddar, white wine and sweet fig; it's great paired with salumi and added to any savory dessert or grilled cheese. Smoked Gouda & Beer with Pimentos Cheese Spread, made with nutty smoked Gouda cheese spread, pimentos and a splash of brown ale, is a nod to the traditional beer and cheese spread and adds a little smokiness to any dish or sandwich.

Spread the Flavor
Riding the wave of increased interest in Southern foods is pimento cheese, aka "the caviar of the South." Pimento cheese is, in fact, a spread made with cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, salt and pepper, and sometimes cayenne or an array of peppers. Pimento cheese is not only a popular DIY appetizer but also an in-demand grab-and-go item. Di Bruno Bros., Rolling Pin and Goose the Market all sell pimento cheese.

In November, Marché started making its own pimento cheese spread in-house. The gourmet cheese and wine shop, which opened in 2015, is the sister store of Marcel's Culinary Experience, The Gourmet Retailer's Kitchenware Retailer of the Year 2015 and the U.S. gia winner for independent kitchenware retail for 2015. Both stores are located on Main Street in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Ill., and are owned and operated by Jill Foucré.

Daniel Sirko, general manager, says the store does not sell a lot of cheeses spreads — with the exception of pimento cheese.

Gourmet retailers around the country are making cheese spreads in-house, including Goose the Market in Indianapolis, pictured, and Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, Fla.

Until recently, the store was carrying a prepackaged gourmet pimento cheese spread. It was a solid seller, explains Sirko, until production problems left them with zero inventory and a lot of unmet customer demand. So, the team at Marché took to the kitchen and experimented with making their own pimento cheese spread until they perfected their own unique recipe — made with a two-year-old cheddar and four types of peppers. "It was a lot of trial and error," says Sirko.

Many consumers are familiar with the spread, and there are many varieties of pimento cheese on the market, says Sirko, who sampled several brands at the Fancy Food Show. "There's definitely some not-so-good ones out there," he says. But a pimento cheese that's made with high quality ingredients, such as Marcel's, is a delicious snack on its own or a tasty topper on a sandwich that keep customers coming back for more.

Marché's pimento cheese is being sampled aggressively and quickly became a strong seller. It is sold in 8-ounce random weight packages that are available in the store's grab-and-go case. "It's flying out the doors," Sirko says.

Whether they're made in-house or prepackaged, spreads are gaining in popularity, says Faith Stevenson, Lactalis marketing product manager. The cheese importer and manufacturer offers several lines in the U.S. market, including Président and Rondelé. "They are easy to serve and offer flavors that are reliable and guaranteed to please a crowd. At the same time, there are flavor varieties for the more adventurous to explore," she says.

When it comes to flavor trends, cheese spreads with Sriracha and other peppers are ubiquitous.

At Lactalis, the company has seen growing consumer demand for increased heat and spicy with a contrast of sweet or tang, and as a result, it introduced Rondelé Thai Sweet Chili cheese spread and Pub Cheese Cheddar & Sriracha, Stevenson says. Consumers too are looking for more natural products with no preservatives, so the company has also expanded its offerings of certified organic cheese spreads. And for the consumers looking for sweeter flavors, President offered a limited edition gingerbread cheese spread under its Rondelé brand for the 2016 holiday season.

Also on the sweeter side of the spectrum, La Clare Farms in Malone, Wis., introduced a cheese spread that's made with its cheddar, Chandoka. The cheese, which is cave-aged at Standard Market in Chicago, won a second place in the best of show round at the 2015 American Cheese Society contest. Chandoka, cheesemaker Katie Furhmann explains, has been "a very big hit for us."

Cheeses spreads are a great way to stretch a supply of cheese, but the Chandoka spread that's infused with blueberry and merlot was born out a project to create something special for the holiday season, she says. "We did a few tests of flavor profiles, and the blueberry merlot came out on top for us. The blueberry offered a little bit of sweetness, and the merlot offered the end of the spectrum."

New Products

Merkt's Beer Cheese Spreads
Merkts Beer Cheese Spread is a bold new line of spreadable Wisconsin cheeses proudly made with Wisconsin craft beer. The company has partnered with Capital Brewery in Middleton and Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point to offer four flavorful varieties infused with light lagers, smooth ambers, hoppy IPAs and roasted malts. Merkts Beer Cheese Spread is offered in four cheddar varieties: Merkts Beer Cheese Spread with Capital Supper Club, Merkts Beer Cheese Spread with Point Amber Classic, Merkts Beer Cheese Spread with Capital Mutiny IPA and Merkts Beer Cheese Spread with Point Onyx Black Ale. Available in 7-ounce containers. SRP: $4.99.
Bel Brands USA, Little Chute, Wis., 312-462-1558, www.merkts.com, FFS 4723 (WMMB)


Smoked Gouda & Beer with Pimentos Cheese Spread
Philadelphia's acclaimed special retailer Di Bruno Bros. has added two new cheese spreads, Pinot Grigio & Fig and Smoked Gouda & Beer with Pimentos. Di Bruno Bros. spreads are made with real Wisconsin cheddar and are inspired by family recipes and over 75+ years of culinary pioneering. They are available wholesale to retailers across the United States. The line of spreads includes six other varieties: Spicy Abbruzze, Roasted Garlic & Herb, Port Wine, Gorgonzola, Provolone & Chianti and Cheddar & Horseradish. Available in 7.6-ounce containers. SRP: $5.99.
Di Bruno Bros., Philadelphia, Pa., 215-665-9220, www.dibruno.com/wholesale


Cheddar & Sriracha Pub Cheese
Lactalis Deli Inc. introduces several new cheese spreads under three of its brands. Pub Cheese by President recently added two new flavors: Cheddar & Bacon and Cheddar & Sriracha cheese spread. SRP: $4.99.

Rondele by President added Thai Sweet Chili, Pineapple & Ginger, and Salted Caramel flavors to its cheese spread line. SRP: $4.99.

Also new is Rondele Organic Garlic & Herbs and Rondele Organic Garden Vegetable. SRP: $5.99. All are available in 6-ounce containers.
Lactalis Deli Inc., New York, 716-823-6262, www.presidentcheese.com, FFS 4829


LaClare Chandoka Spread
LaClare Farms has infused its award-winning Chandoka cheddar with fresh blueberries and merlot wine to create Blueberry Merlot Chandoka Spread. Available for a limited time, this spread starts with a blend of fresh Wisconsin cow and goat milk for a creamy, tangy flavor with a fruity finish. Available in 6-ounce containers. SRP: $5.99

Head cheesemaker Katie (Hedrich) Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms is the youngest cheesemaker to win Best of Show at the U.S. Cheese Championship. In 2015, Fuhrmann was awarded the 2nd Place Best of Show ribbon at the annual American Cheese Society for LaClare's cave-aged Chandoka, handcrafted in Wisconsin and aged at Standard Market in suburban Chicago.
LaClare Farms, Malone, Wis., 920-670-0051, www.laclarefarms.com, FFS 4723 (WMMB)


Preservative-free Cheese Spreads
Pine River has unveiled a new preservative-free line of Cold Pack Cheese Spreads. Available in four flavors — Garlic & Herb, Sharp Cheddar, Port Wine and Hot Habanero — each spread is made with all-natural Wisconsin cheddar and infused with savory, sweet and spicy flavors.

Pine River's Cold Pack cheeses are free of artificial flavors, preservatives, dyes or coloring, and each 9-ounce container has a shelf life of up to 270 days from date of make.

Pine River has been in the Wisconsin dairy business since the 19th century, and has been making its popular Cold Pack Cheese, or cheese spreads, since 1963. SRP: $3.99 - $6.99.
Pine River, Newton, Wis., 920-726-4216, www.pineriver.com, FFS 4723 (WMMB)


Saxon Spreads
Saxon Creamery has introduced a new line of flavorful cheese spreads made with fresh Wisconsin milk. Pastures Aged Cheddar Cheese Spread is made with an Old English Style aged bandaged-wrapped cheddar. Asiago Fresco Cheese Spread is a creamy version of Saxon's popular young asiago cheese with a hint of citrus tang. Big Ed's Gouda Cheese Spread is a dippable version of Saxon's signature cheese with a smooth, sweet cream flavor.

Saxon Creamery was founded in 1848 by the Klessig family. Five generations later, the family still owns and operates the creamery in Cleveland, Wis., taking great care of the 850 acres of pasture that supports their Holstein/Jersey crossbred cows. Saxon Creamery combines traditional methods of artisan cheesemaking with years of experience in every wheel. Available in 8-ounce containers. SRP: $6 - $7.
Saxon Creamery, Cleveland, Wis., 920-693-8500, www.saxoncreamery.com, FFS 4723 (WMMB)


Kindred Creamery Specialty Cheeses
Emmi Roth USA and Meister Cheese Co. launched the Kindred Creamery brand of classic specialty American cheese varieties. All milk is provided via Meister's Cows First strict animal welfare program. That means cows have unfettered access to the outdoors, are not treated with rBST, and eat no animal byproducts in feeds. Farmers receive a premium for the milk. Kindred Creamery is available in 7-ounce wedges and 5-pound random weight loaves. Flavors include Sharp Cheddar, Medium Cheddar, Mild Cheddar, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, Natural Smoked Gouda, Sweet Fire Mango Jack, Spicy Sriracha Jack, Wild Ginseng & Garlic Jack, Ghost Pepper Colby Jack, Hickory Smoked Cheddar and Forage Mushroom & Spring Onion Jack. SRP: $2.99 - $4.99.
Kindred Creamery, Fitchburg, Wis., 608-845-5796 ext. 124, www.kindredcreamery.com, FFS 4911


Sugar Brook Premium Cheese Spreads
Sugar Brook's premium cheese spreads are made with Wisconsin cheese and select ingredients including smoked bacon, creamy blue cheese, wheat beer and red wine. Flavors available: Vintage Cheddar, Cobalt Cheddar, Barley Cheddar, Merlot Cheddar and Hickory Bacon Swiss. Available in 8-ounce containers. SRP: $4.99.
Sugar Brook Farms, Monticello, Wis., 716-652-1440 www.sugarbrookfarms.net


Premium Natural Charcuterie
Niman Ranch is introducing a charcuterie line of pre-sliced, chubs and snack packs. Pre-sliced includes Prosciutto, Genoa Salame, Capocollo, Pepperoni and Hot Sopressata in 3-ounce packages. SRP: $6.79 - $6.99. Chubs include Genoa Salame, Pepperoni and Hot Sopressata in 7-ounce chubs. SRP: $11.49 - $11.79. Snack packs include Genoa Salame, Provolone & Taralli Bread; Pepperoni, Provolone & Dark Chocolate Almonds; and Hot Sopressata, Provolone and Olives in 3-ounce packages. SRP: $4.99 - $5.49.
Niman Ranch, Alameda, Calif., 510-808-0330, www.nimanranch.com