By Richard Thompson
Historically maligned as a novelty in the cheese segment, American consumers are embracing flavored cheeses that are being offered by specialty cheese companies. More dairy farms and cheese companies are offering products with additional flavorings, like Sriracha and dill, that cater to both sophisticated and adventurous tastes through a growing variety of award-winning flavored cheeses. Companies like Country Connection Cheese Company, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Cypress Grove Chevre are receiving influential awards in the dairy industry for their flavored cheeses: Country Connection’s Sriracha Cheddar, Nicasio Valley’s Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic and Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor. “I think flavored cheeses, when done well, are popular because they expand the specialty cheese category with interesting options for the consumer,” says Ellen Valter, Brand Manager of Country Connection.
Interest in flavored cheese has intensified in the last few years with flavored cheeses now making up seven percent of the total cheese category, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). Heather Porter Engwall, Director of National Product Communications at WMMB, says that for the last five years flavored cheeses have outperformed unflavored cheeses in both volume and dollar sales with year-to-date dollar sales of flavored cheeses up more than 8 percent. “Trends we see within the specialty cheese category are, of course, flavor,” says Porter Engwall, “Be it hot and spicy, sweet and savory, fruity or nutty, Americans continue to enjoy a heightened taste experience.”
Country Connection started creating new taste sensations by adding ingredients to high-quality cheese and was recently awarded the gold medal at the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition for its peppery Sriracha Cheddar cheese. According to Valter, the Sriracha Cheddar is a top-seller in the 17-cheese line the company offers and is made with all natural Sriracha for a spicy cheddar blend that goes excellently with beer.
The company also offers Chipotle Cheddar, Basil Garlic Jack Cheese, and Applewood Smoked Gouda – one of the three smoked cheeses in their line. The Chipotle Cheddar is made with cumin, garlic, red chile peppers and chipotle. “Chipotle Cheddar is my personal favorite because its smoky and complex flavor profile makes it one of the few cheddars that pairs well with a full-bodied red wine,” says Valter.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, a farmstead cheese company that is part of the Lafranchi Dairy, has won numerous awards – including second place in the Fromage Blanc category in 2011, 2012 and 2014 at the American Cheese Society (ACS) – for its Foggy Morning cheese. Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic is a flavorful extension of that flagship product. “Our Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic is just like our original, but we add basil and fresh garlic to it,” says Scott Lafranchi, Partner at Nicasio Valley Cheese Company.
This cheese is a very soft, very creamy cheese that carries a tang with it where you can still taste the milk in the cheese, says Lafranchi. “It’s such a versatile cheese; I think it’s great on a bagel. On salads, it’s really good.”
2015 has been a good year for Cypress Grove Chevre and its flavored cheeses, according to Bob McCall, Sales Director for Cypress Grove Chevre. The company’s PsycheDillic goat cheese placed first at this year’s ACS awards in the Fresh Goat With Flavor Added category, while the company’s Truffle Tremor Mini and Truffle Tremor Original placed second and third respectively in the Soft-Ripened with Flavor Added category.
PsycheDillic is infused with dill weed and dill pollen, making it the top bagel-topping choice that will persuade consumers that they don’t want to go back to plain cream cheese, according to McCall. “People who buy this cheese already like dill, but end up trying something brand new from the dill pollen and fresh goat cheese,” says McCall.
The company’s Truffle Tremor Mini and Truffle Tremor Original – northern Italian truffle-infused goat cheeses – were born like most great innovations; by accident. After Mary Keehn, the Founder of Cypress Grove Chevre, tried creating a new fresh chevre flavor that underwhelmed during an initial taste test, the wheels were left in the aging cooler for three weeks before anyone remembered they were there. But when they did remember their existence, the Cypress Grove folks fell in love with the taste. “I kid you not, 60 seconds went by before anyone spoke,” recalls McCall, “We were stunned by how good it was.”
Cypress Grove Chevre is a cheese company that prides itself on the uniqueness of its names and their allusions to their northern California zeitgeist. Herbs de Humboldt, for instance, which sports locally harvested herbes de Provence, is monickered with a tongue-in-cheek allusion to one of the region’s better-known cash crops. “Its wonderful on pasta or as a substitute for cream and pairs well with almost any beer, red ale and Sauvignon blanc,” says McCall.