SAN FRANCISCO — Cheese products dominated the south hall of the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Jan. 21-23 in San Francisco. It’s no wonder, as research from the Specialty Food Association shows that cheese and cheese alternatives have 7.5% share of the $127 billion specialty foods market. It is the leading segment in the booming industry defined as foods or beverages of the highest grade, style and/or quality in their respective categories. Their specialty nature comes from a combination of some or all of the following qualities: uniqueness, origin, processing method, design, limited supply, unusual application or use, extraordinary packaging or channel of distribution/sales.
While cow’s milk is the most common type of milk used to make cheese, milk from other mammals is often used by artisan cheesemakers. About 75% of all specialty cheeses rely on cow’s milk only, according to the American Cheese Society. Goat (44%) is the next popular, followed by sheep (20%) and buffalo (3%).
There’s also a growing trend toward mixed-milk cheeses. By blending milks, cheese makers are able to combine different flavors and produce unique textures, as each of the milks varies in composition (protein and fat content) as well as taste, which is influenced by the animal’s diet.
Carr Valley Cheese Inc., La Valle, Wis., has been handcrafting cheeses from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk for more than 125 years. The company’s top-selling mixed milk cheeses include Menage, which uses all three milks and yields an aged cheese with intense flavor and a drier texture. There’s also Gran Canaria, also made with the three milks, but aged for at least two years with an olive oil cure. It’s fruity, nutty, sweet and pungent all at the same time.
The company is now using this mixed milk technique to make butter. The butters come in 4-oz foil squares, as well as 8-oz clear plastic tubs.
Goat and sheep milk cheeses are getting snackified for that growing number of consumers who graze all day long. Carr Valley is rolling out 1-oz bars of goat cheddar and native sheep cheddar, while Blue Marble Brands, Providence, R.I., is importing Mt Vikos brand 1-oz bars of feta from Greece. The pasteurized non-G.M.O. sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese comes in merchandising display cartons. The company is also importing Mt Vikos 4-oz goat cheese logs. The products have Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.) certification.
Marinated cheese designed for charcuterie boards was quite popular at the show. Chevoo, a Healdsburg, Calif.-based company founded in 2015 by two Australians, markets a namesake line of olive oil-marinated goat cheese cubes flavored with premium ingredients. The newest offerings are Tupelo Honey & Lime and Italian Black Truffle.
The name Chevoo is the combination of the product’s two primary ingredients: chèvre (the formal name for goat cheese) and extra virgin olive oil. The company sources the goat curd and oil from local farms in Northern California.
Source: J. Rasmussen. Cypress Grover
Sonoma, Calif.-based Laura Chenel’s is growing its line of marinated goat cheeses, too. With rich, earthy overtones, Laura Chenel’s new Black Truffle Cabecou is a dense, yet soft goat cheese disk steeped in truffle oil and black truffles, making it the brand’s third marinated chèvre product following the success of its original herb and spicy offerings.
Cut from Laura Chenel’s original fresh goat cheese logs, the cheese rounds are dried on racks for five days before being hand-packed in leak-proof, recyclable plastic jars that resemble mini buckets. These then get filled with an olive-oil based flavor-infused marinade.
One of the attractions to goat’s milk cheese is that it is easier to digest than cow’s milk cheese because of its lower lactose content. It also is higher in protein. It can be made into everything from fresh spreadable cheese to aged hard cheese. Its inherent earthy taste lends itself quite well to robust flavors.
Cypress Grove, Arcata, Calif., knows this quite well. The company offers a range of flavor-infused goat’s milk cheeses. It’s most popular is Humboldt Fog, which is a soft-ripened handcrafted wheel that features a distinctive ribbon of edible vegetable ash. It has floral notes with herbaceous overtones and a clean citrus finish.
The company likes to build on this base to offer limited-edition flavors. Humboldt Fog Haze Remix, for example, features a ribbon of lavender and hand-harvested wild fennel pollen. It’s most recent offering is Humboldt Fog Dill Remix, where the ribbon is dill and hand-harvested dill pollen.
Sierra Nevada Cheese Co., Willows, Calif., specializes in raw milk goat cheeses. The goat milk comes from a single-source, dairy-owned and operated family farm three miles from the production facility. The most recent offering is a smoked goat cheddar.
At the Good Food Awards ceremony held prior to the Winter Fancy Food Show on January 19, FireFly Farms, Accident, Md., received accolades for its newest cheese: Merry Goat Round Spruce Reserve. FireFly Farms’ cheesemakers developed Spruce Reserve in late 2016 for launch in 2017 as a celebration of its 15th anniversary of hand-making cheese in the mountains of western Maryland.
As one of the first goat’s milk bark strapped styles developed in the U.S., FireFly Farms has joined a handful of domestic cheesemakers using this traditional European method of aging and flavoring their soft-ripened products. Starting with the company’s original Merry Goat Round, the cheesemakers wrap rounds in a natural spruce-wood strap and carefully age it until the cheese body is fully ripened, creamy and spreadable. The top rind is cut and removed from the cheese. With the support of the spruce wood strap, the body of the cheese is spooned out and savored.
The Good Food Awards were created to redefine “good food” as being tasty, authentic and responsible.