All around the world, cheese can be found in different forms and flavors. While demand for international cuisines and specialty foods trends upward in the United States, cheese importers are making moves to increase their presence.
The United Kingdom
Wellington, Somerset-based Somerdale International has hopped on the pre-pack cheese trend, which the company says is “gathering pace,” as opposed to bulk formats that are cut in-store. According to Somerdale, benefits of pre-pack cheeses for retailers include:
- Easier to handle
- Can be priced consistently
- Reduced waste
- Can be displayed and ranged more effectively
- Attractive and identifiable front-of-pack designs
- Increased convenience for consumers
At the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show June 25-27 in New York, the company featured its newly expanded line of pre-pack cheeses exclusively for the US market.
Alan Jenkins, Somerdale’s director, said the show was the perfect opportunity to showcase the company’s comprehensive range of British cheeses with something for everyone, “whether you’re looking for a quintessential English Farmhouse Cheddar, such as Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve; our best-selling Westminster branded cheese range; or something new, such as our range of classic Wensleydale cheeses infused with fruit.”
Somerdale identified the following as its standout products:
Westminster cheddar range: “Includes a classic Sharp Cheddar; a Smoked Cheddar; an aged Vintage Cheddar; a Rustic Red with sweet, nutty caramelized notes; a Reserve Cheddar aged for over two years; and Gold Hill, an award-winning sweet mature cheddar, carefully aged for over 12 months until it reaches perfection.”
Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar: “Aged for two years, the 1833 Vintage Reserve has a wonderfully complex taste including subtle notes of gooseberry.”
Wensleydale & Cranberries: “An unrinded white cheese which has a natural acidity that pairs wonderfully with fruit such as deliciously juicy cranberries.”
Wensleydale with Lemon & Honey: “Pairing the slightly acidic Wensleydale with refreshing lemon curd and soothing honey creates a superb almost cheesecake flavor that gives a real contrast to often heavier, savory cheeses.”
Wensleydale with Blueberries: “A perfect partnership of creamy, slightly acidic cheese with the sweetness of delicious blueberries.”
In August, the company was acquired by Ditcheat, Somerset-based A.J. & R.G. Barber, the parent company of Barber’s Cheddar Cheese and maker of the Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar.
The Interprofessional Dairy Organization (InLac) partnered with the European Union to launch a three-year promotional campaign in the US called ‘Discover the European Cheestories with cheeses from Spain.’
According to InLac, it will include “a powerful mix of activities such as attendance to fairs, exhibitions, tastings, actions at point of sale and collaboration with American importers and distributors.”
The campaign kicked off in June with a screening of a docu-reality about Spanish cheese and a tasting of cheeses by master cheesemaker Angelica Intriago, VP of New York-based Despaña Brand Foods.
“For the Spanish dairy sector, it is of vital importance that American consumers know the commitment of our production and elaboration methods and their differential aspects with respect to competitors from other countries,” said Daniel Ferreiro, president of InLac.
According to InLac, the most popular Spanish cheeses in the US are cow; sheep; goat; and blended, along with cheeses with quality seals such as Manchego; Murcia al vino; or Mahón-Menorca.
Per capita cheese consumption in the US is currently 17 kilograms per person, per year. InLac expects that number to increase as consumer demand for gourmet and specialty cheeses continues to grow.
InLac said that the growing demand for other international cuisines outside of Europe is also boosting European cheese sales in the US.
“The popularity of Latino foods and Hispanic cheeses is on the rise,” said Nuria Arribas, managing director of InLac. “The US is a market where we are firmly committed.”
According to Evanston, Ill.-based Kerrygold USA, the brand’s imported Dubliner Irish Cheese is the No. 1 specialty cheese in the United States.
The company also announced that its new Chive & Onion flavored butter was named ‘Best Butter’ on the 2023 PEOPLE’s Food Awards list.
The other two flavors in the new Butter Blends line are Sundried Tomato & Basil and Bell Pepper & Garden Herbs.
“The Butter Blends assortment is a delicious new addition to Kerrygold’s existing butter portfolio,” said Alexandra Vinci, brand manager at Kerrygold. “With the rising popularity of homemade compound butters all over social media, and as the No. 1 imported butter brand, we’re excited to bring consumers our Irish take and expertise on the growing culinary trend.”
The new line launched in select grocery stores in the summer, and the company is expanding distribution nationally this month.
Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia
New York-based Forever Cheese has now been importing artisan cheese and accompaniments from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia for 25 years. According to the company, some of its notable brands are Drunken Goat, Genuine Fulvi Pecorino Romano, Mitica Marcona Almonds, and Mitica Fig and Date Cakes.
Co-founders Michele Buster and Pierluigi Sini achieved success by forming close relationships with producers and focusing on education.
“Our producers are the backbone of the business, and they have supported what we do from the very beginning,” Buster said. “We are so appreciative of these partnerships and our growth together. It means so much to see them succeed.”
Tyler Hawes joined Forever Cheese as CEO in late 2021 and has since pushed the company to achieve growth in new areas, such as its acquisition of Hebron, Ill.-based Japanese specialty food importer W.A. Imports in the beginning of 2023.
In celebration of Forever Cheese’s growth and achievements over the last 25 years, the company unveiled a new logo that communicates its vision, which, according to Hawes, is “to bring unique cheeses and specialty foods to a wider audience, inspiring interest and appreciation for the diversity of flavors and cultures that our products represent.”
French Cheese 101
The New York-based Fromage from Europe Marketing Council explained the differences between some popular French cheeses that are commonly mistaken for each other.
Soft Cheese: Brie vs. Camembert vs. Coulommiers
“Brie, Camembert and Coulommiers are all soft-ripened, cow’s milk cheeses aged for about four weeks,” the Council said. “Brie and Coulommiers are close cousins in flavor — buttery and mellow, with just a hint of earthiness — but Coulommiers thicker paste gives it an even more luxurious mouthfeel. Camembert is rich and mushroomy, flavors that intensify as the cheese matures.”
Hard Cheese: Comté vs. Emmental
“Comté and Emmental are both Alpine-style, cow’s milk cheeses,” the Council said. “Flavor wise, Comté is mild but complex, with notes of hazelnuts, butter, and cream. Emmental is nutty and slightly sweet.”
Blue Cheese: Fourme d’Ambert vs. Bleu d’Auvergne vs. Roquefort
“What this trio has in common are blue veins from the injection of Penicillium Roqueforti; beyond that they are quite different. Made for 1,000 years, Fourme d’Ambert is molded in a tall cylindrical shape,” the Council said. “It’s cut into discs, while Bleu d’Auvergne and Roquefort are cut into wedges. Fourme d’Ambert is the mildest of the three, delicate and fruity. Bleu d’Auvergne has an intense aroma and a spicy, salty flavor. Roquefort — a favorite of Emperor Charlemagne — is rich zesty, and complex.”
Ash-Coated Goat Cheese: Selles-sur-Cher vs. Valençay
“Say ‘goat cheese’ to most people and fresh chèvre is what comes to mind, but French goat cheeses cover a broad spectrum of age, shape, and flavor,” the Council said. “The rinds of Selles-sur-Cher and Valençay are both covered in ash, a technique that creates a more hospitable surface for beneficial mold to bloom. The disc-shaped Selles-sur-Cher has a dense texture and a robust, tangy taste. Valençay, molded into a squat pyramid shape, boasts a distinctive wrinkly rind and a mild, creamy flavor with hints of lemon.”
The Golden Rules of Cheese-Cutting
This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Imported Cheese feature and more in the digital edition here.