Go do a quick Google image search for grilled cheese. You’ll be bombarded with shots of cheese oozing from between two slices of bread.
The imagery, the smell, the texture, the taste: it all leads to the popularity of melting cheeses and the products in which they’re used.
This has led to a surge in foodservice usage of melting cheeses, says Evan Topel, corporate chef for Emmi Roth.
“Both fondue and raclette are seeing a bit of a renaissance with specialized restaurants popping up in cities all over the country,” he says. “The Melting Pot fondue chain currently has over 115 restaurants in the United States and 18 international locations that are currently in development. Raclette NYC is only a few years old, but its menu is dedicated entirely to enjoying raclette.”
Instore bakeries and prepared foods departments can also take full advantage of these desired cheeses by incorporating them into their breads, sandwiches and recipes, says Oscar Villarreal, vice president of marketing for BelGioioso Cheese.
“Including one of BelGioioso’s melting cheeses with our distinct flavors into signature hot sandwiches or take-and-bake pastas and pizzas will keep your customers coming back for more,” Villarreal says. “Quality always brings customers back.”
To get started, it’s key to know what makes a cheese a good melter, so to speak. Take into consideration moisture content, acidity and age, says Topel.
“Cheeses that are high in moisture are made up of protein strands that are loosely packed with water. When these types of cheeses are heated, the water evaporates quickly, making it easy for the cheese to melt,” Topel says. “Cheeses that are higher in acidity are also good melting cheeses because acid, when heated, helps break down the protein bonds that hold the cheese together. Younger cheeses typically melt better than aged cheeses simply because their protein bonds have had less time to solidify.
“Fresh cheeses with a high moisture level may have a watery melt, while hard cheeses with less moisture may melt, but with a drier texture,” Villarreal says. “Semi-soft cheeses like Fontina, Italico and Crescenza-Stracchino normally melt with a cream texture. Pasta Filata also melts very well and results in an excellent cheese pull.”
That stretch is of the utmost importance when it comes to preparing sandwiches, Topel says. For a solid stretch, he recommends high-moisture mozzarella or Havarti, which is made up of long strands of protein that will stretch when heated.
“Older cheeses that have aged longer will still melt, but may not give you that signature stretch,” he says.
Melting cheeses played a big role in BelGioioso’s decision to branch out in a non-cheese direction during this year’s IDDBA show in New Orleans. The company introduced its Gianni Piadina line of piadina, a traditional flatbread from Italy’s Emmilia-Romaga region. The flatbread — named for Belgioioso’s Gianni Succi, a native of the region — was paired with the company’s Crescenza-Stracchino cheese at its booth on the show floor.
The pairing, Villarreal says, is one of the most poplar recipes in Italy, called Piadina Romagnola.
“The Piadina is a delicious new Italian traditional flatbread and can be filled with many different cheese, but we find that Crescenza-Stracchino’s melting properties and mild flavor pairs deliciously with the Piadina, a little prosciutto and fresh arugula,” Villarreal says. “The cheese melts evenly and quickly and holds all the ingredients together. It becomes almost liquid as it melts, but as it quickly cools, it binds the whole sandwich together.”
While arugula and prosciutto are the most popular pairings, nearly any other meat or vegetable can be substitutued. BelGioioso’s piadina comes in three varieties — Piadina Classica, Piadina Spessa Thick, and Piadina with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Villarreal predicts that Piadina will soon be a trendy addition for many retailers and foodservice operators because of its ability to showcase the melt, quality and tastefulness of the cheeses. He also says that specialty mac’n’cheese and the ever-popular grilled cheese sandwiches will continue to trend.
Emmi Roth showcases a pair of its cheeses for use in melting recipes.
“Emmi makes two of the best melting cheeses available, Gruyére and Raclette,” Topel says. “One of the most common applications for gruyére is in fondue. More acidic than basic, gruyére melts well on its own, and even better when mixed with wine to make fondue. Raclette, while less acidic, is relatively young (typically aged anywhere from three to six months) and high in fat, which also enhances its capability for melting.”
Topel notes that melted cheeses like the raclette and fondue have no shortage of pairing options.
“They pair well with just about anything, especially fresh fruits and roasted vegetables,” he says. “Instore demos can give a chance to try some of the cheeses firsthand and discover new way to enjoy items from the fresh food department.”
Consider offering apple slices, pears and grapes, as well as roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, which can all be excellent dippers for fondue.
Raclette is particularly delicious when melted over root vegetables, pickles and cured meats, Topel says.
In addition to pushing the Piadina and Crescenza-Stracchino pairing, Villarreal suggests fondue sauce made with Fontina and mixed with a hot pasta and sautéed mushrooms and asparagus for a quality dish from the prepared foods department. He also say provolone pizza topped with freshly sliced tomatoes and fresh basil is a simple, high-end product that can spur customer return.
“Sliced mild provolone as the cheese for your pizza is overlooked,” he says. “BelGioioso’s is aged a minimum of 60 days and has a full flavor and aroma that adds a touch of authentic flavor to your pizza.”