The news will come as a shock to many: American cheese is no longer the top cheese made in America.
About 5.38 billion pounds of Italian cheeses were produced in the U.S. in 2017, more than any other kind, including cheddar and all other American varieties combined, according to recent numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. American cheeses came in second, with 5.07 billion pounds.
The ascent of Italian cheese, however, doesn’t surprise producers of cheese sold in grocery instore delis. The versatility of Italian product has long been celebrated, and suppliers are adding to the abundance with new products and new takes on old standbys.
Richfield, Wisconsin-based Saputo Specialty Cheese, a division of Montreal-based Saputo Inc., will soon launch a new line of rubbed wedges under its Stella brand, says Kristy Klug, the company’s marketing manager.
The Fontinella line features four flavors: Basil Pesto, Harissa, Bourbonista and Black Pepper. Each flavor is rubbed on Fontinella cheese, which Klug describes as “delicately sweet and creamy smooth, with just a hint of sharpness.”
The 6 oz wedges are perfect for entertaining during the upcoming holiday season, Klug says. And with on-trend flavors and spices such as harissa, a North African hot chili pepper condiment, she says consumers can branch out and try new flavors while enjoying Saputo’s well-known Fontinella.
Saputo also has released new additions to expand its fresh mozzarella line, Klug says. Stella Fresh Mozzarella Pearls and Stella Sliced Fresh Mozzarella are designed with convenience and snacking in mind, she says. “Now consumers can enjoy the gourmet taste of our fresh mozzarella with simplicity.”
Also new at Saputo in the past year are 8 oz pillow bags and an organic version of its mozzarella.
The Stella-branded pillow bags come in three varieties: shaved parmesan, shredded parmesan and shredded Italian three-cheese blend. Klug said the pillow bags are more upscale, artisanal and gourmet than a traditional plastic container.
“Hard Italian-style cheeses in twist tie bags have been delivering solid growth within the specialty deli section,” she says. “These appeal to consumers who are looking for that artisan, gourmet look and feel.”
The new Stella-branded Organic Fresh Mozzarella, meanwhile, is an organic version of Saputo’s traditional mozzarella offerings, Klug says. The product is being marketed in 4 oz balls and 8 oz logs.
Darien, Connecticut-based Norseland Inc. also has new Italian cheese products on the market. The company began shipping its Igor Gorgonzola Exact Weight wedges in September, says Heather Iafrate, marketing manager.
The cheese is made in Novara, Italy, by the Igor Group, a company with roots tracing back to 1935 which now produces about two million Gorgonzola wheels a year.
Also new at Norseland is a line of Lotito-branded Italian street foods that features cheese-filled items from Naples (Mini Calzoncelli), Rome (Battered and Stuffed Zucchini Flowers, Suppli Croquettes) and Sicily (Breaded Mini Eggplant and Mozzarella Bites, Mini Arancini, Medium Arancini and Large Arancini).
Product ships frozen, then is fried and sold ready-to-eat at retail. Norseland launched the product in large part because of the popularity of street foods.
Introduced earlier this year, the line is not yet shipping nationwide, “but we’re working on it,” Iafrate says. “So far, customers who taste the product appreciate the authentic Italian Street Food taste.”
Looking ahead, Norseland is considering launching a Parmigiano Reggiano -based grab ‘n go snack for kids called Parmissimo 1,2,3 Cheese! The 1.41 oz pack features Parmigiano, breadsticks and a Valfrutta-branded apple juice box.
The product has 5 grams of protein and 180 calories and features the tag line, “Just Dip, Crunch & Sip!” and a cartoon mouse character dressed like an Italian on the pack.
A CHEESE FOR ALL OCCASIONS
The USDA’s news that more Italian cheeses than American cheeses were produced in the U.S. last year points to their versatility —and underlines one of the main reasons for the category’s continued, and growing, popularity, shippers say.
“Italian cheeses lend themselves well to an assortment of dining experiences, whether you’re adding them to a recipe or to a cheeseboard,” Klug says.
From Parmesan to Aged Asiago to Fontina and Fresh Mozzarella, there are a wide variety to choose from, she says. “We believe there is an Italian-style cheese for any occasion.”
The USDA numbers, Iafrate says, tell Norseland that the American consumer is becoming more and more familiar with Italian-type cheeses. Since so many of them are now produced domestically, Norseland must work harder to differentiate itself with its Italian-made Italian cheeses.
“Our specialty is focusing on true, original Italian cheeses imported from Italy,” she says. “The challenge there is we are always competing with domestic prices and more competition as the quality of domestically produced Italian cheeses strengthens.”
Green Bay, Wisconsin-based BelGioioso Cheese Inc. continues to see strong demand for its new marketing concept pairing its Crescenza-Stracchino cheese with its Gianni Piadina line of piadina, a traditional flatbread from Italy’s Emilia-Romaga region.
The piadina is named for BelGioioso’s Gianni Succi, a native of Emilia-Romaga. BelGioioso is pitching the piadina-and-cheese combination for instore prepared foods applications, with product being made in departments. Arugula and prosciutto are among the more popular ingredients to pair with Crescenza-Stracchino, but almost any other meats and vegetables can be substituted, BelGioioso’s piadina comes in three varieties: Piadina Classica, Piadina Spessa Thick and Piadina with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.