Cheese trends right now hitting pizzerias
If variety is the spice of life, then cheese is what makes life interesting. There are more than 1,800 recognized types of cheese in the world with classifications from fresh, semi-soft to hard, flavored and blue.
The global cheese market is massive and is projected to reach $151 billion by 2027. Cheese is big business in the U.S. as purveyors, distributors and restaurateurs have their eyes on the Chicago Mercantile cheese block pricing.
As you try to leverage prices with your food costs, cheese is a major factor. It’s not just finding the best cheese for your product, but also balancing portioning and flavor. That’s why innovation and creativity are key in 2023. Pizza chefs look to take the coveted element of the holy trinity of pizza and find new and interesting varieties to stand out in a flood of competition.
Consumers too expect new and interesting cheese from the restaurants they frequent. They are being inundated with a greater cheese variety than ever before. They are willing to experiment with cheese themselves thanks to social media inspiration, like TikTok’s cheese obsession with a barrage of cheese-based food challenges. What can a pizzeria owner learn from this? You can go outside of the box with the cheese you select on pizza.
In February, expert judges evaluated 2,249 dairy products at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in search of the nation’s best. An aged Gouda hailing from Bantam, Connecticut took the top honor. An artisan hard cheese was first runner up and medium cheddar took second runner up. Will one of these stars become the cheese of the year and spark new interest in their cheese types? Gouda is already a beloved cheese in pizza restaurants. An aged Gouda has more of a Parmesan texture and feel with more depth of its rich and nutty flavor.
Or will the next big cheese sensation come from one of the many consumer interest pieces that have gone viral. TasteAtlas recently ranked the 100 Best Rated Cheeses in the World. It’s top five included Parmigiano Reggiano, Gorgonzola piccante, Burrata, Grana Padano and Oaxaca Cheese. Italian cheeses scored high on the list. In fact, 14 of the list’s Top 40 are Italian cheeses.
In the retail space, top cheese performers are cheddar, cream cheese, processed cheese product, mozzarella, Colby/jack and cheddar/jack according to IRI WorldWide. Does what’s happening in the grocery isle translate to the pizzeria?
Location matters when it comes to cheese preferences. Zippia conducted data crunching in Google Trends to find out every state’s favorite cheese. The Deep South seems to love cream cheese and queso bianco while Feta won over Vermont and Massachusetts. While these lists are fun, they lead to a resource that you have available at your disposal to evaluate what people are searching for in your area. So, you can see if a cheese you want to introduce is on the radar of people in your state or region. Go to trends.google.com/ and compare cheese types that you currently menu and those that you are researching to add. It’s a good metric to understand how a new cheese may perform on your menu.
We’ve been tracking what’s happening with cheese trends all over the industry, from operator surveys and pizzeria new menu launches to trade show trends and boots-on-the-ground conversations with owners and pizza chefs. Here are our cheese findings for 2023 and beyond.
Mozzarella reigns supreme! But, in which form?
The king of all pizza cheese is mozzarella. Typically, it’s a whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella that creates that signature cheese pull. But today’s pizza fans are craving more from mozzarella, thanks in part to a few mozzarella styles making their way into the mainstream at fast-casual pizza chains. Fresh mozzarella, Fior di Latte, ovoline, perlini, Stracciatella, mozzarella di Bufala and burrata are increasing their reach. Once reserved for Italian, Neapolitan and artisan pizzerias, fresh mozzarella varieties are becoming star ingredients on many pizza styles from Detroit, Standard American to New York and Pan.
Burrata is having its moment.
While, yes, burrata is a form of mozzarella, it seems to be in a class of its own with pizza fans. Burrata’s popularity is being aided by TikTok and Instagram’s fascination with the beautiful cheese. Its presentation wows customers with a whole burrata sitting atop a piping hot pizza. It’s interactive as one cuts into the burrata and its contents made up of Stracciatella spread over the pizza. For great burrata pizza ideas, check out Editor in Chief Jeremy White’s story “Burrata Baby”.
Plant-based Cheese is here to stay.
We can’t talk cheese trends without mentioning one of the hottest new additions to pizza menus across the country, plant-based cheeses. The dairy-free cheese comes in many forms to emulate popular pizza cheeses, as well as having a few varieties of its own. Cashew cheese is a spreadable vegan cheese that some operators are creating in house. At International Pizza Expo, plant-based cheese is one of the most-sought after items on the show floor as pizzeria owners seek to find the right plant-based mozzarella and other varieties with the consistency, bake and mouth feel that matches their pizza.
Herb and flavor-infused cheeses are hitting specialty pizza menus.
Whether they are infused in or marinated with the cheese, herbs and seasoning are increasing in frequency. Infusing strong flavors like black truffle and hot peppers with mild to medium cheese varieties can help prevent the potent ingredients from overpowering a delicate pizza. Another big infused trend is smoked cheeses. You can learn more about smoked cheeses in my Kitchen story, “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheese”.
Pizzerias look to stretch boundaries with unique cheese blends.
Pizzerias are finding a point of distinction with new cheeses blends. Popular blends include mozzarella/provolone and mozzarella/cheddar/Parmesan. More pizzerias are creating their own custom blends. Experiment with different mix percentages of one or more of these cheeses: aged Gouda, Asiago, Swiss, fontina, gruyere, Pecorino, Monterey Jack, white cheddar or even Muenster. If there is a type of cheese that is a staple of your area, try a blend.
Pizza cheese has gone soft.
We asked pizzeria operators what toppings they have introduced/are testing to add to the pizza menu for our 2023 State of the Pizzeria Industry Report. Cheese was top of mind. Interestingly, a number of soft cheeses were listed. Cream cheese, ricotta and goat cheese stand out. Soft cheese can offer so much differentiation on pizza. Due to higher moisture, how the cheese is baked or applied post-bake must account for the added liquid.
Denise Greer is Executive Editor at Pizza Today.