“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The year 2020 marked one of the most tumultuous restaurant years in my lifetime. Because of Covid, my business model was shaken by new state rules, staff hardships and cranky customers. In June I thought, “What else could go wrong?” The next day, I was answered as cheese prices jumped 181 percent from mid-April. * I could do one of two things; stick my head in the sand or attack this problem head on. I then began hearing about the new trends toward comfort foods, cheeses, snacks and spicy items. I decided that an appetizer with the most comfortingly decadent cheese on the market would be the answer. Because cream cheese was only 11 cents per ounce compared to 26 cents an ounce for mozzarella, it would be my weapon of choice. That is how our best-selling jalapeño poppers were born, a spicy, crunchy and cheesy salute to the worst year ever.
“I can feel it coming in Gruyere tonight.”
Like a burglar in the night, comfort foods like bold cheeses are forecast to sneak into our customers favor this year. Consumers will be looking to liven the monotony of foods with twists on classic products to avoid menu fatigue. This means they will seek new cheese variants with more exciting flavors like cheese combined with chive, onion, truffle, dill, garlic, chilies and transformational mellow cheese marinades like pesto and gochujang. Here are some other cheeses thought to make a resurgence.
Aged Cheddar: .27 cents to .45 cents per ounce. Perfect with potatoes, cream sauces, bacon, spicy peppers, broccoli, ham, chicken and beans. Try this: Fill dough and wrap with bacon or cheddar-stuffed fresh jalapeños deep fried in dough.
Gouda: 33 cents per ounce for young Gouda and up to 80 cents per ounce for aged. The melt depends upon the age — younger melts better. Great with apples, ham, chipotle chilies, butternut squash, spinach, chicken, peppers, bacon, mushrooms and walnuts. Try this: salad of crumbled, aged Gouda with arugula, pear and Prosciutto di Parma.
Provolone: 15 cents to 40 cents per ounce. Great with mozzarella, garlic, anchovy, pecorino, Prosciutto di Parma, speck, olives, pears, figs, fennel, artichoke, zucchini, radicchio, roasted peppers, basil pesto and lettuces. Try this: Crostini di Prosciutto e Provolone (must be young provolone) or baked chicken breast stuffed with spinach, provolone, spinach and creamy ziti.
Manchego: 46 cents to 61 cents per ounce. Melts like cheddar and ages like Gouda. Perfect with chorizo, cilantro pesto, olive oil, almonds, artichokes, dates, walnuts, roasted peppers, bacon, eggs, figs, aged hams, broccoli rabe and caramelized onion. Try this: Spanish Asparagus Coca (pizza) with Crema de Manchego or an appetizer of cured Serrano ham, lardo and shaved aged Manchego drizzled with quince jam.
Brie and Camembert: 46 cents to 95 cents per ounce. With both cheeses, you must put them on near, or at the end of the bake. Both cheeses have fabulous name recognition and therefore are great sellers paired with mozzarella and cream sauces. Apples, fennel, pears, morel mushrooms, onions, vinegar, arugula, almonds, walnuts, capicola and jams are great pairings.
Gorgonzola: 25 cents to 50 cents per ounce. The creamy consistency of tangy “Gorg” pairs well with pear, apple, nuts, balsamic, honey, bacon, ham, Prosciutto di Parma, mint, figs, corn and cherries. The other beauty with gorgonzola is that it does not take much to flavor a large pizza or creamy pasta dish. Try this: Involtini di Bresaola or Bresaola stuffed with warm gorgonzola and butter.
*New York Times, What’s Gotten Into the Price of Cheese? Matt Phillips, June 22, 2020
Pallotte Cacio e Uove
The best appetizer I have ever had were these beautiful cheese and egg meatballs made by Chef Antonella at a small trattoria in the Abruzzo mountains surrounding Pietraferrazzana, Italy. In this recipe I used Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano instead of the Rigatina cheese that she used. Antonella said the bread must be moist from the “Budella di Pane” or guts from an old loaf and not dry, like croutons. She said if it is truly stale bread, use warm milk or water then squeeze it out. This simple sauce coaxes the flavorful waters from the inside of the tomatoes to make a perfect higher hydration for a long simmer.
Big Greenie Pizza
This pizza is a big hit with my customers and has two of the new trends, cheese with spicy cilantro-garlic hot sauce from Yemen. The par-baked whole strips of bacon are both visually shocking and add the perfect amount of fat that is topped with the pistachio-radish crunch and the creaminess of the Tzatziki.