Cheese forms and heads

America is turning into a nation of cheeseheads.

Per capita consumption nearly tripled in the last 30 years, from 11 pounds to 31 pounds, with roughly 60% of that gain coming through foodservice, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That figure is expected to grow to 42 pounds per person by 2013, according to a 2005 Mintel survey. The Appleton, WI-based Independent Procurement Alliance Program (IPAP) backs up that growth. The redistribution group, which purchases cheese from over 100 different sources and sells to distributors, channeled 85 million pounds into foodservice in 2005, a 100% increase over 2003.

Although most operators order cheese by name, there are specific categories that the dairy industry uses to describe cheeses for foodservice buyers.

Hard cheeses

Aged and granular in texture and can be grated into tiny particles. Flavors are strong and piquant; a little goes a long way, whether served in chunks with salad, nuts or fruit or grated over pasta and vegetables. Varieties include Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, Grana, Pepato and Cotija, with color ranging from white to ivory and pale yellow.

Common forms: Wheels, loaves (for Cotija cheese); and assorted size packages of pre-grated, pre-shredded and pieces.

Weights: Wheels come 6, 12, 16, 22, 25 and 75 pounds, depending on variety; 5-pound loaves; 2- to 5-pound packages of shredded/grated cheese.

Semi-soft

Less dense and softer textured than cheddars and other hard cheeses, with flavors ranging from mild (muenster) to super-pungent (limburger). Other popular varieties include brick, fontina (both Italian and Swedish-style), havarti and Monterey Jack.

Common forms: Blocks, loaves, wheels, shredded and random weight pieces.Weights: 3-pound rounds; 5-pound bricks; 5-, 6-, 9- and 10-pound loaves; 40-pound blocks; 10-pound slabs; 5- to 6-pound mini horns; 2- to 5-pound packages of shredded cheese.

Soft/fresh

Typically do not go through the aging process. Made from cow, sheep or goat milk; flavors range from mild, grassy and milky to tangy and pungent. Examples include feta, mascarpone, ricotta and Mexican queso blanco and queso fresco.

Common forms: Loaves, tubs, containers, random weight pieces and pre-crumbled in packages.

Weights: 5- to 10-pound tubs; 8-ounce to 1-pound cups; 1- and 5-pound loaves; 10-pound pails, 20-pound bags and 30-pound boxes for ricotta.

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