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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stretched while warm from cooking into a variety of shapes. (Pasta filata means "stretched curd.") The curd is then molded into blocks that are soaked in brine, resulting in a semi-soft cheese with a slightly salty taste. Mozzarella and provolone are the best-known cheeses in this category.
Common forms: Loaves, blocks, balls, shaped pieces and pre-shredded and diced in packages.
Weights: 5- and 10-pound loaves; 40-pound blocks; 1-pound balls; 5-pound packages of shredded. Fresh mozzarella in 10-ounce balls, 4-ounce ovolini and 1.75-ounce bocconcini in 10-pound pails. Provolone gigantic (200 or 600 pounds), pear (20 to 40 pounds), campane (15 to 20 pounds), salami (13 to 100 pounds), salamini (1 and 8 pounds) and various other shapes and sizes.
Also known as bloomy rind cheeses. Characterized by an edible white velvety rind that's formed when the surface is sprayed with spores of Penicillium candidum mold before curing. Examples include Brie and Camembert, both pale yellow in color with an earthy, rich flavor.
Common forms: Wheels and wedges.
Weights: 8-ounce to 6-pound wheels.
Cheddar & Colby
Cheddar is the world's most popular cheese, originated in England but now produced extensively in the United States. Flavor varies from mild to extra-sharp and color ranges from white to yellow to deep orange. As cheddar ages, its rich, nutty flavor becomes complex and its texture turns more granular and crumbly.
Colby is a mild form of cheddar invented by Wisconsin cheese makers. It's golden in color and softer in texture than cheddar. Colby is sometimes marbled with white Monterey Jack or combined with hot peppers or other ingredients.
Common forms: Blocks, loaves, longhorns (12- to 13-pound cylinders), shredded, cubes, curds and assorted pieces.
Weights: 1-pound pieces; 3-pound gems; 5-pound favorites (cylinders); 10-pound midgets; 22-pound daisies (cylinders); 35-pound flats; 40-pound rectangular blocks; 500-pound barrels and 75- to 2,000-pound mammoths.
Firm and ivory-colored with dime-sized holes and a mellow, nutty flavor. The original is also known as Emmenthaler; other varieties include Gruyere (harder, more piquant), Appenzeller (more delicate, semi-firm with smaller holes) and baby and lacy Swiss (smaller cheeses with smaller holes due to shorter curing times).
Common forms: Blocks, wheels, loaves and random weight pieces.
Weights: 40-pound blocks; 18- to 200-pound wheels for Swiss and Gruyere, 5- to 10-pound wheels for baby Swiss; 5- to 10-pound loaves; 1 pound and up pieces and packages.
Made from milk combined with a blue-green mold which permeates cheese during curing. Traditional blues like French bleu and Italian Gorgonzola are now replicated in American dairies.
Common forms: Wheels, half wheels, wedges and pre-crumbled.
Weights: 6- to 22-pound wheels; 5- and 10-pound bags of pre-crumbled; 4- and 8-ounce packages and cups.
Gouda & Edam
Dutch in origin with smooth but firm textures and buttery, slightly nutty tastes. Both have excellent keeping qualities.
Common forms: Balls, blocks, wheels and loaves.
Weights: 40-pound blocks; 9- to 10-pound wheels; 5-pound loaves; 2-pound balls.