Optimize menus and boost appeal with versatile ingredients

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Between navigating the growing demand for off-premise service and adapting to the new normal forced by the pandemic, foodservice operators are now forced to rethink everything from dining room capacity limits to takeout and delivery service to the menu itself.

Optimizing the menu, however, can be a double-edged sword: While operators are pivoting to cut excess costs and streamline back-of-house operations, they can’t cut corners on the food quality and service their customers have come to expect.

Simple solutions can spell success when operating amid a variety of challenges, and choosing high-quality, versatile ingredients, such as real California dairy, can make a world of difference.

Minimize expenses with multitasking ingredients

While demand has been uncertain, many operators have found themselves scaling down their menus to help simplify off-premise orders as well as to reduce food waste. However, trimming the menu doesn’t mean bidding adieu to variety. By choosing ingredients that are as versatile as they are delicious, operators can save time and money while continuing to provide their patrons with a favorable array of choices.

California dairy products are the ultimate menu multitaskers. Pantry staples such as butter, milk and cream play an important role on menus, but some California dairy products, can do double—even triple—duty across the menu.

Hispanic-style cheeses from California, for example, bring authentic south-of-the-border flavor to a variety of dishes. Cheeses such as queso fresco, Oaxaca, Cotija and Menonita play starring roles in traditional Latin dishes, but they can just as easily enhance options from pizza, to bistro fare and vegetarian dishes in need of a protein boost—sometimes even at a lower cost than the ingredients they replace.

For example, California Cotija, which crumbles rather than melts, is perfect as a salad topper and is a great addition to soups and bean dishes. California Oaxaca cheese, on the other hand, melts easily, making it ideal for pizzas, sandwiches and any other dish in need of that much-sought-after cheese stretch. Finally, California Menonita, with its flavor similar to a Gruyere or Gouda, has a low melting point, which makes it perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches and cheeseburgers. In these ways, operators who need to spec fewer ingredients can successfully reduce SKUs while maximizing menu options.

Quality is key

When it comes to cheese, quality can supersede quantity. When cooking with California cheeses, operators may find they can use less of the ingredient—therefore reducing costs—while still offering a better flavor profile than a lower quality ingredient used in greater quantity.

Recipe-enhancing, cost-cutting tips, including how higher quality ingredients can increase profits, take center stage in new idea-inspiring foodservice videos created by California Milk Advisory Board.  

The CMAB Cares video series is dedicated to sharing best practices and hones in on the details of finessing foodservice operations to remain profitable amid the current landscape, with topics ranging from managing prime costs, to growing corporate catering, navigating the new normal and creating blends with California cheeses.

The latest addition to the CMAB’s REAL Makers series, which features innovative ideas from independent chefs at trend-forward restaurants, is a “Special Edition” addressing 2020 challenges.  Chef Jen Biesty provides tips for crafting comforting takeout meals and meal kits, including a profitable “California Cheese & Wine Board” that customers can easily assemble at home—and is perfect for noncommercial operators as well as commercial restaurants.  

To learn more about how California dairy can help keep profits high, visit

This post is sponsored by California Milk Advisory Board