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Queso a perfect fit for campus comfort foods

From Land O’Lakes Foodservice.tacos

From nachos to pizza to cheese fries and beyond, it’s clear that college kids love cheese. And it shows on cafeteria menus: According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, mentions of queso on college and university menus are up about 5% over the past five years, and queso cheese dips are up a whopping 60% since just last year.

Whether this preference has to do with snacking trends, queso’s versatility or diners’ taste for Mexican food (100% of dishes paired with queso fall under the “Mexican” umbrella, according to MenuMonitor), one thing is for sure—queso is here to stay. Check out the innovative and tasty ways it’s being used in college cafeterias.

As a sauce, side, and topping

Technomic’s July 2017 MenuClips report identified queso as a leading trend on menus, thanks to its versatility as a spicy-savory cheese condiment that’s perfect as a side or topper in both Mexican and non-Mexican foodservice locations and recipes. From appetizers dips, such as Queso Blanco Sauce, offered at University of Illinois’ Pennsylvania Avenue Dining Hall, to breakfasts, such as the Scrambled Heuvos Rancheros Bar at Virginia Polytechnic Institute’s Deietrick Hall, which features toppings like refried beans avocado, a choice of salsa and queso cheese, queso is a great addition to many dishes.

It can be used as a sauce for an enchilada bar, a side to go along with tacos and as a topping for baked potatoes. With its versatility and craveability, queso offers foodservice operators a go-to option for creating crowd-pleasers.

Spicing up American dishes 

Among younger diners especially, fusion dishes and flavor combinations are important. According to Technomic’s 2017 Flavor report, 43% of 18- to 34-year olds say they would like more places to offer foods featuring a combination of flavors, and 43% of the same age group say that they like dishes that feature a fusion of flavors from more than one type of cuisine.

Queso is perfect for these applications. It’s delectable on BBQ brisket tostadas with smoky chili butter sauce and adds a uniquely craveable element to Korean-inspired pub fries with gochujang aioli. It’s also great for creating dishes such as gyro mac and cheese or North African nachos (where queso is blended with harissa spice blend and nachos are topped with queso, ground lamb, roasted chickpeas and red peppers and chermoula sauce).

Trends to watch for with queso

Consumers generally know what to expect when they order a dish with queso, but that’s not to say that there isn’t room to innovate. According to MenuMonitor, growing ingredients paired with queso include skirt steak (up 12.2% year-over-year), ranchero sauce (+9.8%), salsa verde (+9.8%), cotija (+9.8%) and Sriracha (+9.8%). Operators can incorporate different proteins into queso sauce, pair queso with new salsas or condiments (including globally influenced condiments such as gochujang) and even blend in other cheeses.

For operators who want to know how to keep their menus fresh and exciting, dishes with queso are bound to be a success. From burgers to loaded fries, veggies to huevos rancheros, this cheesy addition is great from morning to night.

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