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As snacking becomes an ingrained part of consumers’ lifestyles, restaurant operators are looking to raise the bar on bar snacks. Many operators are finding that incorporating cheese — that tasty and versatile ingredient long loved by Americans — is an easy way to elevate and differentiate bar menus.
Among the many varieties of cheese restaurant operators are adding to their menus, including bar snacks, are Blue Cheese, Gouda (regular and smoked), White Cheddar, Smoked Cheddar, Jalapeño Cheddar, Queso Blanco and Halloumi, according to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends.
Consumer demand for cheese — and greater availability of more varieties — is also driving the addition of these and other premium cheeses on menus. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that U.S. cheese consumption is at an all-time high, with per-capita consumption of natural and processed cheese varieties reaching nearly 44 pounds in 2016.
5 ways to elevate with cheese
It’s easy to use premium cheeses to create standout bar snacks — most of which work well with whatever is on tap, in the bottle or being shaken (or stirred). Below are five on-trend ideas:
- Build a board. Highly versatile and shareable, cheese boards are an ideal option for a bar menu. To build an impressive-looking and -tasting cheese board, start with two great cheeses — think an Extra Creamy Danish Blue served alongside an aged Gouda or a Dill Havarti next to a Danish Fontina. Then add something for color and volume, like grapes or berries. Add some spreads, like a slice of quince paste or a dollop of grainy mustard. And, of course, serve with herby crackers or seeded toast crisps. Present it all on a wooden board, a marble slab or piece of slate. For a single-serving board, try some cubed cheese — maybe Hickory Smoked Gouda— accompanied by a few slices of jerky and some roasted almonds or spicy chickpeas.
- Make a toast. The avocado toast trend has set the stage for crisp bread as a vehicle for just about any ingredient, including cheese. In the last year alone avocado toast grew 95 percent on U.S. menus, and is predicted to double its menu penetration in the next four, according to the Datassential report, “A Toast to the Evolution of Toast.” To create a toast snack, start with high-quality, crisped bread and top with avocado, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some Blue Cheese crumbles or a Creamy Havarti. For a sweet and savory version, slather toast with a favorite fruit jam topped with a slice of Gouda. But really, anything goes well on toast.
- Get poppin’. While folks from the Midwest like to claim this iconic snack as their own, popcorn is the perfect poppable bar snack in any state. Plain popcorn can be easily elevated by adding premium cheese, seasonings or spices. Consider tossing it with Cheddar and chili powder or topping it with melted Gouda and Parmesan. Or satisfy your customers’ sweet and salty cravings by tossing popcorn in a blend of caramel and Cheddar cheese. Bonus: Viewed as a better-for-you-snack, popcorn presents a snack option for those guests craving a lighter bar bite.
- Load ‘em up. French fries are a classic bar snack, but when topped with just the right melted cheese, the humble fried potato can be transformed into a memorable and devour-able snack. Experiment with Hickory Smoked Gouda or, say, Jalapeño Havarti.
- Add slices to sliders. Burgers have long been the top item ordered at restaurants, and the chicken sandwich is not far behind, according to the market research firm The NPD Group. Downsizing these popular sandwiches into sliders and topping them with cheese turns a fan-favorite into a bold, bite-sized bar snack. Cheeses such as Gouda, Havarti with Herbs and Spices, and Creamy Blue are excellent melting cheeses that give a powerful punch to beef, chicken or veggie sliders. Try using a pre-sliced premium cheese for a nearly effortless ease of preparation.
- No matter how restaurant operators opt to elevate their bar menu with cheese, experts agree that when devising the menu, they should employ descriptors that help tell the item’s story. For example, go beyond listing just the generic type of cheese and add more specific flavor descriptors — words such as “sharp,” “tangy” or “spicy.” Even the name of the cheesemaker or dairy farm is likely to pique further consumer interest and help generate increased sales.