The average US consumer ate about 40.2 lbs of cheese in 2020, according to the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. And, over the past decade, US per capita consumption of cheese increased by more than 5 lbs.

Basic dairy department cheeses, such as American, cheddar and mozzarella, in shred, chunk and slice format, remain the leaders in this space, but it’s the specialty and snacking items that keep shoppers interested. In fact, it’s innovations in this space that have fueled the popularity of the charcuterie board during the pandemic.

“We set out to create the right pack in the right size for the right price,” said Debbie Seife, director of marketing, FrieslandCampina, Paramus, NJ. “This is what you get with our Royal Hollandia ‘entry packs,’ which are perfectly sized for consumers creating boards who want to try some new cheese types or add variety.”

The company offers six of its most popular charcuterie-centric cheeses in 3.5 to 4-oz packs, which invites curious consumers to purchase a couple options without the commitment of the typical larger-sized chunk. The cheeses come in shelf-ready packs designed for easy merchandising in the deli with marketing language of “pick and mix.” Each individual pack includes information on the cheese’s flavor profile and suggested pairings. The company now includes such details on most of its cheeses as part of a rebranding and new product rollout program.

Some brands, and not necessarily cheese brands, have created charcuterie-style snack packs that combine cheeses, meats, dried fruits, nuts and even crackers. One of the most recent entries comes from Dietz & Watson, Philadelphia. New Dietz & Dats come in four combinations, including hot salami with fontina cheese, dried cranberries and melba toast.

The popularity of the keto dietary plan, which mandates very-low carbohydrate intake, along with high fat and adequate protein content, has helped keep cheese relevant to dieters. This nutrient intake combination forces the body to burn fat by making carbohydrates scarce. It’s about 70% fat, 20% protein, and 5% each simple carbohydrates and non-starchy vegetables. Think bun-less cheeseburgers, charcuterie boards and indulgent cheese spreads consumed with celery and carrots.

Recent entries with keto appeal include Borden Melts from Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Kan. Unlike most other processed cheese slices, the individually wrapped slices of Borden Melts tout the fact that they are made with real cream for a perfect melt every time.

This concept of “extra cream” in cheese products is intended to assist home cooks with getting creative in the kitchen. Schuman Cheese, Fairfield, NJ, developed Cello Ultimate Cheese Melts. The shredded cheese blends come in three varieties. Fondue Melt is a mix of fontal, sharp cheddar, Gruyere and imported Swiss cheeses. Grilled Cheese Melt is a blend of fontal, sharp cheddar, domestic Swiss and Gouda cheeses. Mac N Cheese Melt is a medley of Gouda, cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyere. The blends have been expertly curated for taste, meltability and quality, according to the company.

Another keto-friendly concept gaining traction in the cheese department is bakeable, grillable cheese intended as a center-of-plate protein, much like a steak or a burger. These are white cheeses formulated to not melt and spread, the opposite of the “extra cream” cheeses. This non-melt feature is attributed to the high-protein content. It’s not a new concept, but it is fairly new to the US. Such cheeses are popular throughout Scandinavia, Mediterranean countries and Mexico.

Category innovations

• Bel Brands USA is giving its Price’s line of pimiento cheese a makeover, while at the same time adding new flavors, such as bacon, buffalo-style and sweet tangy. Made with real cheddar cheese and mayonnaise, pimiento cheese dips have become popular with keto dieters.

• Goat cheese and sheep’s milk cheese are small segments of the specialty cheese category, but that does not keep formulators from getting creative. Vermont Creamery is introducing three dessert-inspired flavored goat cheeses: Cherries & Cocoa, Strawberry Spritz and Sweet Truffle.

• Crackerology Cracker Kits from Artful Apps is a line of quick, gourmet, high-end appetizer kits. They were created so that everything you need to make 24 appetizers is included in the box and can be put together within minutes. The four savory varieties all include shelf-stable, dairy cheese.

• Face Rock Creamery’s new Face2Face blended aged cheddar is a mixed-milk product made from a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk, a trend becoming more common among artisan cheesemakers.

Top cheese brandstop cheese brands- All data included in this cheese category report was provided by IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, and is current as of June 27, 2022.