Creamy, comforting and oh-so versatile, it’s no surprise that more items on major restaurant chain menus feature cheese than any other ingredient.1 Cheese is simply synonymous with many consumers’ favorite dishes, such as pizza, burgers and pasta. And 46% of consumers look forward to trying signature cheese dishes at restaurants.2 Creative operators are taking the opportunity to play up the indulgent appeal of cheese across the menu, from shareable appetizers all the way to desserts.
Mac-and-cheese mashups are having a moment in the spotlight. Dressing the kid-friendly favorite with premium ingredients and add-ons gives the dish a signature touch—and serves as an appealing option for customers choosing carryout or delivery. Unique examples on current menus include spaetzle mac and cheese (topped with beer-brined corned beef), short rib mac (with horseradish sour cream) and shrimp scampi mac (tossed with roasted tomatoes). One New York–based ice cream shop even teamed up with a classic macaroni and cheese brand to create a limited-edition sweet and savory flavor.
With so many types of cheese produced around the world, international ingredients and dishes can also serve as menu inspiration. Paneer, an Indian soft cheese, can be cut into chunks and hold its shape in soups, curries or as a topper for flatbread. Manchego and quince paste serve as the ideal fillings for Spanish-style hand pies or empanadas, while Mediterranean halloumi is found grilled atop salads, on sandwiches and in wraps as a replacement for chicken or other meats.
Which brings us to another cheesy trend: the plant-based revolution. Some of today’s most interesting cheese products and menu items are actually dairy free. Aquafaba mozzarella, cashew bleu cheese and macadamia nut queso fresco3 are just some of the vegan options that can deliver an indulgent experience. Cheese can even be used to create a savory substitute for bacon. Try baking a seasoned blend of smoked cheeses into crispy strips to dress up a plant-based BLT.
However you choose to innovate, Brie-lieve in the power of cheese and you’ll be Gouda to go!
Cheese makes it easy to serve up memorable twists on dishes that may already be a hit on your menu. Changing up fillings, carriers or prep methods to incorporate cheese can truly set your offerings apart.
of consumers eat cheese
with pizza, burgers and sandwiches.4
of operators believe that
adding cheese to a menu item
helps it sell better.5
growth of vegan cheese
on restaurant menus
over the past four years.6
The rise of flexitarian, or semi-vegetarian, diets presents an opportunity to drive cheese consumption. As consumers look to reduce their meat intake, cheese stands out as a delicious alternative protein source. Vegan cheese and dairy are categories with tremendous growth potential in the plant-based product space. The ability of plant-based cheese to be used as both a substitute for meat and a complementary ingredient demonstrates its appeal and versatility.
#BAKEDFETAPASTA has amassed an astonishing 145 million views on TikTok7 as users show off their attempts at creating the dish. The simple yet eye-catching recipe concept lends itself perfectly to video format: a full block of feta baked with olive oil and cherry tomatoes, then tossed with pasta, basil and garlic.
1Mike Koysto, “Flavor in Focus: The Big Cheese,” Flavor & The Menu, September 15, 2021.
2,4,5Datassential, “Foodbytes: The Big Cheese Report,” May 2020.
3“These 25 Vegan Cheeses Will Make You Quit Dairy Forever,”
Green Planet, June 2021.
6Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2017-2021.
7TikTok, #bakedfetapasta accessed October 5, 2021.