California Cheese Enhances Global Flavors and Plant-Forward Innovations

Consumers are increasingly looking for vegetarian and plant-forward options when they dine out. But they’re not looking for standard options, such as a garden salad or veggie burger. In fact, 38% of consumers say they are interested in trying vegetarian dishes made with new or innovative flavors, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. For restaurants, the opportunity to get creative with plant-based foods is high, especially when incorporating global flavors.

According to Technomic, globally inspired flavors are some of the most preferred for vegetarian dishes, with 33% of consumers saying they’d order vegetarian dishes with ethnic flavors if they were available. What’s more, about a third (32%) would be willing to pay extra for authentic ethnic fare, according to Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, so operators can benefit big-time from incorporating authentic ingredients into their plant-based options and calling out those ingredients on the menu. 

For instance, using authentic California cheeses not only adds integrity to globally inspired dishes but also boosts their flavor appeal, particularly in Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. 

Mediterranean plant-based dishes

Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report notes that 25% of consumers would order Mediterranean cuisine at least occasionally if it were offered as a vegetarian dish. For these consumers, the addition of California-sourced Mediterranean-style dairy, including feta cheese, ackawi (a semifirm, unripened cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor and smooth texture), halloumi and labneh (a “yogurt cheese” made by draining thick, full-fat yogurt overnight in cloth) not only boosts the indulgence and flavor of vegetarian and plant-based dishes but also offers a protein boost. Try adding cow’s milk feta to “mezze” plates featuring hummus, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, almonds and a drizzle of olive oil—perfect for the starters menu—or inspire excitement with saganaki, a Greek appetizer of halloumi cheese fried in a pan and flambeed tableside.

These cheeses can also be used in main dishes; labneh is perfect as a substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches or dips and can also add interest to wraps such as falafel. 

Mexican and Cal-Mex options

Another ethnic cuisine, Mexican, is even more popular, with 43% of consumers telling Technomic that they would order it at least occasionally if vegetarian dishes were offered. California is the top producer of Hispanic-style cheeses in the nation, producing many varieties and styles. California Hispanic-style cheeses are a low-cost way for operators to add authentic flavor to Latin-inspired dishes. Some cheeses to consider adding to plant-forward Mexican or Cal-Mex dishes include:

  • Queso fresco
  • Cotija
  • Oaxaca 
  • Panela 
  • Requeson

Try crumbling queso fresco, a soft, fresh cheese, onto dishes such as pasta primavera or au gratin potatoes, or dice it up and add it to a watermelon, arugula and heirloom tomato salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, basil and mint. Oaxaca cheese can be used as a substitute for cheddar or Monterey Jack in black bean nacho dishes. California Hispanic-style cheeses can also be used in Mexican Street Corn: Top roasted corn on the cob with cilantro, chili powder, queso fresco or queso cotija and lime.

Add authentic flavor to globally inspired, plant-based dishes

Authentic cheeses made from Real California Milk are perfect for upgrading vegetarian or plant-forward ethnic dishes, whether vegetarian or not. To learn more about the variety of ethnic cheeses available and to get inspiration for how to use them, visit realcaliforniamilk.com/foodservice.

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