Cheese puts a new spin on comfort food classics

March 22, 2016
Cheese puts a new spin on comfort food classics

Aaahh, comfort food. The mere mention of childhood or family favourites such as macaroni and cheese, Shepherd’s pie or Grandma’s meatloaf brings mouthwatering anticipation to even the most jaded foodie. No wonder, then, that chefs and restaurant operators across North America have been turning these classic homey mainstays into revitalized culinary creations, thanks to inspired ingredients from food companies like Kraft.

While many food trends seem to come and go, comfort foods are always sure to be popular with guests and chefs alike. Each culture and region has its own favourites, from poutine in Quebec to pierogies in Manitoba, and today’s chefs are finding new and delicious ways to put a new spin on these comforting classics.

Juriaan Snellen, Corporate chef at Kraft Heinz

“Comfort food is all about creating grown-up versions of childhood favorites — one part comfort, one part kitsch,” says Juriaan Snellen, Corporate Chef at Kraft Heinz. “Today’s comfort food revolution turns homestyle favorites into hipster fare. By using upscale ingredients and using new flavour profiles, craveable dishes become contemporary cuisine. Traditional meatloaf is downsized to a cupcake format, the ground beef is being replaced with turkey which is brushed with Kraft Original BBQ sauce and topped with cheesy habanero mashed potatoes.”

Say cheese, please

One of the go-to items in any chef’s pantry when it comes to adding pizzazz to traditional comfort food recipes is, of course, cheese. Recent trends indicate that consumers love the wide choice of new varieties and flavours now being offered and are excited to see chefs pushing the creative envelope on how and when to use this ever-popular staple.

“Just like any other category in the foodservice world, artisanal and locally sourced cheese are top of the line,” says Snellen. “This, in combination with the consumer’s desire to try new and innovative cheese, allows for manufacturers to push the boundaries on cheese. Different textures or non-melting cheeses like halloumi and paneer are perfect for grilling on the BBQ or as an interesting topping on your ethnic inspired pizza. Smoking continues to be a major trend in food preparation and is certainly transferable to the cheese industry where we are seeing a full line up of different smoked cheese varieties.”

Expanding opportunities

But cheese as a comfort food ingredient isn’t limited to the dinner daypart. Snellen says breakfast, lunch and even snacks present perfect opportunities for making the most of such Kraft cheeses as Cracker Barrel Havarti, Jalapeno or Monterey Jack.

“Cheese can be enjoyed throughout all dayparts as it is a versatile and nutritional option to add flavour and texture to your favorite omelette, sandwich or casserole,” says Snellen. “We also see an increase in cheese being used as a responsible snacking option. And with lots of Millennials moving away from the traditional three dayparts to eating smaller portions throughout the day, snacking is where it’s at!”

Sourcing the best ingredients possible is of paramount importance to chefs looking to revamp their comfort food recipes. Quality, consistency and flavour are always at top of mind, which is why so many turn to products like Kraft cheese to help give guests a memorable dining experience.

“Working with Kraft products creates a consistent base to draw upon, allowing chefs to ‘signaturize’ their own dishes without compromising flavour, texture or affecting the overall cost,” says Snellen. “In today’s world, standardization and consistency is very important as guests expect the same high-quality experience over and over again.”

New twists on old faves

While guests might expect a high-quality experience every time, they are also looking for new and innovative twists on their comfort food favourites. That’s where a company like Kraft comes in to provide a wide variety of quality products to inspire chefs to take their creative ideas to new heights.

“There is a movement of changing up various cheeses from more traditional styles into a unique specialty offering, such as mixing Sriracha sauce with Philadelphia cream cheese as a spread for your oven-baked flatbread,” says Snellen. “Or adding some light cream cheese to your favorite crème brûlée recipe to give it a unique creamy savoury twist. We are also seeing a revival of the old cheese fondue, this time offered as a bar menu item or shareable appetizer.

“Topping off Shepherd’s pie with shredded Habanero cheese at the last stage of the cooking process will give it a zesty spicy profile which will instantly turn this traditional dish into an explosion of ethnic inspired flavors. Using sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes and mixing this with Philadelphia cream cheese will add an unexpected creaminess and deepens the overall flavor experience of the dish.”

Most popular cheese choices

Always in style

So while other food trends may end up as passing fads on the average consumer’s radar, comfort foods are here to stay. And with flavourful new products and innovative recipe ideas always on the way from the Kraft kitchens, chefs and their dining customers can rest assured that their old favourites will never go out of style.

“We will see a fusion of comfort foods with healthier lifestyle trends focusing on one or two unique ingredients to create that ‘wow’ factor restaurateurs are after,” says Snellen. “Comfort food can be as simple as a bowl of chicken noodle soup or as daring as deep-fried macaroni-and-ricotta fritters. The key to cutting-edge comfort food is the tongue-in-cheek twist. Grandma’s meatloaf shows up on the appetizer menu as meatloaf sliders. Grilled cheese sandwiches now feature Habanero or Jalapeno spiced cheeses served with roasted tomato bisque for dipping on the side. Because consumers are familiar with comfort food, chefs can experiment with bolder flavours and inject a sense of homemade humor.”

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