How incorporating dairy products can jazz up common menu items

By Aaron Jourden
October 17, 2013
Incorporating dairy products can jazz up common menu items

Dairy ingredients play an important role on restaurant menus – be it a crave-worthy dipping sauce for a starter or side, a crowning topping of cheese on a burger or an all-out dessert star in the form of ice cream. Incorporating dairy can serve many purposes, from adding a rich and creamy texture to cooling off spicy and hot flavours. Dairy also plays a role in cuisine types around the world – from Indian lassi to Mexican enchiladas to Italian gelato.

A look at Technomic’s MenuMonitor data shows some slight shifts in the types of dairy ingredients that operators have been using of late, including interesting uses of dairy in the appetizer category, unconventional types of cheeses topping burgers and pizzas, and creative ice creams and craveable Italian gelato on dessert menus.

Here is a brief look by mealpart at some interesting uses of dairy ingredients at some of Canada’s top chain and independent restaurants:


Items like sour cream, butter and buttermilk are three commonly found dairy ingredients that help make starters hard to resist. These ingredients also allow chefs to add flair and signature touches that elevate ordinary dishes to new heights.

At Canyon Creek Chophouse, sour cream helps re-imagine ordinary nachos as Asian nachos. This East-meets-West app features crispy won tons topped with roasted Thai chicken, julienned veggies and melted cheese, finished with a drizzle of both spicy sesame sauce and lime sour cream sauce.

Another concept that uses dairy to help deliver a spicy kick is Redwater Rustic Grille, a chain with locations in Calgary and PEI. It lists on its starters and sharing plates menu, a dish of wild shrimp with crostini punctuated by chili-garlic butter.

Buttermilk is featured as a cooling agent in an upscale-meets-rustic take on Buffalo wings at Model Milk in Calgary. The restaurant offers a starter of Buffalo wing sweetbreads that comes with hot sauce, roasted buttermilk emulsion and a celery salad.


Dairy is practically essential to the creation of pizzas and cheeseburgers, as cheese is a staple topping for both offerings. And just as with other components of these classic dishes, chefs have been evolving their use of cheeses as they continue to find ways to make pizzas and burgers fresh and interesting.

While cheeses like Mozzarella and Parmesan are common pizza ingredients, restaurants can use other variations as toppings to help their pies stand out – like Panago Pizza, which added an extra hit of Cheddar to its summertime Cheezy Canadian Pizza.

For diners seeking healthier pizza options, cheese can be an influential factor when deciding what to eat. At Toronto’s Magic Oven group of restaurants, the focus is on healthy pizzas made with fresh, local and organic ingredients. A house specialty is the über Sustenance, which tops organic spelt crust with tomato sauce, grilled veggies, roasted chicken, organic beef salami, organic Mozzarella and herbed goat cheese.

Using cheeses beyond Cheddar and Swiss can help turn the ordinary burger into something exciting. Harvey’s this spring introduced a new burger called the Spicy Jack, which uses jalapeño Monterey Jack cheese to deliver a kick of heat.

In addition to being a vessel for a little heat, cheese can help add an ethnic flair to traditional burgers. At White Spot, guests can order a Portobello & Smoked Mozzarella Bigger Burger. The burger features smoked Mozzarella combined with Canadian beef, sautéed Portobello mushrooms, balsamic onions, mayo, lettuce and tomato.


Though vanilla and chocolate are easily the most common ice cream flavours on Canadian restaurant menus, this has not stopped some operators from rolling out new and intriguing varieties to stay on top of today’s trends. These new ice creams feature an assortment of non-traditional flavours such as exotic fruit and ethnic and savoury options.

Independent shop Village Ice Cream of Calgary offers a collection of small-batch ice creams in standard and seasonal flavours. Less-traditional flavours that meld sweet and savoury ingredients include salted caramel and Oaxacan chili chocolate from Mexico.

The growing popularity of gelato, the rich and dense Italian version of ice cream, shows there is significant room for growth of dairy treats beyond ice cream and frozen yogurt on Canadian menus as well.

At Earls Kitchen & Bar, guests can end their meal with a featured dessert of warm chocolate rum cake complemented by caramelized bananas, banana crème anglaise and caramel-walnut gelato.

Top 15 flavours of ice cream desserts on Canadian restaurant menus

Dairy serves multiple roles in consumers’ lives. It fulfills nutrient requirements for a healthy balanced diet, is used for cooking and baking across dayparts, and is often featured in daily beverage consumption. But most of all, dairy products satisfy consumer cravings for rich and creamy tastes and textures.

The role of dairy on the menu will continue to evolve with consumers’ tastes. Increasing attention to health and allergy awareness could drive growth in lower-calorie and reduced-fat dairy items as well as in alternatives such as soy cheese and almond milk. Operators certainly have opportunity to play up the health aspects of dairy, and are likely to continue adding more dairy with health-halo attributes, like natural, organic and local cheeses, butters and ice creams. We also might see more growth in interesting dairy applications from across the globe, such as Indian lassi beverages and Persian yogurt dips.

See also:

About the author

Aaron Jourden is an editor for Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. The company’s services include publications and digital products as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry. Visit for more information.

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