MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) is predicting several evolving trends will move the cheese market a touch off its traditional cheddar-mozzarella center in 2003 to more vibrant flavors born of blues and blends.
Among the shifts WMMB sees in the coming year:
* Growth in flavored cheese sales -- Look for flavors like smoked cheddar and dill Havarti, as well as cheeses flavored with morels, leeks, chipotle peppers, horseradish and cranberry.
* Growth in washed-rind varieties -- During aging, washed-rind cheeses are rubbed with brine, cider, wine, vinegar or other liquids to encourage surface bacteria growth, which gives varieties such as Gruyere, surface-ripened brick and Limburger their distinctive aromas.
* Use of aged cheeses will increase.
* Cheese items on menus should increase -- Expect to see more cheese offerings -- such as cheese courses -- in restaurants that include fresh or dried fruit, roasted nuts or nut breads.
* Greater use of cheese blends -- The number of bold and flavorful cheese blends showing up in supermarket cheese cases continues to increase.
* A blue, bleu year -- Robust flavors and textures that range from dry and crumbly to deliciously creamy have made blue-veined cheeses increasingly popular. Watch for blues such as Gorgonzola to show up on burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and even nachos.
* Mas queso, por favor! -- Riding on the Hispanic foods wave are Hispanic cheeses. Watch for increased availability of varieties such as asadero, Anejo Enchilado, queso fresco, cotija and Queso Quesadilla.
In 2001, Wisconsin's cheesemakers saw a 38 percent jump in production of Hispanic cheeses.