How is the USA Cheese Guild® promoting cheeses from USA in the Middle East?
The USA Cheese Guild® works to raise awareness about USA Cheeses among retail and foodservice professionals as well as consumers. The Guild has launched several initiatives in order to increase consumption, including in-store and online promotions as well as social media platforms (@USAcheeseGuildME). It also works with the foodservice sector to educate chefs about Cheeses from the USA. The USA Cheese Specialist® Certification Program is a one-of-a-kind program that consists of many levels that are designed to teach different segments of the trade: retailers, importers, distributors and chefs.
What can you tell us about the availability of cheeses from the USA in the MENA region?
In general, there is an upward trend in cheese consumption in the Middle East. The Guild’s promotional programs have encouraged higher demand for Cheeses from the USA in the region. Although 2020 was challenging in many ways, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar were promising markets; there were more U.S. exporters dealing with these countries, a greater number of local importers and distributors dealing with USA Cheeses and more retailers carrying them. Hundreds of new SKUs have been introduced to the GCC, with more brands, varieties and formats being channeled into the region’s markets. Our in-store activations are generating sales: up to 60 percent during promotions and six percent post promotions. The potential of the Saudi market is increasing, so we are working on developing it further.
In the latter half of this year, as the Covid-19 situation improves, we anticipate a surge in demand in the Middle East for USA Cheeses. Our programs are designed to be comprehensive, addressing both trade professionals and consumers. By creating greater awareness and appreciation of the varieties and quality of USA Cheeses, we are able to increase demand. Also, the GCC’s drive to prioritize food security and to diversify away from the oil sector is leading to significant expansion of market segments, including retail, food service and manufacturing. With more than 1,000 varieties of Cheeses from the USA, the region has plenty to choose from, including award-winning cheeses.
How is the USA Cheese Guild® empowering young chefs to follow the USA Cheese Specialist® Certification Program at ICCA Dubai?
Cheese is a trendy and versatile ingredient that can enhance the flavor of any dish or can be enjoyed on its own. Through its partnership with ICCA Dubai, the Guild is helping up-and-coming chefs upgrade their culinary skills by teaching them about cheeses and how to use them in hot and cold dishes, cheeseboards as well as pairing with beverages including teas, coffees, waters, sodas, cocktails, mocktails, wine and beers.
The Certification Program is a triple-level course (associate, intermediate and advanced) that teaches students how U.S. cheeses are made, the varieties available and how to use them in dishes. Each level takes 16 hours to complete and includes a combination of theory and practice. Chefs need to complete all three levels to become a USA Cheese Specialist. Once certified, chefs can participate in the guild’s promotional activities in the market to get more exposure and further experience.
What differentiates USA Cheeses?
Well, there are so many USA Cheeses to choose from, including: cream cheese, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack and Colby Jack. Dairy research centers in the United States are developing new ways to satisfy consumer demand with new cheese prototypes and processes that allow better control over production, safety, shelf life, flavor and more. Examples include:
- The invention of IQF (Individual Quick Freezing) mozzarella. The IQF process locks in the freshness of the cheese and stops the aging process, providing foodservice and industrial users with a consistent, high-quality product.
- Application of high pressure to modify cheese texture and performance. Researchers have explored the application of pressure to cheese production. Low pressures can accelerate cheese flavor development and reduce ripening time, while high pressure can also be used to inactivate enzymes and reduce microbial growth that can extend shelf life.
- Innovation in American cheesemaking manifests itself in the new creations of our talented and passionate cheesemakers who are not afraid of putting quite a few spins on original recipes by creating cheeses with new textures and flavors.
What do you have in store for cheese aficionados?
The USA Cheese Specialist® Certification program and our in-store and online activities are the main activities we are running in 2021. Should the CheeseFest happen again this year, cheese aficionados will see us there.
Do you have a recipe platform to recommend to professionals?
By the end of 2021, we will unveil the USA Cheese Guild® outreach program for professional chefs. We will also be launching a multi-language cheese recipe app called the USA Cheeseboard later this year. The app will allow consumers and chefs to find USA Cheese-centered recipes and pairing tips.
Senior Vice President, Global Cheese Marketing
USA Cheese Guild
Antonio el Khoury,
Director of Culinary Programs
USA Cheese Guild- MENA