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  • U.S. Cheese Checks In

    By USDEC September 10, 2014

    14836453_sTop chefs from the Middle East taste-tested U.S. cheese at a recent event. They were impressed.

    Ten top chefs from the Middle East had just witnessed first-hand how Sartori Cheese in Plymouth, Wis., gets its milk, manufactures its cheese and packages it for shipping. It was now time for the taste test. The company offered 27 cheeses, several of them award winning, for the hard-to-impress chefs sitting at a long, rectangular table. They were impressed.

    “This surprises me, for sure,” said Hazma Mortada, executive sous chef at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jed­dah, Saudi Arabia. “It is a pleasure to meet this beautiful line of cheeses. Some of the names are stuck in my brain like Pastorale and Merlot BellaVitano. I like the aged gouda and I like the texture of this aged parmesan because when it’s a little bit dry you can present it many ways, on many plates, especially pasta.”

    Hotels and other luxury properties in the Middle East present a nascent opportunity for U.S. cheese suppli­ers. According to the chefs on the USDEC-sponsored mission to Wisconsin in May, Middle Eastern luxury hotels and other properties are ready to buy high-end U.S. cheeses—as long as American companies can demonstrate they are consistent suppliers attentive to their specifications.

    “We are working to be more visible in this market as an industry,” said Angélique Hollister, USDEC vice president, cheese and consumer products, who ac­companied the chefs on their visit. The mission, as well as culinary seminars planned for Egypt and Morocco this December, are part of that effort.

    Standing up to the EU

    The chefs participating in the Wisconsin event were all culinary directors for large-scale hotel, hospitality, airline and catering operations. It didn’t take many cheese samples for them to see new possibilities.

    “If tomorrow I could have access to the artisan cheeses I tried here, I have no doubts that I could start introduc­ing something different,” said Carlos Delos Mozos, expert chef from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dubai.

    The chefs sampled a progression of artisan cheeses paired with wines, beers and accompaniments such as fruits and nuts.

    “Each of them took the tasting very seriously; there was a lot of discussion,” said Ken Blazer, CEO and owner of Rogue Partners LLC, Chicago, which facilitates global shipping of artisan cheeses from Wisconsin. “They weren’t necessarily comparing one cheese to another, but comparing them to cheeses they were familiar with. Many of them found the U.S. cheeses held up against their European counterparts.”

    One such chef was Thomas Gugler, continental director of the World Association of Chefs Societies for Africa and the Middle East and director of food and bever­age at Al Mashfa Hospital, a luxury hospital with hotel services in Jeddah.

    He said the cheese he sampled was “absolutely compatible and comparable with old-fashioned and even modern European cheeses,” but he discussed “a difficulty we are facing with U.S. cheeses.”

    That difficulty is readily available supply.

    “They are not worried about the United States having enough cheese to meet their needs but rather local distributors having U.S. cheese close at hand,” says Hol­lister. “U.S. suppliers need to make sure they work with their local distributors to ensure product availability.”

    If they can find consistent suppliers, the chefs visiting Wisconsin concurred that they are not only ready, but eager, to introduce high-end U.S. cheeses to their discerning clientele.

    (This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Export Profile.)

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.   



    Cheese Global Marketing Middle East
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