There more to life than cheeseburgers. So say the many entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on the current cheese craze. It seems Americans are more willing than ever to experiment with gourmet fare-cheese being one of their favorites. Whether it's Gouda or Brie, Feta or Roquefort, the milk of cows, goats and sheep are yielding scrumptious delights while entrepreneurs are yielding even more scrumptious profits.
It certainly holds true for Miguel Jerónimo, 36, owner of Alfama, a Portuguese restaurant in New York City. He serves a plate of Portuguese cheeses as part of the dessert menu as well as the appetizer menu, catering to his American clientele. Jerónimo serves his cheeses with grapes and crackers and often suggests a wine to complement each kind of cheese (including the more exotic cheeses made from sheep and goat milk). Says Jerónimo, "Every single night, many customers ask for it."
Charlie Palmer, a restaurant industry veteran of 12 years and founder of both Métrazur restaurant in NYC and the Egg Farm Dairy in Peekskill, New York, has watched cheese become more and more popular among consumers. "People have become much more educated about food and wine. They're much more conscious of good food," says Palmer.
Laura Werlin, author of The New American Cheese: Profiles of America's Great Cheesemakers and Recipes for Cooking With Cheese (Stewart, Tabori & Chang ), agrees. "American diners are getting more and more sophisticated about the food they eat. [They want to] linger at the table," she says. "When a restaurant offers a cheese course, they are offering a chance for the diner to stay."
Not into being a restaurateur? Don't despair. You can incorporate cheese into a variety of businesses. Fill your gift baskets with Camembert cheese paired with a sophisticated Cabernet. Integrate a cheese course into your catering business. Or follow the lead of Spencer Chesman, founder of iGourmet.com, who ventured onto the Internet to peddle not only imported cheese, but also coffee, meats, desserts and other gourmet fare. Chesman, whose family has been in the cheese importing business for more than 80 years, caters to everyone from the die-hard connoisseur to the inexperienced browser looking to try something new. "We want to do for cheese what Starbucks did for coffee," says the 31-year-old, whose site averages 300,000 hits per month.
Whether it's via the Internet or in an old-fashioned restaurant setting, cheese is definitely serving a higher purpose.