Question. What is the perfect sandwich filling?
Well, one thing is for sure, everyone will have a shortlist of their regular favourites. Ham, tuna, egg mayo, salt beef, maybe a vegan option? But we’re fairly certain of this…one ‘everyday’ filling that will crop up, again and again, is cheese!
It’s not just that it tastes great. Or that it’s quick and ridiculously easy to use. Or even that it combines so perfectly with countless other ingredients.
No, the main reason cheese ticks every box is because of its unparalleled versatility.
Cheese is the stand-out choice In a market where tastes are growing ever more eclectic, eating occasions are merging together, and everything – including feeding our appetites – is happening at double-quick speed.
Here we take a look at just some of the reasons why a big selection of scrumptious cheese should be top of your ingredients order, especially if you want to give a big boost to your bottom line.
Let’s begin with some cold, hard facts.
The UK sandwich industry is now worth a colossal £5.6 billion a year. So it’s hardly surprising we’re all busily working out how to grow our share and also stay one step ahead of the competition.
Interestingly, many of the clues to the best way forward can be found in the seemingly unstoppable rise of food-to-go.
Satisfying the customer’s appetite for ever more exotic or unusual options – wherever they happen to be at the time – is proving to be the mother of invention as more and more of us eschew the option of rustling up a sandwich at home in favour of grabbing one on our travels.
And the simple fact that we don’t have to shop for the ingredients means we can be much, much more demanding.
We can be picky about the bread. Or whether the sandwich is hot or cold. Or whether it’s packed or wrapped for transporting, or to eat one-handed while running for a bus!
But most of all, our heightened expectations mean we’ll be on the lookout for new variations on a tried and trusted favourite, or for something completely new.
Cue the sandwich maker’s golden opportunity to conjure up something imaginatively yummy. And that won’t just be down to taste. It’s all about appearance too. Which is precisely why cheese is such a vital ingredient.
First, no other filling offers quite so many different flavours…literally a whole world of mouthwatering tastes.
Controlled ‘meltability’ makes it perfect for something hot and ‘big meal’ish’.
Easy portion control makes it ideal for everything from a snack-size nibble to a portable feast (remember how outrageously convenient it is to use pre-cut cheese slices!).
And format helps too by adding to texture and the all-important visual appeal. Take cheese shavings, for example. They can give the impression of a generously filled sandwich. Or fine grated ‘angel hair’ for a hint of the continental. Or how about diced cheese to add ‘mouthfeel’ when added to a mayo-based carrier?
What time is it? It’s ‘Sandwich Time’.
Much has been written in the last year or two about the ‘blurring of dayparts’…the fact that breakfast now merges into lunch, lunch morphs into late afternoon ‘teas’, and as for dinner…well, dinner is simply a moveable feast.
Today we eat outside of the home more than ever before. We eat on the move, at our desks or at a quick rendezvous with friends. We gorge on the opportunity to indulge in an embarrassment of street food. And, more importantly, we eat precisely when we want to eat, not when convention dictates. All of which feeds into the rising popularity of the sandwich…literally from dawn till dusk.
And on the subject of early mornings, breakfast is proving to be one source of considerable innovation. In the US, the humble breakfast sandwich has long been an assembly of egg, meat protein and cheese, served in a toasted muffin. But American chefs are now busy creating inspired variations on the theme, with explosive flavour as the main objective.
So, bye-bye bacon butty. So long sausage sarnie. A new generation of big breakfast sandwiches is heading over The Pond, and cheese will be at the heart of its popularity. Not just the ever-reliable Cheddar, but ‘global’ cheeses that will make it possible to offer something from all four corners of the world.
Whether you’re aiming for upscale full-service, or generating grab-and-go specials, how about an all-day breakfast with an Italian theme, layering soft scrambled egg, spinach and peppers, with provolone and mozzarella in a herbed bun? Or a croissant packed with Gruyere, smoked ham and sun-dried tomatoes? Or live dangerously…go TexMex with chilli flavoured cheese, spicy chicken and crunchy red onion in a tortilla wrap.
And on the way, be sure not to overlook the huge impact of the new ‘flexitarian’ movement. With more and more people – particularly the highly influential Millennials – now choosing to cut down on meat intake, cheese of every type offers the superbly easy way to introduce maximum flavour to almost any sandwich…while adding to protein levels too.
Fortune flavours the brave
You know it makes sense. What brings customers back, again and again, is Taste…with a capital ‘T’. Even a tasty description can be your best aid to a sale.
That’s where cheese works its magic again.
The more we travel, the more we bring home a taste of far-flung lands. And what quicker way to transport ourselves back to the scene of that adventure than to enjoy a sandwich with Spanish Manchego, a Greek inspired masterpiece made with feta and halloumi, or something from the Americas featuring Monterey Jack or chilli cheese?
And bold flavoured cheeses have another trick up their sleeves. They often come into their own in a grilled cheese sandwich, one of the big street-food trends of the last 12 months. They’re brilliant too when you want to complement or contrast. Take the ‘salty and sweet’ of a blue cheese paired with quince paste, or freshly sliced grapes atop a creamy brie. Or the flavour fusion of a naturally smoked Cheddar with a tangy barbecue sauce.
Richard Thorpe, Head of Marketing & Insight at ingredients giant Ornua Ingredients UK, has his finger on the pulse.
“Britain has never had so many wonderful cheeses to choose from”, says Thorpe.
”For the food service industry, this is manna from heaven. It means a blank canvas when it comes to putting endless flavour on the menu. Thanks also to advances in technology, many of these cheeses are now available in formats that make them really easy and economical to use.”
“Whether it’s the growing number of sliced options, the various grates and styles that contribute so much to appearance, or the quick frozen techniques that mean stocks stay ‘fresh’ for up to 12 months, we’re investing huge resources in making sure the boom in interest in cheese is matched by delivering beyond expectations.”
One last thought. We’ve been musing here on how important cheese is as the ultimate sandwich filling. But there is one last twist in the tail.
Cheese doesn’t just make a perfect ingredient for adding to our favourite bread. It actually makes for great bread too! Thanks to a legion of artisan bakers – with a little help from TV celebs – cheesy breads are all the rage.
Now, add that thought to a delicious cheese filling and we’re really getting down to the bread and butter of things.
This article first appeared in Sandwich & Food-to-go News, April 2018
Ornua Ingredients UK produces a quarterly Food Trends Update. For your free subscription, email firstname.lastname@example.org