Why smoked cheese is trending – and how to sell it

03 July 2024, 13:00 PM
  • While smoked cheese can be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ product, Speciality Food finds that plenty of consumers are ready to fill their boots when cheesemongers are in the know
Why smoked cheese is trending – and how to sell it

Smoked cheese is having a moment in the spotlight. According to data from Google Trends, a 43% increase in searches for ‘smoked cheese’ was seen in the UK in the quarter to February 2024, while Kantar says the market is worth £54 million, rising 5% in value.

Some cheesemakers are responding to the demand by ramping up production. Wensleydale Creamery, for example, made a significant investment in its natural cheese smoking capabilities earlier this year with a brand-new cheese smoke house at its base in the Yorkshire Dales.

The new site will allow the cheesemaker to double its current output to keep up with demand. “Over the past year or so, we’ve seen an increased interest and demand for naturally smoked cheese and as a category we’ve seen real growth potential for our business,” says Sandra Bell, marketing manager at Wensleydale Creamery.

A guide to smoked cheese

Smoked cheese is any cheese that has been treated by smoke-curing. Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Gruyère are most commonly smoked, but you can also find smoked Brie, Halloumi and goats’ cheeses or even smoked blue cheese. The flavour of these cheeses can range from an intense punch of smoky flavour to a delicate hint of oak.

Originally, naturally smoking cheese was a way of preserving the product for longer. When a cheese is smoked, the fat from the milk rises to the surface to create a preservative skin. This not only protects the cheese’s texture and quality, but it produces a distinctive golden-brown rind.

What’s the difference between cold-smoked, hot-smoked and infused smoked cheese?

Cold smoking is the most common method for smoking cheese, and this involves imbuing the cheese with smoke flavour by placing it in an enclosed space with the smoke from smouldering wood chippings or pellets (usually oak, applewood, hickory or beech). The cheese is not cooked, as only minimal heat is used, but the temperature needs to be carefully controlled.

If the temperature rises over 30 degrees C, this is considered hot smoking, and this usually results in a stronger smokiness. However, hot smoking can be more difficult to achieve without the cheese melting.

Supermarkets also sell cheeses that have been given the appearance of smoking with artificial liquid smoke flavouring and food colouring. However, the growing demand that the cheese industry is seeing is for “natural, authentic smoked cheeses,” Sandra says. 

“The process of naturally smoking cheese results in a distinctive and enhanced flavour throughout, imparting a deep and rich natural flavour that consumers love,” she says. “Smoking cheese is a real art form, and it differs from simply infusing the cheese with flavours, creating a deliciously elevated and enhanced taste.” Cold smoking cheeses creates a “deeper, more robust smoky flavour profile” that complements the natural flavour of cheeses like Cheddar compared to infusing smoke flavour in cheese.

How to serve and sell smoked cheese

Gemma Williams of The Little Cheesemonger, based in Prestatyn, Wales, sells a variety of smoked cheeses, including a ‘smoked cheese selection’ that contains a blue, a goats’ cheese and a hard smoked option.

“My personal favourite is Smoked Gubbeen,” Gemma says. The semi-soft Irish cheese has a distinct rich, smoky flavour that Gemma admits can be “a bit much” for customers who have only experimented as far as a supermarket, sausage-shaped smoked cheese. Its unique texture can also “‘trigger’ inexperience palates,” she says, adding, “I am disappointed when someone doesn’t love it as much as I do!”

Sandra suggests having customers try before they buy. “Sampling is an incredibly effective way to introduce customers to smoked products they may not have tried before and provides an opportunity to educate them on the smoking process and flavour notes.”

Gubbeen Cheese Dairy, for example, uses the Pinney system, created by Pinney’s of Orford, to smoke its cheese. Originally a method for smoking salmon, it smokes the cheese very gently, before the cheese is waxed to keep the smoke in while letting the cheese breathe as it matures.

Other popular smoked cheeses include Oakwood Smoked Cheddar, a smoked version of a 12-month matured Ford Farm PDO West Country Farmhouse Cheddar Truckle; Snowdonia Cheese Co’s Beech Wood, a sweet and smoky truckle; Godminster’s Cheyney’s Fortune Oak-Smoked Organic Vintage Cheddar, made using a 10-hour cold-smoking process; or Wensleydale’s Naturally Oak Smoked Cheddar, which is smoked over oak chips to produce a buttery, creamy, complex rounded flavour with an earthy, naturally forming rind.

Smoked cheese pairing ideas

When selling smoked cheeses, it’s good to have a few pairing ideas up your sleeve to clinch sales with customers. “Fruits are always easy pairing with cheese, and as long as they are not overly sweet they should balance well with a smoked cheese,” Gemma advises. Suggestions for customers could include apples or white grapes.

“Nuts and smokies pair beautifully, hence you often find smoked nuts,” Gemma adds, “but I’d pair smoked cheese with unsmoked nuts – unless you’re a complete smoky lover!” She also recommends pairing smoked cheese with cured meats, like a slice of delicate Italian coppa or a British charcuterie board. “Charcuterie adds a delicious depth of flavour and variety of texture,” Sandra agrees, “whilst spicy green olives add a layer of heat and spice that complement and balance the smokiness.”

Flavourful accompaniments like fruity chutney will “stand up to and complement” the smoky notes and rich texture of smoked cheese, Sandra continues.

On the drinks side of pairing, a robust red wine with heavy tannins like a Rioja can be a delicious pair, Gemma says, though she adds, “if it’s a smoked goats’ cheese, switch to a lighter red like a Merlot or Shiraz. A delicious Welsh porter would also be good, like Hafod’s Vanilla Porter!” Dry cider can also work a treat.

Smoked cheese works wonderfully well in cooking too, grated into a mac and cheese or cauliflower cheese for an enhanced flavour or used in sandwiches with ham or chutney.

Offering pairing and usage tips, Sandra says, is “key” to “inspiring customers with new ways to complement the flavours in the cheese and bring out and enhance the smoky notes for greater enjoyment, not just as part of a cheese board but also in terms of recipes to use at home.”

Advice for storing smoked cheese

If your customers are after advice for storing their smoked cheese, cheesemongers can share tips for both preserving the flavour and keeping it from taking over the fridge. “We have some patented cheese wrap in the shop which is proven to extend the life of the cheese,” Gemma says. “It’s great for keeping the cheese fresh, but locking in those smells.”

However, she’s not too fussed about keeping cheesy smells contained. “What’s wrong with your fridge smelling like a cheese shop? Surely it’s a badge of honour for any self-respecting foodie!”

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