May 8, 2020
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Demand for Brick and Muenster grows with new trends, products in foodservice, retail

Photo courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin
VERSATILE VARIETY — Muenster has seen consistent growth in retail over the past several years. Used as a table cheese or for foodservice applications, it has a mild and widely-appealing flavor and texture profile, and is favored for its melt and ease of slicing.

Photo courtesy of Buddy’s Pizza

IDEAL MELT — Because Brick cheese has a higher melting point, it is used on traditional Detroit-style pizza, which has a thicker crust and needs to be baked longer. Cheesemakers are seeing an uptick in demand for Brick cheese due to the growing popularity of this type of pizza across the country.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Brick and Muenster, established and reliable workhorses in American kitchens, may not get as much attention as popular Mozzarella or new and emerging specialty cheeses. But both have seen growth thanks to their approachability as well as recent foodservice trends.

“There’s kind of an appeal with both the flavor profile and texture that really doesn’t ever turn anyone off. Little kids to adults, I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t like those cheeses, unless it’s someone who doesn’t really like cheese,” says Luke Buholzer, vice president of sales for Klondike Cheese, Monroe, Wisconsin.

“They’re super, super versatile. Both slice very well. For sandwiches, presliced or in the deli, they perform fantastically. A lot of people use them as a table cheese,” Buholzer adds. “A lot of pizzerias use them in cheese blends for pizzas. We see a lot of restaurants, when moving up a notch from processed or wanting something a little different from Cheddar in a hamburger or sandwich, will use these cheeses.”

In retail sales, Muenster has seen consistent year-on-year volume growth since 2016, according to IRI data courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). Brick showed above-average growth in 2019, though this category had declined over the three previous years. Both categories have had double-digit growth year-to-date in 2020 compared to the previous year, though DMI notes that this year’s numbers have been significantly impacted by coronavirus-inspired buying trends. In 2019, Muenster accounted for less than 0.8% of total natural cheese volume sold, while Brick cheese accounted for 0.001%, IRI reports.

• Old favorites, new label

Klondike Cheese has been making Brick and Muenster for decades and has seen substantial growth in the combined varieties. In 2018, the company finished a plant expansion that increased its capacity by four times.

“In the old plant, we had been at capacity for quite a few years. We weren’t able to take on any new customers, and existing customers, when they wanted to grow, we couldn’t grow with them,” Buholzer says.

Klondike also previously did not have an official retail brand for these cheeses, selling them to foodservice and some small retail pockets under a non-trademarked brand. That changed when Klondike recently introduced the new Buholzer Brothers brand for its Muenster, Brick, Havarti and Dill Havarti cheeses. The new brand is mainly retail-focused, but also includes foodservice items. Currently, Buholzer Brothers cheeses are available in 8-ounce shingle packs and 8- and 6-ounce chunks for retail, as well as in full loaves, half loaves and pre-sliced packs for foodservice. The company also is planning to grow its offerings under this brand in the future.

“It has been well-received,” Buholzer says. “It’s a new brand. For a lot of retailers, they know us for our (Odyssey) Feta. This is the first time for us even presenting these cheeses to a lot of people.”

• Brick building

While Muenster is purchased across all geographical regions of the United States, Brick cheese is a much more regional cheese. According to IRI data from DMI, three regions account for almost all of the total retail sales volume for Brick cheese: the Northeast (50%), Great Lakes (36%) and to a much smaller extent the Plains region (4%).

Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Theresa, Wisconsin, specializes in making traditional Brick cheese, which was invented in Wisconsin in 1877. Actual bricks were used to press the cheese, which also was formed into a brick shape.

“My great-grandfather started making the aged Brick — washed rind version — and he copied his recipe from John Jassi, who invented it in the same county (Dodge). Later on he started making mild Brick — the same cheese, but it only goes into the curing room for three days and you don’t wash it,” says Joey Widmer, vice president of operations, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars. “The brick is primarily used to press the curd into approximately 5-pound blocks of cheese. It’s used to press the curd into shape and press excess (whey) from the cheese.”

Widmer’s, which also produces Cheddar and Colby, sells its cheeses across the United States, though aged Brick — a cousin to the notoriously stinky Limburger — is mostly popular among Wisconsinites who are more familiar with it.

“Mild Brick is becoming more popular because Detroit-style pizza is making a comeback, and foodservice in particular is picking it up,” Widmer says. “At this time, the foodies and cheesemongers have helped spread the popularity of aged Brick, which has increased in sales. Another branch-off of that product is our aged Brick spread, which is mixed with white Cheddar so it is not quite as strong as it would be if it was just the aged Brick.”

• Detroit-style

Detroit-style pizza, a thick-crust, square-shaped pizza typically topped with Brick or a blend of Brick and other cheeses, has been picked up beyond Michigan’s borders in recent years and has fueled demand for and familiarity with Brick cheese outside of the Midwest.

The pizza started with Buddy’s, a Detroit speakeasy that in 1946 introduced a Sicilian pizza recipe from the owner’s mother to help drive up sales. Square utility pans, used at auto factories to hold extra parts, were used as pans. The pizza’s toppings were covered with Wisconsin Brick cheese, which was spread edge-to-edge and provided a crispy, caramelized cheese layer under the sauce.

Buddy’s Pizza, which now has expanded throughout Michigan and is looking to open additional locations in the Midwest, still uses 100% Wisconsin Brick cheese, which has a higher melting point than Mozzarella.

“Because it’s deep-dish, we have to cook it a little longer than thin crust. The high melting point of Brick keeps it from burning,” says Burton Heiss, CEO, Buddy’s Pizza. “Because of its softness, we don’t shred it but grind it, so it’s a little crumbled. It’s still a relatively young cheese like Mozzarella, but maybe a little more similar flavor-wise to a Jack. We do age it a very specific amount of time, 6-8 weeks, which is important both in terms of the flavor and how it melts.”

Also helping to spread the word of Detroit-style pizza is Shawn Randazzo, owner of Detroit Style Pizza Co., pizza consultant and 2012 World Champion Pizza Maker. He has worked with restaurant and pizzeria owners across the United States and from other countries, including Descendant Detroit Style Pizza in Toronto and Via 313 Pizza with three locations in Austin, Texas.

“Right off the gate, I’ve seen higher upscale restaurants that serve duck and fish introduce (Detroit-style pizza), people trying to get it into convenience stores, and everyone in between,” Randazzo says. “There are also a lot of full-scale restaurants and breweries serving it.”

Brick cheese now is more available nationwide, but Randazzo notes that some restaurants, particularly out West and in the South, initially had trouble finding suppliers and had to turn to other options like Muenster or Monterey Jack. However, he says Detroit-style pizza is difficult to replicate without Brick.

“In consulting, I’ve done a whole lot of blend testing. One of my favorites is Monterey Jack, Brick and Mozzarella,” he says, adding that a Muenster, Brick and Mozzarella blend also works well.

“Flavor is a big thing ... that really buttery taste comes from the cheese,” he notes. “It caramelizes really nice where it doesn’t have a burnt taste, but a nice buttery taste and flavor. The melt, stretch and whole experience with Brick and Mozzarella together is the perfect marriage.”



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