Remember when cheese fell into one of two categories: orange or white? If we were really feeling fancy, we might have bought a Swiss or one of those almond-crusted red-wine cheese balls—but only for special occasions, of course. Today, however, even despite rising food prices and a sputtering economy, consumers are proving they’re not interested in going back to the cheese Dark Ages.
More and more artisan varieties, which used to come primarily from Europe, are being produced domestically, and naturals consumers are snapping them up. While conventional cheese sales grew less than 1 percent between 2006 and 2011 after adjusting for inflation, gourmet options sold in the natural channel fared well, according to Mintel*. Sales swelled 24.8 percent between 2009 and 2011, suggesting that gourmet cheese is recession resistant and possibly even recession proof in natural products stores.
In addition to small-batch, artisan options made from raw and certified-organic milk, shoppers are gravitating toward hard and soft cheeses infused with unexpected herbs and spices such as dill pollen, cumin and lavender.