house made cheese

Why You Should Be Making House Crafted Cheeses

By now, the concept of a robust, inspired, and positive restaurant culture shouldn’t be a secret to you. If you are running a successful business, you already know that happy guests and employees lead to a healthier bottom line. So what does building and reinforcing a brand and a culture that customers respond to have to do with making your own cheese? Pretty much everything.

When a restaurant’s menu, marketing or social media reflects that the kitchen is going through the extra steps of making fresh cheeses such as farmer’s cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, burrata, and paneer in-house, that restaurant is making a statement about its culture and core values. The kitchen cares about the craft. They care about the ingredients. They care about an experience tailored for their customers. It’s clearly expressed by their willingness to do what has become counter intuitive these days by adding expense (due to the economy of scale in-house produced cheese isn’t always less expensive than what you can buy). So why would anyone do it amid rising food and labor costs? It goes back to your brand, the kind of restaurant you want to be, and ultimately the product you are bringing to market.

Do you want to be the restaurant that opens cans and bags and puts the contents on a plate because it’s cheaper and easier?  Or, do you strive to be the restaurant that projects craftsmanship and quality through every component of a dish?  How are your cooking decisions defining your brand’s value?If you look at any of the research on what’s trending, house-made, artisan-produced products in general are popular. Customers are clamoring for these items, and chefs should want to make them and find time to do so. As a chef, at the end of the day you should leave your kitchen feeling like you honored the craft by doing something unique.
How to Implement
So how do you get started? Go with fresh, moist cheese such as ricotta or mozzarella (which can be taken a step further through smoking, drying and aging) and burrata. Another simple to execute cheese is paneer, which is a pressed, slightly drier version of fresh ricotta. These products can be made with common kitchen equipment such as a good, accurate thermometer, stainless steel pots, gloves and of course fresh milk or fresh curd.
The challenge is finding the time and labor. You can find prep time by taking a good, hard, critical look at your menus. Many menus are static, too big, and burdened by the dead weight of underperforming and labor-consuming dishes that really should be culled. Identify the high-cost/low revenue items that are also time consuming to produce and gut them. By performing this exercise in menu attrition, you will easily find the time and money to make fresh cheeses.
Once you start making your own fresh cheese, roll it out in features and observe how your kitchen adapts to its production and use. Does it work with the prep schedule and service execution? Give it enough time to ascertain whether your customer base is responding or if new customers are coming in. It’s not good enough to try it for a weekend and say it was a hit or a flop; it needs to run for at least a season before a verdict can be reached. After you have run the cost of what it takes to produce a house-made cheese versus buying it,how do you capture the return on what will most likely be an increased expense?Challenge  your menu again: incorporate them into compelling and interesting menu items that are also mind-blowingly delicious!
Enhancing Dessert or Produce with House-Made Cheeses
These cheeses are “canvas cheeses” because they’re mild and neutral, making them amenable to all produce, whether savory or sweet. They fit into all parts of the menu, whether it’s small plates, appetizers, snacks, entrées, or desserts. When you have a great product and you’re making it in-house, simple and profound presentations generally showcase it best. It doesn’t make sense to hand-pull fresh mozzarella just to pile it with a bunch of superfluous ingredients that only serve to mask its virtues… and yours!
Fall is prime time to build complex flavors with produce through roasting, grilling, smoking and cooking with wood fired equipment when possible. For example, how about fire roasting some NY or PA apples and serving them with warm house-made farmer’s cheese with local honey,roasted almonds and fennel seed? This is a dessert that’s compelling and unique. What about a dessert burrata stuffed with house-made ricotta sweetened with honey and Amarena cherries?
Serve simply, cut it in half, drizzle with Amarena cherry syrup and top with toasted almonds… it’s incredible! These are two perfect ways to frame the efforts that go into
house-made cheeses.
Fresh cheeses have a place in vegetarian dishes when you’re looking for alternative proteins. Pair paneer with a vegetable purée; these two together can make for some unique combinations such as a fresh Indian-style paneer cheese with fall roasted carrot purée, toasted cumin seed,and curry oil. Once you’ve gone through the trouble of making fresh cheeses, whatever you do, do not just let them disappear into menu items that aren’t interesting or can’t get customers’ attention. Display prominently! And finally, if you really want to capture the full return on your investment, make sure you are communicating your efforts and commitment to your customers through menu verbiage, server engagement, and imaging through social media like Instagram and Twitter. Project your brand promise proudly!
What It All Means
The value of craftsmanship and originality are going through the roof, and practically everyone is talking that kind of talk. Today, more than ever, you need to be walking the walk. Your brand can’t afford to project notions of craftsmanship and authenticity and not execute. If you can’t deliver on this kind of brand promise, today’s enlightened customers will call BS on you every time. The good news is that if you are dedicated, smart and driven, being authentic and true to your core values pays off now more than it ever did. If you’re promising the experience that comes part and parcel with activities like hand-pulling fresh mozzarella, and you’re actually delivering on that promise consistently, you just placed yourself in the top tier of all restaurants brands in the country.
It needs to be communicated that you’re going the extra mile by committing to and delivering a unique product to market. All of these things go into building a strong culture and brand perception – making thoughtful decisions, committing to them, and following through – project the artisan brand statement the market is hungry for. By weaving house-made fresh cheeses into your repertoire and making sure your customers know you are doing it, you will be doing astronomically better than spray-paint marketing hollow promises. Nothing can outperform a strong culture, and that can only come from your serious dedication to food, cooking, and offering the very best of yourself to your customers.