Published on: April 30, 2014by Kevin Coupe
When my twenty-something daughter returned from The Big Cheesy grilled cheese competition in New York City raving about the mouth-watering creations, I thought about how manufacturers and retailers could capitalize on this latest culinary craze. Fast-casual franchises, Panini emporiums and high-end eateries certainly have. This is surely not your mother’s grilled cheese -- not a slice of plastic-wrapped American or store-bought white bread in the mix.
The next day I stopped by a Kings Food Market in a neighboring town and there was the eye-catching poster for the national 2014 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown contest, with a $10,000 grand prize. Bingo. The answer and an MNB column.
For those of you (us) new to the sophisticated sandwich circuit, April is Grilled Cheese Month. In addition to the sold-out competition in New York, featuring wildly creative combos from top restaurant chefs, there were similar events in Chicago, Los Angeles and Wisconsin.
And Wisconsin, no surprise, is home to the Grilled Cheese Academy, sponsor of the 2014 recipe contest. The “Institute Dedicated to Wisconsin Cheese and Its Deliciousness” is the cheese promoting arm of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
It is also a great example of a staid dairy staple making a splash on social media. The website, and Facebook page, are creative, entertaining and educational. The photos clearly qualify as food porn. And the folks at the WMMB are excited about partnering for the first time with 1,200 retailers across the country such as Kings to promote the contest, which runs through May 12th.
Contestants are encouraged to think creativity, flavor and image (and Wisconsin cheese) when compiling the perfect melted sandwich. Last year’s winner – the Kennebunkport – was “reminiscent of buttery Maine lobster rolls” with Wisconsin provolone and mascarpone grilled in chili-infused butter. A confession: I didn’t even realize there was Wisconsin mascarpone.
But therein lies the opportunity for retailers capitalize on the craze through cross merchandising. A single deli promotion could educate customers about all of the cheeses in the case, showcase breads, and suggest pairings ranging from prosciutto to pear compote.
My daughter’s favorite and eventual winner from The Big Cheesy in New York was the 5 Oz. Factory’s dish called “The Meltdown” – featuring smoked provolone, brie and a horseradish and chive havarti with fresh basil, mushrooms and asparagus in truffle oil and pesto. Whew.
I’m tempted to try several recipes from the Grilled Cheese Academy site, though the Badger Poutine with cheese curds, French fries and gravy on buttered beer bread is a bit much for me.
That said, we’d like to invite MNB readers to submit a favorite grilled cheese recipe. Send it to me at email@example.com . Our informal panel of judges will award the winner a Panini maker. So choose your cheese wisely and get your grilling game on.
- KC's View: