Donkey Milk, Tree Bark & Booze – Ingredients Consumers Crave

At the World Championship Cheese Contest happening this week in Madison, you’re bound to come across cheeses you’ve never seen before. This is part of the excitement for contest judge Cathy Strange.

When she’s not scoring cheese, Strange is a food ambassador and buyer for Whole Foods Market. She comes across some exotic cheeses across the globe that are meeting the consumer’s desire to taste something different.

She’s sampled donkey milk cheeses, camel milk cheeses, and cheeses flavored with tree bark or ash. Add wine, whiskey, and rum to the ingredient list. Oh, and fruits, flowers, and exotic herbs. The list goes on both at the World Championship Cheese Contest and in the retail sector.

She gives some Wisconsin examples:

“I think in terms of the bark, we’ve seen that demonstrated up in the French and the Swiss mountains for a number of years, but that’s getting integrated into the United States,” she says. “Uplands Dairy does an amazing job with their products.”

Strange adds that cheesemakers are also introducing edible flowers not just in the exterior rine, but in the paste of the cheese.

“And also alcoholic ingredients that really give unique flavors,” she says. “Sartori does incredible cheeses with wines and rum.”

Strange says it all fits the bill for consumers, who are looking for something unique. She says the consumer embraces change, and they also like to be led into what the next thing is. When it comes to her role in finding products for retail, she looks to activate her five senses.

“I want to see something different. I want to smell something different,” she says. “But everything really depends on what I call the deliciousness factor. If it hits my mouth, and it’s a wow, I want to learn everything I can about that product.”