Trend Alert: Indulgent Cheese Sauces and Spreads


If restaurant menus and new product offerings are any indication, Americans are enamored with cheese sauces and spreads. In fact, social conversations about cheese have increased by more than 16% over the past year. Whether it’s in a classic macaroni and cheese entree, atop a juicy burger or slathered on nachos, cheese sauces continue to appeal to consumers in growing numbers.

As a result, the popular cheddar cheese sauce market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 3.5% through 2032, with other types of cheese sauces not far behind. To stand out in a sea of competitors, formulators continue to look for innovative ways to introduce or revamp their products. 

The latest cheese sauce trends are an indication of just how innovative some of these food and beverage companies can be. 

Classic Cheese Spread Pairings

Charcuterie boards continue to be on trend. Artfully arranged assortments of meats, olives, fruits and nuts set the stage for the star of the show: cheese. Many of these same classic pairings are being incorporated into all-in-one cheese spreads for use on crackers and artisan breads.

Pairing walnuts and tart cranberries with a sweet cheese sauce provides an irresistible sweet and sour combination that consumers love. Adding Kalamata olives and figs into a cheese spread can give it instant charm by transporting a person’s taste buds to a Mediterranean seaside. Classic herbs and spices are additional ways to enhance cheesy sauces and dips, and mixing in chives, onions, garlic, peppers, truffles and even bits of salami or bacon amp up the flavor and appeal.

Fiery Formulations

While some consumers prefer flavor profiles from the Mediterranean’s arid climate, others crave spicy heat. Hot peppers such as jalapeño, chipotlé, Habanero, green chile and sriracha are being infused into cheese sauce formulations. They add fiery flavor profiles when used in a cheese sauce, soup or dip for nachos and pretzels, or on vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. 

Adding spicy chili peppers to a macaroni and cheese pasta dish can transform a classic comfort food into a new taste sensation. Sweet ancho chili is also being incorporated into cheese sauces, offering only a bit of heat for those with more sensitive palates. Consider fire-roasted ancho queso dip atop enchiladas or as a dipping sauce for chicken wings. 

Queso Blanco is the perfect blend of spicy salsa and melty white queso. White cheese sauces are on trend and often seen as more natural and higher quality. Formulating this light, creamy cheese sauce requires ingredients that don’t incorporate annatto, an orange food coloring often used in cheddar cheese production. 

Better-for-You Sauces

Unfortunately, some of the most flavorful cheese sauces also contain too much salt. One popular cheese sauce contains more than 80% of the recommended daily value of sodium for a single serving, and more than 400 calories and 33 grams of fat. And that’s not counting the nachos, chili dog or pasta it’s paired with. 

The World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are pressing food manufacturers to comply with sodium reduction initiatives. The problem has been that consumers generally haven’t been willing to sacrifice flavor to achieve sodium reduction goals. Cheese sauce formulations that can boast full flavor while also reducing sodium, fat and calories could capture a missing segment in the market. 

All-natural Grande Gusto® is a reduced lactose whey ingredient that preserves and even enhances a sauce’s cheesy flavors while reducing sodium by up to 10% – and reduces fat and calories. Formulators can replace up to 50% of block, processed or powdered cheese to achieve these results.

RELATED: Overcoming Sodium Reduction Challenges in Formulations

Silky Textures

Formulators know, however, that sodium isn’t just about flavor; it is a functional ingredient that impacts viscosity due to its moisture-retaining qualities. And for as much as savory flavors are on trend, they mean nothing without indulgent textures.

The viscosity of a cheese sauce, especially in dishes like loaded nachos or macaroni and cheese, plays a crucial role in its sensory appeal and overall enjoyment. Texture often serves as a key indicator of a food's quality.

The ideal texture for a cheese sauce should be smooth, rich and creamy. These qualities are determined by the sauce’s ability to coat the palate without being too liquid or overly thick. A perfectly textured cheese sauce should offer a balance that complements the crispiness of nachos or the tender bite of macaroni.

Alternative ingredients that lower sodium or reduce fat typically compromise flavor and texture as well. However, this is not the case with Grande Gusto. A sensory panel determined that a Grande Gusto formulation of macaroni and cheese actually had better flavor, salty notes and texture than the control using traditional processed cheese.

Tasting is believing. Contact the food formulation experts at Grande Custom Ingredients to request a sample of Grande Gusto and talk through your formulation challenges. Meanwhile, view our product demo showing the superior functionality of Grande Gusto in action.

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