Cheese is on the menu at SIAL Canada

Cheese expert Gurth Pretty talks about cheese—the trends and the opportunities

Gurth Pretty

Gurth Pretty, senior specialist, deli cheese, market division at Loblaw Companies

If you have a desire to know more about cheese, make sure to check out SIAL Canada. The 14th edition of the show—Canada’s largest food and beverage show—gets underway in just a few weeks, running May 2–4 at Toronto’s Enercare Centre. Cheese expert Gurth Pretty, Loblaw’s senior specialist, deli cheese, market division, will be there and here he chats about all things cheese.

What will you be doing at this year’s SIAL Canada?
Acting as the cheese ambassador, I’ve created all sorts of special presentations for members of both the retail and restaurant industries, to come and get new ideas about cheese, whether it’s in merchandising or matching cheese with beverages. I’ll also be talking with show attendees and cheese makers, and answering their questions.

What are you most excited about?
I’ve created a panel discussion and competition on a potentially hot topic: a celebration cake of cheese. So, think of a multi-tiered wedding cake where the tiers are made out of wheels of cheese instead of cake. We’re going to have a panel discussion with Alison McGill from Wedding Bells magazine; Kelsie Parsons from Sobeys; and chef Karen O’Connor from Daniel et Daniel Catering. Following the panel discussion, there will be a competition that will be judged by those three panellists. The criteria: participants must make a celebration cake of cheese big enough to feed 100 people, and they have to move it to the judging table, with all the different garnishes that they put on top. They have to be able to transport it without it falling apart, so we’re adding a little bit of drama.

What is the top trend in cheese?
The interest in local, artisanal cheese. People really want to know where their food is coming from. It’s really about that sense of terroir.

What’s driving the growth in the cheese category?
It’s definitely about the different types of milk now more readily available in cheese. Cow’s milk cheese is the dominating force, but the goat category is growing. There are lots of people who are lactose intolerant, or people who are foodies and they want to try something different. There is also more sheep milk cheese out there, although many people are sheepish about it. Sheep milk has a higher protein content than cow or goat, so the milk is actually richer and the cheese tends to be nice and creamy. So, we need to do more consumer education around that. And there are some fairly good-sized water buffalo herds in different parts of the country. Having fresh water buffalo mozzarella made right here in Canada is wonderful, and some cheese makers are experimenting with other styles of cheese made with water buffalo milk.

What are the biggest growth opportunities in cheese for grocer retailers?
This is something I really believe in: tasting is believing. Retailers should be offering samples of cheese with information about the cheese. Staff members should talk about the cheese, about its attributes, where it’s made, what it’s made from and the romance behind it. Grocers also need to keep looking for new products to keep customers coming into the stores. If your assortment is always the same, customers will always buy the same variety and the same amount. If you start bringing in new cheese, they’ll keep on buying their regular cheese, but they’ll try the other ones as well. Therefore, your basket gets bigger and your sales increase.

SIAL Canada