The Dollars & Sense of Cheese.
A great cheese program speaks to the class of a restaurant, implies thought and expertise of the chef for his or her selection, and satisfies the underestimated desire most patrons have to try new things. If a restaurateur does his or her research, trains the staff and thinks outside the box, the cheese board itself will do the rest. But how do cheese programs impact a restaurant’s bottom line? Why should restaurateurs and chefs invest in cheese offerings? And where do you start?
In regards to the question of whether or not cheese programs increase a restaurant’s revenue stream, the answer is a clear and resounding ‘Yes’! Simply stated, offering a cheese selection on the menu will increase sales. It is basically a zero labor cost item with high yield and a massive profit margin. Since cheese boards need accompaniments, they are also a great way to get more yield out of the kitchen without additional labor by cross-utilizing other existing garnishes, such as candied nuts, chutneys and jams. Cheeses also call for wine pairings, beer pairings, second rounds, and excited and ready-for-more palates. Furthermore, offering cheese boards directly influences both beverage and dessert sales - more on that below.
What about presentation? Most cheese offerings are found on the dessert menu or on their own designated menu. However, my father, Bob Marcelli, founder of Marcelli Formaggi and also a former executive chef and restaurateur, and I both agree that – and this may come as a shock – the cheese menu belongs in a section on the top of the savory menu. If a cheese board is ordered earlier in the meal, you will see both beverage and dessert sales grow. Sitting sadly alongside or underneath the coffee and tea selection, it gets lost among the cordials and digestifs. It’s important to remember that a cheese board is a direct path to a beverage sale. We’ve found that guests are more likely to opt for a bottle of wine to share with the cheese, as opposed to single glasses or individual cocktails, or (gasp!) just water.
Additionally, by sharing cheese at the beginning of the meal, you have opened their palates and paved the way for a wonderful savory experience – one that they will surely want to finish with something sweet. Have you ever noticed that a meal just doesn’t seem complete without something sweet at the end, no matter how big or small? Instead of losing the dessert sale altogether, you have actually increased the chances of individual orders, simply by strategically repositioning the cheese board to another area of the menu. So now you’ve got additional beverage sales, cheese sales and ultimately dessert sales.
All too often I find myself unimpressed with a restaurant’s cheese offerings, as most are the same. If a restaurant is investing in a cheese program, it should represent a variety of regions, appease different palates, and work to surprise the customer. The usual suspects include a Talegio, Robiola, a goat cheese, or something along those lines. While that’s fine as most customers are familiar with those cheeses, we recommend showcasing more interesting types of cheese that the guest won’t as readily be able to try at their local grocery store. At Marcelli Formaggi, we offer the excitement and tradition of cheeses cultivated from different breeds, varying ages and preparation. When we speak to chefs, there’s an education process behind each type of cheese that should then trickle down from the staff to the customer. Enjoying different cheeses properly also means learning a bit about what you’re eating – what region it came from, what animal, how long it aged, how it was prepared and then how all these factors contribute to the taste and flavors in each cheese.
Not surprisingly, the most vital component of a successful cheese program is the staff. Let’s face it, cheese can be confusing to staff and patrons alike. Conducting staff tastings and training is imperative. The more the staff knows, the more confident they are in communicating the intricacies of the product, which leads to upselling and ultimately more sales. For this reason, at Marcelli Formaggi we make a point to conduct dedicated staff training and tastings for our chefs. If a restaurant is making the investment to roll out a brand new cheese program, what a shame it would be for all efforts to die at the table because the server couldn’t eloquently describe the different flavors and unique qualities of each cheese. A knowledgeable staff is a turnkey part of the larger picture that leads to guest appreciation, price justification, and most importantly, a successful sale.
As diners are more likely than ever to try new things and explore new ways to enjoy a dining experience, cheese offerings become a focal point. No longer are dedicated cheese menus only for high end luxury restaurants. We supply to a plethora of restaurants all around NYC and ship to Italian cheese fans around the country via our website. We keep these relationships close to our hearts and feel honored to work alongside so many outstanding restaurants, who help to share our passion for handmade, artisanal cheese.
“I’ve been working with the Marcelli family for over ten years now, at Babbo, Gramercy Tavern, Maialino and Marta,” said Chef Nicholas Anderer. “Every one of these restaurants has been blessed by the soul of Marcelli cheeses, which I know can only come from the family’s direct, hands-on approach and passion for their craft. They produce some of the most unique sheep’s milk cheeses I have ever tasted, and we look forward to decades of continued partnership.”
On the farm La Porta dei Parchi, in Anversa Degli Abruzzi, our cousin Nunzio Marcelli, his family, and the family of the co-operatives producers make these rare and award-winning cheeses, most of which are listed in the Slow Food Book of Italian Cheese. It’s a real family to family connection.
Can you offer an exceptional cheese board AND make a profit? Yes, and here are some options:
Option 1: Showcase the difference in age:
Let’s say you opt to have a Marcelli Formaggi Pecorino flight: 3 for $18, each piece being one ounce, as is typical. All 15 of our cheeses have edible rinds so the yield is 100% and therefore the labor cost of preparing and cutting goes out the window. It costs you $3.61 in product, and your profit is $14.39! That’s a 20% food cost on a premium item, with zero labor cost! This is an example of a cheese plate that demonstrates the impact that age can have on the final flavor and texture of cheese.
Pecorino Primo Sale, 2 months, $1.09 per ounce; Pecorino del Parco, 6 months, $1.18 per ounce; Pecorino Brigantaccio, 12 months, $1.34 per ounce.
Option 2: Showcase the same cheese with different finishing flavors:
With our products, you can choose to showcase Ricotta in different ways. The milk and preparation is the same, but with different finishing techniques. Our Ricotta Scorza Nera has a black skin, “scorza nera,” and is made up of vegetable ash and a natural occurring mold, while our Ricotta al fumo di Ginepro is cold-smoked with juniper branches, and our Ricotta Passita is rubbed in olive oil and coated in dried mountain herbs.
Ricotta Scorza Nera, 3-4 months, $1.56 per ounce; Ricotta al Fumo di Ginepro, 2-4 months, $1.20 per ounce, Ricotta Passita, 4-6 months, $1.43 per ounce. Total cheese cost: $4.19, menu price $18, Profit $13.81!
Option 3: Showcase the differences in breeds and milk:
This is always a very popular option, as it appeals to a lot of patrons. We carry a stunning Caciocavallo Podolico, which is a hard cow’s milk cheese that is aged for 8-12 months, an aged goat cheese called Caprino Stagionato, aged 4 months; and a sheep’s milk cheese aged 6 months called Pecorino del Parco, or “Pecorino of the Parks.” This allows guests to really experience the full impact of the differences in the milk.
Caciocavallo Podolico, $1.75 per ounce, Caprino Stagionato, $1.31 per ounce, Pecorino del Parco, $1.18 per ounce. Total cheese cost: $4.24, Profit $13.76!
Option 4: Go for it, a 5-piece cheese board!
Our Ultimate Marcelli Formaggi cheese board is as follows, being a mix of all of the above points: Pecorino Gregoriano, is a SOFT Pecorino (there is no such thing!) that stuns every time, the Caciocavallo Podolico that is so flavorful it leaves your tongue tingling, our Pecorino Cacio Fiorello which is a glorious mix of sheep’s milk and goat yogurt, our Ricotta al Fumo di Ginepro, the most popular cheese, and finally a wonderfully bright cow’s milk Ricotta with Chives. Round out the plate with any of our Abruzzo honeys and Mostocotto and you are set to WOW.
Pecorino Gregoriano, 2-4 months, $1.62 per ounce, Caciocavallo Podolico, 8-12 months, $1.75 per ounce, Pecorino Cacio Fiorello, 2-4 months, $1.31 per ounce, Ricotta al fumo di Ginepro, 2-4 months, $1.20 per ounce and Ricotta with Chives, 2-4 months, $1.20 per ounce. Total cheese cost: $7.08, Menu price $26, Profit $18.92!
*all ounce pricing is based on Marcelli Formaggi 2015/ 2016 restaurant pricing