For some people cheese can seem as addictive as chocolate, especially when it’s melted.
To meet these cravings for all things cheddar, brie and parmesan, a slew of restaurants have popped up recently that focus specifically on selling cheese-based dishes.
But is it wise to run a company that relies so heavily on one type of food? And isn’t all this cheese-eating bad for our health?
When Nate Pollak decided to set up a business specialising in “gourmet” grilled cheese sandwiches, some people thought he was crazy.
The 34-year launched the Great American Grilled Cheese Kitchen with his partner, Heidi, at the height of the US recession in 2010.
Both had lost their office jobs and, in what many would consider a risky move, chose to put their life savings into the venture.
But seven years on the decision is paying off.
The pair have opened two outlets in San Francisco, and sales are increasing 7% every year at their flagship outlet, and 35% at the newer site.
They serve around 16 varieties of grilled cheese sandwich, ranging from the classic recipe to ones with fancy cheeses and experimental fillings, such as hickory-smoked turkey, apricot-jalapeno relish and lavender-basil pesto.
Mr Pollak now plans to franchise his brand across the US. But isn’t he worried that his somewhat limited product range might one day go out of fashion?
“The grilled cheese sandwich is timeless comfort food,” he says confidently. “It elicits memories of your childhood, and all that cheese is so deliciously gooey.
“I can still remember making my first when I was three, using the toaster oven in my house.”
The Grilled Cheese Kitchen is one of growing crop of businesses to have emerged in recent years, catering for our love for all things melted cheese.
While the best known specialise in toasted sandwiches, others offer macaroni and cheese, Canadian poutine, or fondue, with all tending to put their own spin on these classic dishes.
It’s all part of the “fast casual” dining trend that has swept the world in recent years, says Josh Benn, global head of food and retail at Duff & Phelps, a corporate-finance consultancy,
This sees fast food dishes being made with higher quality ingredients and served in trendier venues targeting millennial consumers, he says.
“Most types of fast food have been given a fast casual touch and we’ve seen billion dollar brands spring up, such as Shake Shack for burgers and Chipotle for burritos,” says Mr Benn.
“Now we’re seeing businesses focused on grilled cheese dishes expanding, and it’s become a fashionable food trend in the US and beyond.”
A British firm embracing the trend is the Mac Factory, which specialises in macaroni and cheese, or “mac n cheese”, the classic baked dish of cooked macaroni pasta in a cheese sauce.
The London-based chain serves its own fresh takes on dish, adding chorizo sausage or caramelised onions for example.
Since it launched in 2014 the business has opened three outlets to meet demand, says owner Graham Bradbury.
“Cheese is coming back into fashion. Everything is melted-cheese this or melted-cheese that. Lots of companies are starting up and it does feel quite competitive.”
Mr Bradbury recognises a hot food trend when he sees one. According to research firm Horizons, macaroni and cheese was five and a half times more likely to appear on…