The U.S. Hispanic population ─ now the largest minority group in the U.S. ─ is expected to triple in size during the next 50 years. This growth presents a valuable ─ yet challenging ─ opportunity for sales of Hispanic cheeses.

Between 1996 and 2001, production of Hispanic cheeses grew about 52 percent, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. However, success in this market is not as simple as it might seem, says Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

The key to market acceptance of Hispanic cheese is authenticity, Sommer says. That means U.S. Hispanic cheesemakers must duplicate the tastes, performance and look of cheeses familiar for generations in countries like Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.

U.S. cheese manufacturers have equipment and ingredients that closely resemble those used to make traditional Hispanic cheeses. However, there may be differences in the final cheese products’ taste, texture and shape that are elusive, but essential.

In order to find success in the growing market for Hispanic cheeses, Sommer suggests cheesemakers absorb two lessons. First, realize that the Hispanic population is very diverse, as are its cultural differences and culinary traditions. Given these differences, manufacturers must use careful study and expert help to create authentic cheeses.

“Tradition is very important,” Sommer says. “People want the traditional flavor patterns in these cheeses, which aren’t always easy for us to duplicate.”

“The Hispanic cheese trend is a promising trend, but it’s not an easy trend to participate in,” Sommer concludes. “You have to do your homework.”

Dairy Management Inc.