The emergence of quality farmstead
artisinal cheeses in the United States and a rejuvenated
interest in the cheese course in Fine Dining has lead
a frontier of interest focused on cheese. Restaurants
of all price points have followed the' fine dining' lead
in the market and incorporated cheese into there menu's.
Some using the more traditional venue of a selection of
cheese after the main course and others pushing the envelope
with creative menu items. Here is some basic information
that might be helpful in riding the wave of cheese.
Traditionally the cheese course is served between the
entree and dessert. It is occasionally
found on dessert menus in place of a pastry. In my Dining
Room I encourage the guest to have a small cheese course
between the entree and dessert. I feel it satiates the
palette and finishes the meal nicely but doesn't satisfy
a desire for something sweet. My favorite accompaniment
to cheese is fruit and nuts. Pears, apples, figs, and
grapes are a wonderful choice. (Not all fruit pairs
well with cheese!)
An alternate accompaniment to cheese would be a small
salad. Hard core cheese lovers tend to select a simple
white baguette to accompany the cheese. However fruit
and nut breads are a nice choice as well.
A specialty accompaniment from Spain is a pressed dried
fig cake with almonds or a pressed dried plum cake with
prunes. The basic rule is taste the cheese you are serving
with its accompaniment and ask yourself does it compliment
the flavor or adversely affect the taste of the cheese.
Some accompaniments can upstage or overshadow the subtle
nounces of the cheese flavor. Trust your palette to
dictate the accompaniment.
When you are putting together a cheese course it is
important to have the three main varieties of cheese
made from cow's milk, sheep's milk, and goat's milk
present. Then consider the textures of the cheeses.
Hard, semi soft and creamy cheeses add complexity to
the course. The next step is to offer cheeses with different
flavor intensities. The cheese should be arranged mildest
to strongest starting like the face of a clock working
from right to left. Finally, a more sophisticated approach
would be to offer diversity in the style of cheese making,
utilizing flourished rind and wash rind cheeses.
Over the past 10 to 15 years several wonderful varieties
of American cheese have come into the market. Many of
the American cheese makers are still so small that it
is difficult to find the cheese unless you have a personal
connection with the cheese maker or live near a farmers
market that supports small producers. However, there
are a few exceptional quality cheeses produce by cheese
makers that have farms large enough and have been through
trial and error long enough that they can deliver a
consistent quality product... These handful of people
are honored and respected in the restaurant industry.
Judith Schad's Cannon Ball, Crocodile &
Sofia Goats Cheese
To produce a farmstead artisinal cheese the animals
need to be raised on the farm and milked where the cheese
is hand made. This requires the cheese maker to be skilled
in raising animals, managing a farm, making cheese,
running a business that turns a profit, marketing the
cheese and making sure it reaches its destination in
optimal condition all at the same time. It is a relentless
process that demands 24-hour attention and care. The
tentative hold many of these artisans have on there
trade and the difficulties facing these small family
run farms requires the appreciation and understanding
of the restaurant industry. Some of the American farmstead
artisinal cheese on the market now can be tasted side
by side with the best cheese in the world and match
the quality with there own distinct style and uniqueness.
One of the best, Judith Schad, makes farmstead artesian
goat cheese. Her farm is in southern Indiana on the
boarder of Louisville, Kentucky. She has approximately
180 goats on a beautiful picturesque farm. The care
and respect for the animals is heartfelt. Her cheese
has a bold robust personality that is creative in size,
shape, textures, and flavors. Her diverse styles of
goat cheese shows off her skill as an artisan. Judith
also goes to great lengths to be assured that her cheese
arrives in the proper condition of ripeness. This final
emphasis on quality gives the restaurateur the added
edge of perfection.
Aged Old Kentucky &
Other wonderful farmstead artisinal cheese makers are
Mary and Dave Falk. Their farm is located in
the Trade Lake area of northern Wisconsin. Mary and
Dave's claim to fame is in the form of a sheep's milk
cheese called Trade Lake Cedar. All of their cheeses
are named after the small lakes that border their farm.
Trade Lake Cedar cheese has a depth of flavor that is
intense and wonderful. They raise their sheep in an
area that has never been farmed and boarders pristine
Tim Stone's Great Hill Blue
They age the cheese on cedar bows in an open-air cheese
cave. The flavors of the Northwoods are fragrant and
distinctive.One frequently asked question is do you
eat the rind of cheese or just the center. My answer
always is the same, if it taste good eat it. In this
case, you absolutely must eat the rind. It is a wonderful
accompaniment to the semi hard center of Trade Lake
Cedar. The list continues to grow in the United States
of exceptional high quality farmstead artisinal cheeses.
The American cheese society meets every year to taste
and evaluate cheese. It is an opportunity for members
of the cheese making community to share information
about techniques and overcoming difficulties together.
They publish a directory of cheesemakers each year that
is a great resource. (E-mail: [email protected]) Tim
Stone makes a wonderful full flavored blue cheese from
Jersey Cow’s milk.
After you have researched and tasted just the right
cheese that you want to serve then you need to know
how to properly store and handle the cheese. Ideally,
store the cheese in an area that will retain some humidity
and is not too cold. They should be loosely wrapped
in parchment paper. At home I store them in a Tupperware
container with a slightly moist cloth. The harder cheese
can last longer with out dramatic changes in there taste.
Its important to understand that when you keep a cheese
more than a day you are ripening the cheese, a process
called affinage. Each day you ripen the cheese you are
making a slight adjustment in the flavor. Your palette
determines if it increases the quality of the flavor
or not. Cheese should be served at room temperature.
The standard length of time would be two hours out of
refrigeration for one pound of cheese. Some cheeses
run when they are cut in the center and at room temperature.
There are a few that are served with a spoon and scooped
out of a small wooden container. Serving cheese at room
temperature not only affects the consistency of the
cheese it also affects the taste.
I have often heard the comment that cheese is an acquired
taste. When you taste a piece of cheese if it is good
quality and has been handled well from beginning to
end even the novice will like it. Good quality cheese
Cheese is not something that you have to get used to.
You should like it right away. Its also important to
note that cheese can be intimidating for a guest to
make a selection. Some restaurants have handled this
by taking away My direction with the wait staff is for
them to have enough information that they can tell the
guest what type of milk was used, what country the cheese
is from, and a basic description of how it tastes. If
they know some details about how it was made or what
makes it special great, but the emphasis needs to be
on how it tastes. The only way people will feel confident
explaining to a guest how a piece of cheese taste is
if they are familiar with it. Let your staff sample
Sarah Stegner is the Chef of The Dining Room
at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chicago ( a Four Seasons Hotel)