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Recipe: At-Home French Cheese Service

Recipe: At-Home French Cheese Service

At-Home French Cheese Service

Tips from the Head Fromager from Restaurant Daniel
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  • A close up of the Quality Italian Sea Trout Crudo on Focaccia
  • A close up of the Quality Italian Sea Trout Crudo on Focaccia
French cuisine is filled with glories, and chief among them is the cheese service. We’re not talking about a cheese board. We’re not talking about a cheese course. We’re talking about a full-on cart, wheels and all, loaded up with cheeses at peak ripeness and rolled around the restaurant for personalized, tableside service. This typically happens either just before dessert or just after, and is the kind of touch that puts the dining experience over the top for so many diners. In season six of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain visited the city of Marseilles, and when the cheese cart came out at the end of the meal he and his dining companions couldn’t keep from issuing all sorts of primal, guttural noises. That’s the kind of reverence people have for the French cheese cart.
Quality Italian Sea Trout Crudo served on FocacciaQuality Italian Sea Trout Crudo with Fenna Mundo Cheese and Eggplant CaponataQuality Italian Sea Trout Crudo
So, how to translate such an experience into home dining? On Manhattan’s Upper East Side is Restaurant Daniel, the multi-Michelin starred French restaurant run by Daniel Boulud. Daniel is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and its cheese service has never been stronger. That’s thanks to Head Fromager Pascal Vittu—a classically trained French chef and longtime member of the exclusive Guilde Internationale des Fromagers—who’s been with the restaurant for 22 years. Pascal had us to the restaurant for a demonstration of French cheese service, and gave us a few pointers for how to successfully do your own in-home version for your next dinner party.

At-Home French Cheese Service
Tips from the Head Fromager from Restaurant Daniel
  • Serves 1-2

Ingredients

  • FOR APRICOT TERRINE
  • 3/4 lb dried apricots, quartered
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1/2 cup Sauterne
  • 4 1/2 tbsp unflavored gelatin

Directions for Cheese Service

  1. According to Pascal, the first and foremost step of cheese service begins well before your guests even arrive. To ensure a successful service, you’ll want to evaluate the tastes of your guests beforehand. If you’re playing host to some adventurous palates, you’ll want bold cheeses to match. Should your guests prefer to play things safe, you’ll want to steer clear of the funky stuff and stick with more approachable options.
  2. Once you know the dining dispositions of your guests, you’ll want to make sure that different categories of cheese are represented on your cart. At Restaurant Daniel, Pascal regularly has 20-25 types of cheese that he presents on a given evening. You’ll obviously want to scale this down for your in-home cheese service, and rightly so. At the least, Pascal recommends having something fresh and mild, something creamy, something hard, and perhaps something blue. There is plenty of variety within each category, so you’re still able to cater to the specific palates of your guests while representing a variety of cheese styles.
  3. Accompaniments are key. Pascal likes to provide a bit of seasonal fruit to go along with his cheeses. When he prepared a plate for us, he balanced the saltier cheeses with the sweetness of some sliced green grapes topped with pickled mulberries, while complementing the richer options with an apricot terrine (we’ve included the recipes for both below.) Depending on the cheeses you are serving and the tendencies of your diners, you might want to consider having options like chocolate, honey, and pickled vegetables.
  4. When you wheel out your cart (or bust out your tray), be sure to ask your guests what they would like. You’ll want to use two knives when cutting the cheese. One knife will be used to stabilize it, the other will be used for the actual cutting. Once you’ve carved a portion, use both knives to pick it up and place it on the guest’s plate. Your stabilizer knife can stay the same, but you’ll want to use a new knife to cut into each different type of cheese.
  5. Inform your guests that the best way to eat through their cheese is from mild to wild. That is, start with the tamest cheese (that’ll be the one in the fresh category) and work your way toward the bolder ones (washed rinds and blues). Have some wine ready to pair with the cheeses, and watch as your guests attempt to keep noises of pleasure from coming out of their mouths.

Directions for Pickled Mulberries

  1. In a medium pot, create a pickling liquid by combining all ingredients except for the mulberries. Bring pot to a boil and allow the sugar and salt to dissolve completely.
  2. Place the mulberries in a heat-proof container and pour the pickling liquid over them. Allow the contents of the container to cool to room temperature, then store them in the refrigerator.
  3. Allow to pickle for at least two hours. Pickled mulberries keep for one week.
  4. Directions for Apricot Terrine

    1. Using a medium saucepan, cover the dried apricots with the white wine and Sauterne. Bring contents to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 7 minutes, until the apricots have rehydrated.
    2. Meanwhile, take a 9”x9” baking pan or similar sized casserole dish and completely cover the bottom and sides with plastic film.
    3. Turn the heat of the apricot mixture down to very low and, using a fine mesh strainer, remove the apricots from the wine. Place the apricots inside of the plastic lined baking pan. Gently arrange the apricots into an even layer and set them aside.
    4. Using a spoon, stir the gelatin into the warm wine mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture over the baking pan filled with apricots. Place the pan in the refrigerator and allow it to chill overnight. When ready to serve, remove the terrine from the baking pan by turning it upside down and removing the plastic. Cut the terrine into 2”x2” squares and serve.

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