A cheesy moment to share
On Valentine’s Day, sharing dishes often feature heavily on restaurant menus as chefs look to up the romance factor for their guests. Whether this is the right approach depends to a large extent on your customer profile and the type of food you serve. But however you play it, anything that is put on a celebration menu needs to be something a bit special, something which creates the right mood and sparks conversation.
Restaurants often go for a meat sharing option with a wow factor, like a beef wellington, but rarely does a cheese dish for two or more people get a look in - which is a pity for any vegetarians out there, or anyone who fancies something a little bit different.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: fondu. That staple of 70s dinner parties has seen something of an ironic comeback of late, and it can be a real ice-breaker and talking point, not to mention being more delicious than you might think. If you’re going to go for cheesy kitsch rather than serious romance, I think the best cheese to use is the Italian taleggio mixed with white wine and if you are brave a little kirsch.
But granted – many customers out for a meal on Valentine’s Day will want something a bit more upmarket. OK, it’s another blast from the past, but the cheese soufflé has also made a resurgence in recent years and is a real spectacle which can brought out to the table as a fitting part of any feast. Using a sharp Cheddar such as Montgomery and a touch of cayenne pepper brings it alive for me.
For a sharing starter, Burratta mozzarella, with its creamy, buttery texture is great – just tear and share, dipping in olive oil and rock salt on the side, and some bread of course. Or the rather unusually-titled “silk weaver’s brains”, a French canape or starter made from young cheese curd and served on toast (but given the date, perhaps thinking up a new name might be a good idea here).
For a truly special cheese course, why not try a whole cheese baked in the box such as Vacherin, a cow’s milk cheese which really comes into its own at this time of year. I like to rub orange zest over the top and prick the skin with rosemary, then bake in a hot oven until it oozes out the top, served with hunks of warm bread.
In my book, food to share isn’t exclusively for couples but can make a great centrepiece of any menu at any time of the year. The resurgence of traditional cheese makers in the UK has meant that thinking of cheese dishes to share offers a huge range of possibilities, so why not make the most of the amazing suppliers this country has to offer and get inspired?
By Bruce Wilson, Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd
Bruce Wilson is a Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd, which specialises in advising food, catering & hospitality businesses on pre-planning, site launch, and on-going management advice. www.bawconsulting.com