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Cheese course at restaurants-why bother if you can't do it right?

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After horrific experiences with cheese plates at restaurants, I've finally had enough. Why can't they do it right? Here are some of the basic requirements of a properly presented cheese course. Restauranters please take notice. Fellow hounds, please offer opinions:

1. Do NOT serve me cheese that is cold. Cold cheese is the death knell of taste.

2. Please provide seperate cheese knifes so that I am not using my Brie knife to cut into my Roquefort.

3. Do NOT pile the cheeses on top of one another. Provide a large enough plate so they are not "touching" each other. Its absolutely inexcusable that cheese would ever be presented like this.

4. If you are going to present with grapes, make sure they are fresh, and also at room temperature.

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  1. My opinion is that you're completely correct. Your #1 is the first thing I thought of.

    I'd add: If you're going to offer a cheese plate, at least try to have some creative and unusual cheeses on there. I'm not forking out big bucks for Cracker Barrel type and quality cheeses. If I order a cheese plate (and don't get to select what is on it), I want to be impressed, not bored.

    Also, please keep it simple. Don't overwhelm me or the cheese with a ton of accoutrements.

    1. How about:

      5. Position your cheeses in a tasting order, not in some random order on the plate.

      6. Brie is rarely if ever a good option on a cheese plate

      7. Apples too should be fresh on the plate

      1. Couldn't agree more.
        Also, provide enough crackers etc to be able to eat all of the cheese without being made to feel a glutton by having to ask for more!
        And jpschust's apples have to be crisp not soft.

        1. I've never understood what the big deal is with cheese courses. At Picholine in NY, they have a professional and quite well-known affineur to age their cheeses, so what you get you couldnt get anywhere else. But if you went to the best cheese store in NY you could find something very close, take it home and eat it. However, to have any hope of duplicating at home the appetizers and entrees served by Terence Brennan at Picholine, you would have to start by going to culinary school for a year and then spend the whole day prepping and cooking.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Brian S

            Amen !!!

            If you are in a town that has good cheese shops there's usually not a point in ordering a cheese course.

            My rule is ...

            DON"T serve me a portion that is about the size of the sample I get at my local cheese shop.

            In SF Gary Danko gets all sorts of praise for the cheese course. Yes, there a big variety and some interesting stuff, but nothing I can't buy at the good local cheese store. However, the serving size is about the size or litle bigger than what my cheesemongeer hands me as a free sample.

            I suggest to anyone getting an ineptly served cheese plate to send it back, tell the why and have them take the charge off your bill.

            1. re: rworange

              By this logic one shouldn't order beer, coffee, or anything else they can easily buy to take home.

              1. re: jpschust

                It is the one thing I can do better at home, so I personally don't have an interest in it though I'll order it once in restaurants who have a reputation for great cheese carts. I've never been wowed.

                A cheese course is something ordered for itself. It does not accompany other food like beverages.

                It is nice though that restaurants offer it so when I'm going out for just drinks, there's a little something to snack on.

              2. re: rworange

                "If you are in a town that has good cheese shops there's usually not a point in ordering a cheese course. "

                i'm sorry, but i disagree completely. by that logic, i wouldn't order wine, cocktails or anything besides sushi out. (i'm a culinary professional, btw.)

                {and i have had heavenly experiences at picholine and artisanal, his cafe, numerous times}. sure the cheese may be available in my local shop, but then i have to buy at least 1/4 pound of at least 5 or 6 varieties, make 5 or 6 different lovely accompaniments, serve it and clean it up myself. then do what with the rest?

                i don't have a sweet tooth and am very glad better restaurants in this country now serve a cheese course.

                i'm quite happy to have a few small bites of several kinds and feel very sated.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  I don't want a lot of cheese but Gary Danko was ridiculous. It wasn't bites ... it was bite ... very, very, very small bite for a very, very big price.

            2. Would serving cold cheese be the result of health regulations?

              7 Replies
              1. re: LStaff

                Yes, I've wondered this as well. Then in that case, eliminate them entirely as a course because there is no point in eating cold cheese.

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                  I wonder... if you asked "is the cheese plate served with cold cheese? and, is that because of health regulations?"... and they respond yes and yes... would it help to order the cheese plate at the beginning, ask that it be brought out at the beginning, and then leave it on your table until the end? (Of course, this doesn't address any of the other bad-cheese-plate-service complaints, but... if it's because of regulation, then perhaps it's an idea that might alleviate that aspect, at least?)

                  1. re: abowes

                    health codes do not require cheese to be served cold. if it comes out cold:

                    they forgot to temper it
                    they don't sell very much, so don't bother to temper
                    or don't know jack about serving cheese

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Health codes do not require cheese to be served cold, but they do forbid serving cheese that has been sitting out at room temp for four or more hours.

                      I imagine you have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, as there are many reasons why the logistics of serving warm cheese can be difficult. The cheese takes at least a half hour to warm up, meaning that this cannot be done to order (unless you want to make your patrons wait a half hour). Instead, the cheese would need to be left out for the duration of service...meaning whatever wasn't sold at the end of the night would become unservable, and therefore waste. Kitchens are also very hot. Cheese left out on a station in a professional kitchen would become a mess after an hour as the fat emulsion would destabilize and the cheese would start sweating.

                      If room temperature cheese is important, then you can likely ask the maitre'd or your server to send a request to the kitchen if you do not mind waiting for it. I'm sure the chefs would gladly fulfill the request. Or you could order the plate early and save it until the end of the meal.

                      1. re: orangecharlie

                        I think at that point the restaurant should not offer a cheese course unless they are willing to do so properly.

                        That would probably mean that the cheese has to be a notable enough item on the menu that they go through enough to make waste a minor issue, or that they have to clearly state on the menu that the cheese course takes half-an-hour from ordering to serving (or ordered in advance), so that people can be prepared.

                        But to serve a cheese course badly, and give the excuse that it's too hard to do properly, is not going to make the restaurant look anything but incompetent.

                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          That would probably mean that the cheese has to be a notable enough item on the menu that they go through enough to make waste a minor issue....
                          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                          Waste of any kind in a professional kitchen is never, and never will be, a minor issue. (OC) gave a very good explanation and insight into how a professional kitchen operates and a few pointers to address the (OP's) concerns. While I normally enjoy a cheese plate during my visit at the bar before my meal, most restaurants offer the cheese course at the end of dining. Most foods that start out cold or frozen, benefit from warming up from their holding temperatures. Ice cream is the most notable food that comes to my mind easily, but I'm sure there are many more that can be added to the group. Allowing these types of food to soften is well worth the time at the table.

                          With regards to ordering the cheese course, if it seems like you would like to order it if it is offered in any particular restaurant, like (OC) suggested, order it in advance. This is not any different than when a restaurant offers a souffle for dessert and informs you at the beginning of the evening it requires 45 minutes to make, so they need to know in advance.

                          If a cheese course is ordered after the entree has been finished......no one says you have to dig into it right away after it has been served.....really, how long does it take for 2-3 slices or a small piece of cheese to warm up enough to become palatable?

                          For every person that likes things one way, e.g., room temperature fruit.....It's very easy to find another that likes it cold. Personally, I would not want my cheese course from cheese that's been sitting out of refrigeration.....unless it was Parmigiano Reggiano.

                          My point is, and I believe (OC's) as well......the cheese plates are being served properly, cheeses exclusively, from a production stand point. The plating, fruit and crackers should always be of quality and not stale.

                2. re: LStaff

                  Probably is. And I second what SWS says, there is no point in eating cold cheese.
                  Also that's probably why often when I order a salad at a restaurant I get an ice cold salad. I might be the only one, but I prefer my salad room temperature. It just tastes better that way.

                3. are grapes really better at room temp?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: luniz

                    Most fruit IMO is better at room temperature.

                    As an example, try eating an orange straight out of the fridge compared to one that's been sitting on your counter for several hours.

                    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                      I actually prefer my oranges cold. Like cold orange juice vs. tepid room temp oj.

                      Mangos, on the other hand...

                      1. re: Loren3

                        I think juice is different than having the raw fruit honestly.

                        1. re: jpschust

                          I love grapes very cold. Pop them in your mouth and taste the sweetnes!

                          1. re: jpschust

                            I would not mind getting a cheese on a cheese plate that I could get a good local cheese store, as long as it's combined in a thoughtful way with other cheeses. That's the whole point of a plate, right? The balance of flavors and textures? I'm trusting the chef's judgement on this and, in fact, am paying (usually dearly) for it. I'd like to get value both in terms of the actual product quality and in terms of the thought and skill that went into the selections.

                            And I have another pet peeve: flabby, stale crackers. I got these once on a cheese plate and I was so mad because the cheese itself was good but it was clear that no one had bothered to taste the crackers. Good selections marred by carelessness.

                    2. i disagree about the knives. some places offer as many as 9 different cheeses. the practicality of setting all those knives is absurd. during your entree, do you expect a different knife for your chicken and another one for your baked potato?

                      i'll just add, if they're serving brie and roquefort, i'd pass on the cheese course.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        I'll agree with your multiple knife sentiment, with a qualifier, or two:

                        There is some sense in offering multiple knives if one or more of the cheeses is quite runny, or is otherwise likely to stick to the knife. As opposed to an entree, wherein all the foods served on the plate are to be enjoyed in conjunction, a cheese tasting (or any kind of tasting) requires that each morsel be enjoyed on its own and sequentially. If you've been served a very runny, mild cheese are are expected to then slice...well, anything else, another knife would be required.

                        If, however, the cheeses are all hard and dry enough to not stick to the knife, multiple knives are, indeed, unnecessary. The only exception would be if one is slicing a blue cheese and then a softer cheese AND that softer cheese is not going to be finished at that point (this situation would not arise during a cheese course at a restaurant, but might at home) you must change knives. If the softer cheese (really an cheese, it's just more likely in softer cheeses) is cut with a knife that has touched blue cheese, there's a chance that the mold from the blue could be spread and eventually grow on the softer cheese.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Agreed on the brie and roquefort-simply using a random example.

                          The point of the post is not about the selection of cheese per se (while highly important), but about the presentation.

                          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                            So, why shouldn't brie be served with roquefort anyways?

                            1. re: Blueicus

                              it's not that they shouldn't be served together. it's that they're so pedestrian.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Even a really good raw milk brie de meaux, which, given it was legal or stealthily offered in a cheese plate in the U.S.?

                                1. re: Blueicus

                                  lol. i agree there are some sublime bries to be had, but they wouldn't be in a place that neglects to temper the cheese. ;)

                                2. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Roquefort is pedestrian? Have you ever had Carles roquefort? As a former cheese monger, this is the best cheese in the entire world, in my opinion.

                          2. I think I'd take to asking how they present the cheeses and at what temperature and for the knives you'd like before ordering the cheese plate.

                            1. I just noticed that most of the posts were from 2007... which is where the cheese course belongs (i.e. in the past). But as a side note, if I did ever get a cheese course... if had to be all local produced cheeses (at least within the province) and damn hard ones to find and if it has grapes, they better be on the vine cause grapes off the vine are repulsive and always look sad.