I’ve been thinking about cheese, the way you do, and about cheese plates, and cheese boards and cheese trays and cheese trolleys.
And I’ve been trying, and failing, to remember the name of the French restaurant in London’s Charlotte Street where if you ordered the cheese course they brought a wheeled trolley to your table, a rolling cornucopia of fromage. And I remember once asking the waiter, “How many different cheeses am I entitled to?’ And he replied, in a French accent that I think was genuine, “Monsieur you are entitled to all the cheese you desire.”
That restaurant’s apparently gone, whatever it was called, but there’s still Mon Plaisir, which I used to go to once in a while, though not recently, and which claims to be London’s Oldest French restaurant. There website suggests they still know a thing or two about the cheese business, though they have a cheese tray, rather than cart. The menu says “Plateau de Fromage: A selection of 5 pieces of cheese from our Cheeseboard £11.95, Individual cheese portion £2.75.”
Sounds pretty reasonable and looks like this:
But significantly, most often these days if you order cheese in a non-French restaurant the dish comes fully formed. There it is: and you eat what you’re given. The most recent restaurant where I ordered cheese in here in Los Angeles was the Hungry Cat, which everybody seems to think is just wonderful, whereas I think it’s just sort of OK. They offer “Assorted Cheeses 3/12.5 with marcona almonds and wildflower honey.”
Now, I don’t need honey – wildflower or otherwise - with my cheese but almonds are fine, and the cheese itself was perfectly good. It looked very much like the picture above, though this photo is from Yelp. I was too inhibited to take a picture. I was trying to appear classy – that’s the effect the Hungry Cat has on me, though evidently not on everyone.
As you see, that cheese came on a piece of wood, and that’s another issue. How will it be served? Sometimes it’s on a board, on a plate, or even on hunk of slate. Actually one of the cheese selections I’ve had in recent times was this very generous slateful at a caff-cum-deli-cum wine bar, called Froth and Rind, in Walthamstow. Yes, that’s piccalilli in the ramekin on the right, and it was pretty good, but I think you only need piccalilli with a really rough piece of old cheddar – this cheese was too good for it.
Compare and contrast with this less generous selection at ENO in San Francisco, served on a long thin plate with a piece of paper over it. The bread to cheese ratio is just so far off kilter. On the other hand, the things in the ramekins this time are picked pear and pickled grape – and the latter was absolutely terrific. I have been pickling grapes on and off ever since.
And here’s a plateful in Vienna – at the Mayer Am Pfarrplatz, (I think I’ve got that right) where you go up to a glass counter, survey the cheeses and ask a server for the ones you want, and depending on whether or not she likes the look of you get a bigger or smaller serving. And yes, they come with grapes, very wecome, though not pickled. .”
And here’s one I did earlier at home. Yes, grapes again, not pickled, but also pork skins. I’ve certainly been served pork skins in restaurants but never with cheese. Food-forward? Moi? You bet.