Whether we’re pairing cheese with crackers for a comfort-food throwback, with fine wine for a sophisticated snack or with a charcuterie platter for a well-rounded tasting experience, we can’t help but think that this versatile food deserves special treatment. And at some fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels around the country, it does. Cheese service has taken a place of prominence — one hotel has even created a new pimentologist position. Read on for five of the top places to enjoy everyone’s favorite dairy product:
Louis Risoli, the maitre d’ and fromager at L’Espalier in Boston, takes great pride in the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant’s cheese program. As well he should — he singlehandedly expanded the restaurant’s inventory over the past 20 years, from a small tray of a few European cheeses to a trolley stocked with 30 local and international selections. A cheese course is included with L’Espalier’s tasting menus, and can also be ordered à la carte with the three-course menu. You can also enjoy a cheese plate in the Salon. Local honey, fruit preserves, sesame crackers and the restaurant’s signature fig bread enhance the experience.
Order this: Risoli recommends Summer Snow from Woodcock Farm, a seasonal sheep’s-milk cheese made in Weston, Vermont. The sweet, soft-ripened cheese is available May through October.
For cheese lovers, heaven probably looks a lot like the cheese cave at Bouley. Rodolphe Le Meunier, a fifth-generation cheese expert whose family has been in the French aging- and cheese-making business for decades, carefully curates the Four-Star restaurant’s list. On any given night, guests of Bouley may savor a selection of sheep’s-milk, goat’s-milk or cow’s-milk cheese from anywhere in the world. Or, take your pick from a cheese wagon that rotates its contents to include the finest products from Spain, Portugal, Holland, Italy and the United States.
Order this: Fourme d’Ambert is a French blue cow’s-milk selection that’s aged in the cheese cave for four weeks before being presented to diners. During that magical period, the cheese evolves from a young, tart wheel into a velvety, sweet and creamy treat that pairs well with tawny port and fresh pears.
In the pantheon of Southern staples, pimento cheese ranks almost as high as fried chicken and sweet tea. Indeed, a good recipe for the “pâté of the South” is something every chef below the Mason-Dixon Line should have in his or her arsenal. Brian Jones, chef de cuisine of Atlanta Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta, has stepped up to take the title as the hotel’s new resident pimentologist. On Tuesdays and Fridays between 5 and 6:30 p.m., you can enjoy his variations on this appetizer — which is traditionally made with sharp cheddar, mayonnaise and sweet red peppers — at a complimentary tasting in the lobby.
Order this: Jones likes to toy with his basic recipe by making pimento cheese with more exotic ingredients, such as goat cheese and roasted hot chilies or smoked Gouda with green onion and roasted sweet peppers.
If you’re early for your reservation at this steakhouse tucked inside the Four-Star Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, skip the iced seafood bar and head straight to the Las Vegas restaurant’s cheese and charcuterie bar. Here, you’ll find over 60 different cheeses, sourced from as close as California and as far away as Belgium. The visual display of softened cheeses is enough to make the mouth water. Add in a selection of fresh-sliced prosciutto and a few glasses of wine, and you have a tantalizing start to the evening.
Order this: Amid the classic blue cheeses and cheddar options, sample one of sous chef Rob Barrett’s unique picks. A few of the cheeses are washed in different liquids to elicit a totally different flavor, such as a French cheese washed in burgundy or chablis. Ask your server for the day’s options.
The one cardinal rule of dining anywhere in Wisconsin is to enjoy at least one bite of that famous locally made cheese with your meal. It’s an easy rule to abide by at The Immigrant Restaurant. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star dining destination, which is part of the Five-Star American Club hotel in Kohler, Wisconsin, prides itself on the fact that its cheese menu boasts only the finest products made by Wisconsin cheese makers and farms. Chef Matt Bauer has put together a tidy assortment of cheese flights so you can sample several of his favorite selections. The options are as creative as they are tasty; the Evolution of Cheddar, for instance, includes four cheddars, ranging from fresh cheese curd to a 12-year aged sharp cheddar. Similarly, his Softer Side flight takes you on a culinary tour of three soft cheeses: mascarpone, chèvre and the Driftless Original by Hidden Springs Creamery.
Order this: The Evalon from LaClare Farms won the title of National Cheese Champion in 2011. The Gouda-style goat’s-milk cheese is mild and crisp, with a subtle flavor that’s similar to Italian asiago.
Photos Courtesy of Kohler Co., The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta and L’Espalier