Menus Get Cheesy

While many chefs choose specialty cheeses that tie into their
restaurant’s cuisine, some get a little edgier. These dishes highlight a few top choices.

Fiscalini Farms Cheddar Cheese Soup

“Fiscalini is a great farmstead cheese that is made in nearby Modesto, just 100 miles from here,” says Percy Whatley, executive chef at Yosemite Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel dining room. “The 18-month aged bandaged cheddar I use here is my favorite because of its sharpness.” To add to this soup’s California character, Whatley uses all local ingredients, including Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Of the artisan cheeses in Ahwahnee’s inventory, 90 percent are from California. “Our strategy is to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum.”

Gruyere Gnocchi with wild Burgundy snails, yellowfoots and bortaga

Cheese shows up in many courses at One if by Land, Two if by Sea, a New York City landmark. Executive chef Craig Hopson sources a mix of imported and domestic products from Murray’s Cheese, a wholesale/retail operation just a few blocks away. Although gnocchi is traditionally made with Parmesan, Hopson looked for something “nutty and sharp” to give these a more definitive flavor. “I tweaked the gnocchi recipe to get in the maximum amount of Gruyere without compromising the texture,” he says.

Ballyvolane House Cheese Souffle

Dinner is a four-course seasonal spread at this country hotel and restaurant, located in County Cork, Ireland, with local produce, meats and cheeses playing a starring role. This signature souffle is made with shredded Kerrygold Dubliner, a hard cheese with Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan notes. Owner Justin Green likes to serve the souffles hot from the oven in individual ramekins accompanied by balsamic vinegar-dressed baby greens as a salad course.

Halloumi Saganaki

Produced on the island of Cyprus for centuries, halloumi is a semi-hard, handmade cheese made from sheep and goat milk. It’s used extensively by Michael Psilakis, chef-partner at New York City’s Anthos, who imports the most authentic ingredients for his upscale Greek-inspired menu. “Halloumi is the only cheese that maintains its integrity through cooking; the unique texture allows me to roast, grill, dehydrate or fry it without losing its shape,” he notes. Here, Psilakis grills the versatile halloumi to accompany a salad for a first course.

Baked Brie with buckwheat honey sabayon

While at Zola in Washington D.C., chef Frank Morales developed this sweet-savory dish for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Fine-dining restaurants are increasingly pairing cheeses with honey varietals to entice customers into ordering a cheese course. Morales took this trend a step further by creating a recipe that combines the two; the robustly flavored buckwheat honey offers just the right counterpoint to the creamy brie.

Wisconsin Cheese Plate with Turkish figs and spicy pecan brittle

A classically composed cheese plate covers a spectrum of flavors and textures, ranging from sweet and runny to semi-soft, hard and blue. At Denver’s Solera, Goose Sorensen presents four Wisconsin varieties—Camembert, Grand Cru Gruyere Surchoix, Italico and Creamy Gorgonzola—accompanying them with house-made condiments. “Both the figs and pecan brittle are updates on traditional accompaniments of fruit and nuts,” Sorensen says. “The acidity and crunch cut the richness of the cheese.” He often sources Wisconsin artisan cheeses because he appreciates the history each cheese maker brings to the product.

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