Getting Cheesey (and Commercial) for Valentine’s

04/02/2016 12:49:56

Why is cheese ideal for Valentine’s Day? Because cheese is best shared, and sharing is intimate and loving. But there is a bigger (more commercial) opportunity than that - on Valentine’s it could be the last course they will eat in your restaurant on a special, very personal night. Your customers will remember a good Valentine’s dinner- for life. That is worth the extra effort.

But before we get to those final cheesey Valentine’s moments I will divert you to a couple of other creative Valentine’s opportunities in the rest of the menu.

The Cheesey starter One heart; two spoons

Baked camembert is probably already on your radar, but for Valentine’s the heart shaped camembert Coeur de Neufchatel from north Normandy  is a must.  The Coeur is surprisingly old – possibly 6th century – and far older than camembert.  There is a story the heart shape dates to the Hundred Year’s War, gifts from swooning farm girls to gallant knights, but more likely it originates in a monastery as “wings of an angel”. On Valentine’s I’d go for the ‘Knights’ story.

Farmhouse Coeur is more grainy than camembert, and often richly mushroomy.  The Lovers’ experience you are looking for is gooey cheesiness, so, and I don’t say this often, go for the less artisan versions. Sweeten it up with a jelly or jam with a red valentines twist.

Cheese intercourse

There is a great hospitality opportunity I wish restaurants would have on their menus all year– a mini-course between main and desert, offering a small plate of one carefully selected quality cheese.  It can be a great “extra” to sell into the gap and maybe tempt an extra glass out of your customers.  Plus “Valentine’s intercourse” has an element of humour to it!

My favourite ‘intercourse’ cheese is Fourme d’Ambert, another very old French cheese dating to Roman times (the story that it came across the Alps with Hannibal is fanciful.  The whole cheese looks a little like an elephant’s foot, that is the best I can say).  It serves beautifully, cut into discs 5 inches across. Accompany with sweet white or white port, cake forks and light toasts or thin crispy biscuits. However in the best Blue Peter tradition use a cookie cutter and cut a heart shape for the plate.  I said it would be cheesey, and you get a free licence to do this on Valentine’s Day.  

The Cheesey finish

Cheeseboards in restaurants lack creativity and quality; often because chefs think they don’t have the freedom of expression, not to mention the margin, to innovate.  Cheese is in danger of becoming the menu dinosaur and it is time to evolve.  My interest at the moment is in matched pairings in flavour, and as Valentine’s is all about perfect matches it’s a great opportunity to explore taste combinations unique to your restaurant. 

As an industry we need to reduce the quantity, work on paired flavourings, tart up descriptions and raise the quality of presentation to that of desserts. Try this for inspiration:

A trio of perfect cheese pairings

  • Montgomery Cheddar with garlic clove roasted in chilli oil
  • Stilton balls soaked in port^
  • Camembert aux truffle*              

^it takes two to three days to soak the stilton, and it keeps well.  Choose a sweeter ruby port

*Cut your camembert like a sandwich and insert a layer of truffle in mascarpone.  If truffle is a bit much, cracked green pepper or sweetened red currents are two of a number of alternatives.

Or if that is too mainstream for you

  • Goats camembert with truffle honey
  • Manchego Viejo shavings in sweet sherry reduction
  • Gorgonzola Dolce with pear crisps

These flavour pairings, or alternatives your team invent for themselves, must have impact and must be specific (chef’s homemade chutney on a 3 cheese board doesn’t cut it).  Think of each as a savoury cheese amuse bouche, something complete in itself, something you want to share and pop in the mouth of your Valentine’s partner in a final flirtation. 

Lastly, and maybe it’s going too far – mini cheese wedding cakes.  Just an idea.  What is love for, after all?

By Charlie Turnbull, Founder, Turnbulls Cheesemonger, Coffee House & Bistro