The products that restaurant owners could find great uses for were so abundant at San Francisco Fancy Food Show that I attended the show again yesterday. I also wanted to confirm my belief that the cheeses I thought were terrific on Sunday maintained the flavor in my mind on Monday. I was right. Artisan cheese will be one of the hottest items in restaurants this spring and summer.
One of the most wonderful pieces of cheese I have tasted was sampled at a small booth on the last aisle in the South Hall of the Moscone Center. Not a great place for a booth, but a tremendous cheese found its way out of this tiny space. An aged, six year old Cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese Company took top honors on my list. The Stone House Cheddar is one of the few that is aged for six years. Often cheddars this old don´t age well – they crystallize and must be tossed. But the Vermont Cheesemongers at Grafton Village have found a way around that problem. Stone House captures a buttery flavor and maintains its smoothness throughout the process. Remarkably, the difference between the six year, Stone House, and the five year old Five Star Cheddar are extremely noticeable. Both offer a wonderful flavor and smoothness, and leave no after bite.
The entire cheese industry is experiencing a resurgence with the numerous, quality artisan cheese makers that are honing their craft and displaying there talents country-wide. And, nothing goes better with wine than cheese. The industry leaders are aware of this fact and are quickly hearing the call for more cheeses.
So if you have tweaked, studied and mastered the presentation of your wine list, which is very important in some restaurants, and not so important in others, don’t think that the task is complete. Get ready to offer a cheese sampling plate to your customers. Other restaurants in your neighborhood may already be doing that and if they haven’t done it yet, don’t wait for them. Be the trend setter this time.
A cheese sampler is an easy way to add some casual elegance to your menu that has a much larger perceived value than you you need to invest. You don’t have to spend a fortune to begin a great cheese selection. Plus, many cheeses have a shelf life that can patiently wait the palatable education of your customers.
Like any new menu item, cheese pairings with wine and cheese plates as a luncheon or late night selection may take some time for your customers to accept, but once this happens, it will become a very stylish revenue source.
If you need any more information on the topic, email me and I will respond with some other cheeses that may work. Remember, Spring is just around the corner and in many parts of the country soon it will be time to go to a lighter menu for those suffering through the season. A cheese and fruit platter is a great way to introduce a bit of health on the menu without having to slice any Tofu.
While on the topic of style, I had the pleasure of going to a recently opened restaurant last Friday evening in downtown Sonoma. The postage stamp sized space has the makings of a comfortable Bistro that could gain a terrific wine country following. The new owner was working hard behind the burners as his wife was seating guests and presenting desserts that she had made throughout the day. It is their first venture together, and I am sure they have their nest egg embedded throughout the space.
The food, prepared in front of us as we sat at the counter overlooking the kitchen, was flavorful and presented with a flair that needs a bit of refinement. And, that will come in time. The service was slightly less than casual, which was acceptable in the style of the cafe, however, the waiter’s outfits- they didn’t fit the uniform category- were horrific.
The head waiter who had to maintain service in the front dining room, had on a white, long sleeve thermal underwear top. Charley Campbell, the ex president of Munsingwear, would have enjoyed the thought that his product line had finally made it into a wine country dining room as a uniform.
However, Campbell, who had a great sense of humor and used to frequent my Minnesota restaurants might have been a bit disappointed that a black, Eveready Battery t-shirt had covered a major portion of the underwear. I am sure that would have pleased Mr. Eveready. I was reminded that I needed batteries for my Palm Pilot. Realizing the inexperience of the chef, and waiter, I was more forgiving than another couple, who may have ordered a fifty dollar bottle of wine and had the Eveready guy open it, might have been.
The point is simple. If your food is good, and your atmosphere is comfortable, and you are a hip cafe broadcasting plated Bohemia, the underwear and Eveready t-shirt may sell. But why chance it? One plate of poor food, mixed with that outfit on the waiter and the incident scars your reputation with all those folks back home in Cupertino.
When opening a restaurant make sure to envision the whole package, and that includes everything that the customer sees, except of course, the waiter’s underwear.
Bring on the cheese. Get rid of the batteries.