I'm a great believer in the restorative power of cheese. I've found even the dreariest meal can be salvaged by a great cheese plate.
But that discovery doesn't seem to have done me much good lately, as I've encountered a few fairly pathetic cheese programs. I've always assumed a restaurant that has the wherewithal -- and the courage -- to stick a $30 price tag on an entrée should be able to assemble a decent collection of interesting cheeses. Instead, I've been subjected to a succession of uninspired and unmemorable selections. And, worsening matters, the cheese is often served way too cold.
"The cheese plate can be a very disappointing thing in a restaurant," Scardello Artisan Cheese's owner Rich Rogers tells me.
Rogers believes the problems afflicting local cheese plates are rooted in restaurants ordering their cheeses from their usual food distributors whose "selection of cheese is not very interesting," and inadequate server training.
"For me it's a good cheese plate when there's good cheese on the board, and the waiter has an idea what's on there," Rogers says. "That's a huge part of the experience."
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Often the servers aren't the only staffers suffering from cheese confusion, Rogers adds. Cheese is generally handled by a restaurant's pastry chef. "Cheese is something chefs don't want to think about it," Rogers says, but few professional pastry curricula cover cheese. If cheese appreciation's on the syllabus, it's typically treated in a cursory way; Rogers is frequently invited to briefly address culinary students on topics that might occupy a year's worth of a professional fromager's education.
Still, he believes the situation is bound to improve as an increasing number of customers request cheese after dinner. While not every restaurant is likely to adopt cheese cart service, as the Old Hickory Steakhouse at Gaylord Texan in Grapevine has done, Rogers feels the future may not be hospitable to cold, bland hunks of processed cow's milk.
"I feel like things can only get better," he says.