Selling More Cheese
How you let your customers know about the fine cheese selection you offer is the first step to a successful program. The expertise and enthusiasm you instill in your staff will communicate that excitement to your customers. To cultivate a savvy staff, hold meetings to introduce new cheeses. Go to Cheese Tasting and Appreciation for tips on how to help staff describe the flavors and types of California cheese. Prepare a tasting that includes each of the types of cheese. Let your staff practice with the sensory words they’ll use to describe the cheese to customers.
Tell the Cheese Story
Customers are interested in learning about new foods and cheese is among the most popular and mysterious. Talk about where the cheese is made, who makes it and any interesting techniques the cheesemaker uses. Tell the story of how the cheese came into being, like the “accidental” creation of Dry Jack. Explain what the customer may like about the flavor and texture and how a cheese might complement the wine being served. Cheese producer websites often offer useful information about their cheeses.
Cheese and Wine
Serving cheese at a restaurant can provide an opportunity to sell an extra bottle or glass of wine, liquor, dessert wine, port or sherry. Teach the staff to match wine with the cheese selections. Introduce new wines and cheeses by offering them as paired specials for your customers. Hold cheese and wine tastings to keep the staff current with the selection and help them sell wines. For more tips on pairing cheese and wine, go to Pairing Cheese and Wine.
Serving Well-Ripened Cheese.
To serve cheese at peak ripeness, a restaurant can invest in a cheese ripening program overseen by an experienced person or identify good providers who can consistently deliver ripe cheeses. As mentioned in Sourcing, Storing and Handling Cheese, it’s important to buy fine cheese from a specialty food distributor or a local cheese retailer that is prepared to meet a restaurant’s special needs. Whether served as a first course or dessert, cheese is best when served at room temperature. It needs to be removed from refrigeration an hour or so before serving. (The exception is fresh cheese, which should be refrigerated until use.) The kitchen staff should estimate how many cheese courses will be served and set out the cheese to allow it to come to room temperature (but not kitchen temperature). Cheeses served from a cart or tray displayed in the dining area should be refreshed throughout service and covered with a glass or plastic dome when appropriate.
The Cheese Course Throughout the Menu
One advantage of serving a cheese course in a restaurant is its flexibility. The cheese course can make an appearance as an appetizer, after an entrée or as a dessert. Bars and cocktail lounges can serve interesting cheese pairings to accompany drinks or as small plates on the menu. Served early in the meal, a simple composed cheese course awakens the appetite. Served after the main entrée, it offers a chance to linger and extend the pleasure of a meal.
Before the Meal: A Starter Course
A cheese course before, or at the beginning of the meal, serves to stimulate the taste buds. Cheese can be prepared as an informal small plate or to serve with cocktails at the bar. A serving may include one or more cheeses served at room temperature. Consider such accompaniments as cured olives, pickled vegetables, salted whole nuts, crunchy crudités, roasted or grilled seasonal vegetables, chutneys, mustards and tapenades. Another option is serving cheese fried in crisps or baked in a crust of coarsely ground walnuts or almonds.
Pair a single cheese with a savory accompaniment before or after the entrée. In restaurants, this course is often included in a prix fixe menu of several courses or as part of a tasting menu that consists of several small servings of various selections from throughout the menu, including a cheese course.
End of Meal: In Place of Dessert
A delicious selection of fine cheeses satisfies the appetite and helps to imprint a lingering memory of a fine meal. Many cheeses pair exceptionally well with fresh and dried fruits. Choose seasonally available apples, pears, figs or berries, nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios), honeys, and dessert wines such as sherries, ports and brandies. For a party that has finished their meal but not their wine, suggest a cheese that would pair well and extend the enjoyment of their wine.