I spent about four hours last Saturday hunkered down at one of the bars in Manhattan to transition from day to night over some good wine. The wine really was something, actually.
But the cheese? For such a special place that takes such pride in wine service and quality, they made the most unfortunate cheese error. And it could have been remedied so easily! I'm hoping that by sharing their mistake, you won't make the same one. I try not to be a wrist-slapper when it comes to cheese, and food in general, actually. People make mistakes, errors are made, food is served subpar. It happens. But when a solution is so simple, I can't help but be a pointer-outer.
A couple of things went wrong with those cheese plates (we ordered several, as we were many, and there was a lot of wine to get through), and I'll touch on that, too. But most significantly, the establishment served every hard cheese sliced into these thin, flimsy slices, nearly paper-like. Each bite was nearly imperceptible, the cheese was so weakly present.
It made me realize: It's vital to keep in mind the textural structure of a cheese before you cut it — whether you're serving it to guests precut, or you're serving yourself from a bigger wedge. In the case of an intensely-flavored, hard-textured cheese, you should be able to really sink your teeth into a thickness that feels substantial; a thin slice just can't match the heft of a cheese of that character. And it'd have been so easy for them to slice it thicker, or even serve a small wedge and let us hack into it ourselves.
To be honest, I think that the cheese slicer should nearly always be forgone for a knife. A knife ensures a bit of thickness, just by nature of its mechanics.
Briefly, other errors, again, easily fixed: The cheese was cold. Like, straight-from-the-fridge cold. Don't ever do this. And the portions were teeny tiny. Because of these wimpy slices — they nearly resembled deli paper — this place was able to make it look like the plate was more full than it actually was. So the skimpy factor was in play, on top of it all. And with wine? Don't you want a healthy portion of cheese?
Honor those hard, intense cheeses by saving the delicate slices for another time! Cut nice big hunks, or healthy-sized slices. They're so delicious because they linger on the tongue, with flavors of roasted nuts, butterscotch, or cured meat. Everything was lost because the cheese was so poorly sliced. Everything. And yes, I realize this is starting to sound a bit dramatic. But someone's got to stand up for the cheese. Especially in a wine bar.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.
Related: Serving Cheese To a Crowd: Worthy Tips
(Image: mates via Shutterstock.)