Increasingly adventurous restaurant guests aren’t settling for plain grilled cheese or the same-old Swiss on a sandwich, chefs say. Foodies and their ever-more sophisticated palates are in search of new flavors, and eateries are answering the call with innovative dishes that meld flavors from around the world.
Rob and Karen Lawlor left restaurant careers when they bought Denver-based The Truffle Cheese Shop eight years ago and, in addition to selling retail and teaching cheesemaking classes, the shop sells its cheese to a long and growing list of local eateries. In recent years, Denver’s restaurants have gotten more innovative with their menus to feed the increasingly sophisticated palates of their guests, Karen Lawlor said.
“The restaurants in Denver are more sophisticated than they were even five years ago, and they’re looking for European products as well as local,” she said.
These days, the shop stocks cheeses from a growing list of countries and regions including France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Switzerland and Denmark.
“There are some we sell as a seasonal product,” said Karen Lawlor. “Right now it’s a lot of fresh cheeses, mozzarella, ricotta, fresca. Those are seasonal for us, the fresh milk cheese because animals eat grass and when the grass is in season and fresh, that’s when they are most likely to have fresh milk.”
Andrea Frizzi, chef and owner of Il Posto in Denver is a Truffle Cheese Shop customer. Frizzi grew up in Milan, the son of a sommelier who learned the culinary trade, first in school and then in a series of restaurant gigs that brought him to Washington, D.C. and eventually Denver. He worked as a consultant on the openings of scores of eateries before opening Il Posto in 2007.
He’s all for local sourcing when it makes sense, but the Italian menu at his upscale restaurant requires imported Italian cheeses. “I’ve got to use Parmigiano Reggiano, I can’t use a cheese from Wisconsin or California.”
That authenticity is even more important as the foodie culture continues to grow, he said. “Before it was always the sames things, grilled cheese, cheese sauces or steak and a sharp cheese. Now the cheese course is a lot more complicated.”
The menu at Il Posto reflects the more sophisticated tastes, with dishes including Bufala mozzarella Affumicata made with imported burrata, and ricotta gnocchi with imported Grana Padano. “In Italy, there are a lot of small producers doing a lot of stuff that’s really cool. My job is to take whatever we have and be an ambassador for these beautiful cheeses,” he said.
Frizzi says he loves dairy cheese too much to ever give it up. Increasingly, though, guests who eschew dairy cheeses for health or ethical reasons have increasingly tasty plant-based options. The menu at Veganized Foods in New Brunswick, N.J., includes 14 items that have some type of house-made, cashew-based vegan cheese, said General Manager El Rachmani.
The menu at Veganized includes a raw beet ravioli with herbed nut cheese and saffron cream, a tempeh reuben with cashew cheese and a vanilla cheesecake, all made with different versions of the cultured cashew cheese he said.
“We’ve pretty much been using the same recipe since day one,” he said. “My brother, the chef, has been making this kind of food for a very long time. We started in Brooklyn, were the more advanced vegan chefs have been doing it all over the city.”
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about the food and beverage industry. We offer 14 newsletters covering the industry from restaurants to food manufacturing.