A great cheese course is more than just a few random selections on a plate. While some restaurants source their cheeses from specific regions or focus on hard-to-find cheese, others are actually making it or aging it in-house. In anticipation of National Cheese Lover’s Day, here are some the country’s best restaurant cheese plates and what makes them so special.
Barano, Brooklyn, New York
Recently opened in Brooklyn’s South Williamsburg, Barano offers Southern Italian cuisine from chef-partner Albert Di Meglio, who formerly helmed beloved Nolita pizzeria Rubirosa. The restaurant has a dedicated mozzarella bar, where Di Meglio hand-pulls three varieties of mozzarella to order: salted, smoked, and stracciatella di bufala. Guests can order an Antipasto Tasting with their choice of mozzarella, salume, and verdure — accompanying vegetable sides — or they can mix and match a variety of choices to customize their mozz’ board. Make a reservation at Barano.
Urban Farmer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Chef Richard Brower and his team pride themselves on discovering new and flavorful cheese from all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They are particularly proud to feature cheeses from Chester County, Pennsylvania, which has received recognition as one of the best cheese regions in the world. Their cheese list is ever rotating and changing based on what is available with a focus on what’s local. Some of the cheeses that have been offered are Birchrun Blue, The Fat Cat, Red Cat, and Tomme Mole, which has notes of cocoa, chile, and cinnamon, from Birchrun Farm in Chester Springs, and Elsa Mae and the Noble Road Brie, both from Calkins Creamery in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Other selections have included Buttercup Brie and Havilah, both from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and Seven Sisters, an aged cow’s milk cheese from The Farm at Doe Run located in Unionville, Pennsylvania. Make a reservation at Urban Farmer.
Crossroads, Los Angeles, California
When is a cheese plate not a cheese plate? When it’s a selection from Kite Hill. Kite Hill is entirely plant-based and the company was founded by Stanford biochemist Pat Brown in collaboration with Jean Prevot, a former cheese instructor at Le Cordon Bleu and erstwhile cheesemaker for Laura Chenel Chèvre, to introduce the first completely artisanal almond milk-based cheese line. The Kite Hill cheese products consist of nearly a dozen, including Original, Truffle Dill and Chive, Cream Cheese, Ricotta, Soft Ripened, and more. The cheese plate offered at Crossroads is one of their signatures at the LA- based vegetarian restaurant and a favorite among gourmands, herbivores, and carnivores alike. Make a reservation at Crossroads.
Found Kitchen & Social House, Evanston, Illinois
Executive chef Nicole Pederson believes that cheese plates should always highlight single producers. Their current plate features three cheeses from Capriole farms in Indiana. They are offering O’Banon, Sophia, and Juliana and serve them with housemade lavosh, peach and golden raspberry jam, and Klug Farm grapes. It’s not uncommon for cheesemakers to visit the restaurant or lead classes. In the past, they have featured The Farm at Doe Run, Meadowood, and Vulto Creamery. Make a reservation at Found Kitchen & Social House.
Artisanal, New York, New York
Artisanal Bistro is much more than just a bistro. Truly, Artisanal is a temple of cheese. The restaurant, with its cheese caves, offers a staggering 250 types of European-style cheeses, expertly paired with wine and breads baked in-house. The program was conceived and is led by James Beard Award-winning Maitre Fromager Max McCalman. In addition to cheese plates, you can also order bistro fare, such as a burger or truffled grilled cheese sandwich, each served with a choice of 13 different cheeses. The menu also includes cheese-focused entrees such as macaroni and cheese and fondue. As they move into a larger space later this year, they will have both a fromagerie and boulangerie and, of course, more cheese. Make a reservation at Artisanal.
Café des Architectes, Chicago, Illinois
Executive chef Greg Biggers is an ambitious guy. Two years ago, he converted a walk -n refrigerator into a cheese cave. The restaurant’s Chestnut Provisions features an assortment of housemade cave-aged cheeses, charcuterie, jams, and preserves. The restaurant has a Dairy Manufacturing Plant license allowing them to utilize the kitchen as a cheese production facility, complete with a temperature and humidity controlled cave. The cheeses they currently offer include a one-year-aged cow’s milk cheddar, an herb-steeped goat cheese, grass-fed cow’s milk tome, chevre, and Taleggio. Make a reservation at Café des Architectes.
Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles, California
Opened in 2007 by Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich, it was one of the first to feature a mozzarella bar, located at the center of the room. You can start with a mozzarella tasting or move into specific imported specialties like mozzarella di bufala, burrata, burricotta, and ricotta. Each is served with a different condiment or salad, such as basil pesto, salsa romesco, tapenade, and caperberry relish, or braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants, and mint pesto. Make a reservation at Osteria Mozza.
Acquerello, San Francisco, California
Acquerello is one of the Bay Area’s finest Italian restaurants and, befittingly, has an impressive cheese cart that rolls up when cheese is ordered as an a la carte course on the prix-fixe menu. The cart has nine imported Italian cheeses each evening, from a list of up to about 40 cheeses. Chef Suzette Gresham works with many importers and specialty companies to procure unique selections, including cheeses you won’t find elsewhere. They represent a variety of styles, milks, and regions. In addition, there is a cheese course on the tasting menu the restaurant offers that is created around some favorite cheeses that the entire team has worked with over the years. Previously, the seasonal tasting menu showcased Pecoretto, pancetta, onion jam, and red bell pepper (pictured). Make a reservation at Acquerello.
Rebelle, New York, New York
Rebelle features a very unusual cheese plate; it’s not the cheese that’s so unique but the way it’s served. The Michelin-starred restaurant offers just one cheese, Comté, a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Jura in France. It’s presented in thin ribbons, along with fresh miche bread. It’s simple, yet spectacular. Chef Daniel Eddy notes, “I wanted to serve a large cheese plate that was visually different from other restaurants in NYC. Comté also happens to be one of my favorite cheeses.” Make a reservation at Rebelle.
Perbacco, San Francisco, California
Perbacco is inspired by the cuisine of Piemonte in Italy, and so is the cheese program. The restaurant works with several producers, most of them very small, so the availability is limited. They try to represent as many styles of cheeses as possible, from soft to hard. There are always some very traditional cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Castelmagno, as well as some cheeses that will please everybody, such as La Tur. Many of the cheesemakers in Piemonte are known for being innovative, including Beppino Occelli’s who makes Cusie al Malto d’Orzo e Whisky, a hard, mixed-milk cheese coated with malted barley soaked in Scotch Whisky. Another favorite of the chef is Ol Sciur, a blue goat’s milk cheese from Lombardia that’s coated with blackberries and rose petals. Make a reservation at Perbacco.
Oceana, New York, New York
You might be surprised to find an outstanding cheese course at a seafood-focused restaurant. Oceana offers three or five cheeses, all of which are from smaller producers. They have served a sheep’s milk cheese — Cavemaster from Hudson Flower in New York — and four cow’s milk cheeses, including Challerhocker from Switzerland, Marieke, an award-winning aged Gouda from Penterman Farm in Wisconsin, Good Thunder from Alemar Cheese in Mankato, Minnesota, and Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. The cheese plate has been served with candied spiced almonds, cherry-apricot mostarda, pickled orange fennel, cranberry red wine walnuts, housemade beef jerky, and brioche bread. Make a reservation at Oceana.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Daniel Krieger (Barano); Galdones Photography (Found); Derek Richmond Photography (Cafe des Architectes); Jakob Layman (Mozza); Kate Burton (Rebelle).