Cheese Plate

For the cheese course on New Year’s Eve, we went with the auld-school / new school concept again. (Auld? Like Auld Lang…? oh, forget it.)

For the avant-garde contribution, we turned once again to Alinea for “Transparency of Manchego Cheese”.

Chef C did a great job at prepping several of the non-cheesy elements of the dish, namely: diced white (i.e., pickled, not oil- or salt-preserved) anchovies, diced roasted red and yellow pepper, roasted garlic cloves, precision-crafted mini-croutons, and… what everyone who has this dish raves about… Olive Oil Pudding!

It really is pretty great – sweet but not too sweet, and you get to enjoy the flavour of olive oil without, you know, ingesting an oil slick. Since I don’t have any prep pics, and Carol of Alinea At Home does, I’ll just hit the highlights: you heat up some milk, mix egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar, and gradually whisk the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Finally, whisk in the olive oil. I’d definitely recommend making this. It’s tasty, surprising, and totally easy for home cooks. I can picture it with a spicy tomato / black bean soup, or little open-faced serrano ham sandwiches, for example.

Bluebarry only prepped a couple of plate elements: the dehydrated black olives, and some very thin slices of manchego cheese. (For some reason, others who’ve made the dish seem to have been stymied by this task, which is sort of an essential if you’re going to end up with a transparency of the cheese as opposed to a shingle of cheese crushing some invisible stuff underneath it. Pro-tip: get a wedge of cheese, and a cheese plane – the wider the better.)

So, here’s the plate with all of the garnishes:

And with the thinly sliced manchego:

Apologies for the lack of an action shot with the kitchen torch (this is the one your Nomnivores own). Suffice it to say it was a pretty uneventful cheese-melting experience, even with 7 plates to torch, and 11 courses – and a considerable amount of wine – behind us.

It may have been the late hour and the sheer amount of food and wine, but the diners seemed “meh” about this one. It was… okay. The olive oil pudding was great. The dehydrated olives were not – the texture was dry, crunchy and “New!”, but instead of being more intensely olive-y, they were actually a little bland. A slice of dry-cured olive would’ve been better. The other elements made sense at an intellectual level (jarring but contextually appropriate contrasts of flavour and texture, smoothly complementary flavours and textures, pretty colours shining through the transparent cheese, yadda yadda). But they seem to have come at a cost. I’d rather have had some slices of olive-oil toasted bread, with anchovy, tapenade, and rouille alongside. And a chunk of manchego.

Speaking of which, here’s the old-school half of the cheese course: Stilton, quince jam, and Carr’s water crackers.

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