Is cheddar ice cream sandwich a cash cow?
Once upon a time, cheeses used in dessert were limited to versatile favorites like cream cheese, ricotta, and marscapone. These soft, mild dairy products easily showcased other flavors, blended well with sweeteners, and brought a smooth, creamy texture to the dish.
These days, as dessert plates are incorporating more savory and non-traditional elements, chefs are pushing the envelope by using more distinct, flavorful cheeses to complement the final course.
Before the highly anticipated Qui opened in Austin, Texas earlier this summer, pastry chef Monica Glenn began to develop an aged cheddar ice cream inspired by the frozen cheese confections executive chef Paul Qui enjoyed as a child in the Philippines. Next, sous chef Jorge Hernandez developed delicate cajeta waffle cookies and it morphed into a toothsome ice cream sandwich with a cult following.
When searching for a cheese, Glenn said they tasted the 10-month aged Cabot Clothbound Cheddar side by side with other cheeses selected by the dairy experts at Antonelli's Cheese Shop. "The brine wash really gives it a unique, punch-in-your-face kind of flavor," she told TODAY.com.
North Carolina-raised Elizabeth Karmel makes her signature apple pie at Hill Country Chicken with a rich cheddar cheese crust, just like her grandma taught her. "Think of the best cheese straw you've tasted filled with cinnamon-scented, sweet and tart Granny Smith apples," she described.
"Top Chef" alum Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia and Milkwood in Louisville and author of "Smoke & Pickles," a cookbook celebrating his Southern and Korean fusion cuisine, shares his recipe for togarashi cheesecake, which adds spice and depth to the traditional dessert.
"The tartness of goat cheese pairs nicely with the heat of the togarashi spice," Lee told TODAY.com. "But goat cheese needs the cream cheese to get the desired texture. The two together achieve a marriage of tart flavor with a creamy mouthfeel."
Some composed desserts are beginning to look more like cheese plates, but with added pastry-inspired touches. At Restaurant R'evolution in New Orleans, chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto recently featured a savory Green Hill Cheese Sformato with slightly sweet berry gelée and fennel marmalade.
"Iron Chef"and "Top Chef" alum Kelly Liken doesn't think diners at her eponymous restaurant should have to choose. "Many of our guests like to finish their meal with a cheese plate," she said. "(But) we also have people who love to finish with something very sweet. Then there are those on the fence. We've created these dishes with those diners in mind."
A recent offering included goat cheese gourgeres with roasted cherries, basil sherbet, and black pepper gastrique. Another creation combined spiced honey roasted pear with puff pastry, pine nuts, Blu di Langa cheese, and sherry vinegar reduction.
"A cheese plate is generally a few ounces of cheese and small tastes of complementing fruits or breads. For these dishes, we have just reversed the proportions," she explained.
At Acquerello in San Francisco, Chef Suzette Gresham-Tognetti dreams up similarly artful composed plates like the Piemontese Cusié cheese with mushroom crumble, chestnut honey meringue, and tobacco tuile. "Every time you take a bite of this dish with its components, you can find a different nuance in the cheese," she told TODAY.com. "It's like a virtual roadmap of flavor after flavor."
She likes to choose complex, sophisticated cheeses, then adds unique and texturous elements which bring out its various characteristics. "Every cheese has a story," Gresham-Tognettie sums up. "And as chef, I am the storyteller."