Cheese Heaven at the Festival of Cheese

It IS possible to eat too much cheese. It can also be nearly impossible to stop, especially if you find yourself slogging through a crowd of cheese addicts grabbing to get their fix at The Festival of Cheese, the culminating event at the American Cheese Society Conference, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. 1,700 different cheeses were sent into the ACS for entry into their annual judging  competition, and after the prizes are awarded, all 1,700 are arranged in tiers on massive tables in a huge room. At the appointed hour, the doors open and the feeding frenzy begins.

Of course, This years Best in Show, “Flagsheep Reserve” from Beecher’s Creamery in Seattle, is the most sought after cheese in the room.  An aged cloth-wrapped cheddar made from cow and sheep’s milk, it has a chunky, dense, but buttery smooth texture and a flavor of cream and caramel, with an underlying earthiness.  Call it sweet and dirty. Adding to its appeal, almost no one had heard of it, let alone tasted it before.

Whereas I was delighted to try local favorites (and ribbon winners) such as Vermont Butter and Cheese “Coupole” (our friends at VB&CC won 12 ribbons!), Ruggle’s Hill “Greta’s Fair Haven”, Westfield Farm “Blue Bonnet”, a bigger thrill is in finding new extraordinary cheese. Among my favorites was a Tennessee beauty, Sequatchie Cove Creamery “Dancing Fern”.  Styled after a French Reblochon – that is to say it is soft ripened to a velvety smoothness with rich flavors of butter and sweet cream and a slight appealing funk – it was one of the most talked about cheeses at the conference. Also high on my list was a soft ripened and ashed cheese, Black Sheep, from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Illinois, and Bonnie View Farm “Tanasi Tomme”, creamy and soft/dense, with a pleasing sweetness and goaty tart quick.

Almost three hours later, my plate was filled with rind scraps, my stomach was in open rebellion, and thoughts of how to avoid cheese for a week or two were paramount in my mind. Well, that won’t happen, but I’m looking forward to tracking down some of these beauties and sharing them with friends and guests at L’Espalier

 

 

Lunch at L’Espalier

The morning starts everyday at 7 am when the first members of the pastry team arrive to start preparing the day’s bread.  Flour, olive oil, yeast, rosemary, and sea salt are combined to form the fluffiest most heavenly focaccia on the planet…at least I’m an addict.  Layers upon layers of chocolate are poured to make the sinful decadence cake… addict again, guilty!  By the way, I’m not too proud to beg as Jiho, our pastry chef can attest.

By 9 am, the kitchen is in full swing when the savory team arrives.  They begin the prep and look over the product that’s been received.  What fish will go on the lunch menu today? What’s the best cut of lamb? Sunchokes go into a silky puree.  White asparagus are peeled.  Intense stocks flavored with Madeira and wine are strained and reduced.  Vegetables are chopped into precise minuscule cubes.  Herbs from Apple Street Farm are picked for garnish.  Mis en place, mis en place, mis en place.

 

The front of the house staff arrives at 10 and irons the tablecloths, polishes the silverware and glassware, sets up the cheese cart with Louis’s selections for the day (anywhere from 25 to 40 to choose from), and buffs and shines every square inch of the dining room that can be buffed and shined.  It’s a major production to say the least.

Music plays: Nancy Wilson, Illinois Jacquet, Brad Mehldau, Jacques Loussier, Serge Gainsbourg, Oscar Peterson… super chouette!

Lunch is served.  Local oysters topped with caviar and Champagne gelee.  A hearty slice of absurdly smooth foie gras terrine studded with ash roasted duck breast accompanied by pickled rhubarb.  Creamy risotto with butter poached Casco Bay lobster.  House smoked salmon with all the fix-ins.  Beef sirloin with wild mushroom and escargot ragout.  Course after course… matched with wines from all over the world if you so wish, or even virgin juice elixirs.  End with tangy Greek yogurt panna cotta, house made chocolate truffles filled with a myriad of flavored ganaches and/or just plain booze.  Or then of course, there is always cheese…

 

 

In the near five years that I have been a member of the L’Espalier staff, I have seen lunch grow into its own special entity that fills a void in the Boston restaurant scene.  In fact, I was hired shortly after we began to serve lunch so I have a very personal connection with the growth of this service.  It started very small and has become one of the most decadent and relaxing ways to spend an afternoon in Boston treating yourself right.

These days, we are finding that many guests are looking to lunch as an affordable luxury.  Some choose to sit in our Salon and nibble on selections from our cheese cart and wash it down with Champagne for a casual snack and respite from shopping on nearby Newbury Street.  Some come for quick and efficient business lunches on their lunch breaks.  And yet others start with a martini and go for the 12 course chef’s tasting journey paired with wines chosen by Erich to match with Chef McClelland’s culinary whims.

It’s been a very satisfying experience to see our clientele develop over the years.  Little by little, it’s becoming a tradition for some guests in the know, though still a well kept secret to the general public.  Many, in fact, have “their” table by the window or even one of the semi-circular Hollywood style banquettes in the corner where they can watch all of the goings-on in the Corner Room while still enjoying the view of bustling Boylston Street.  Developing a close connection with many is likely the most rewarding part of the job.  Our regulars come from many walks of life and all social circles and each has a pretty neat story to tell.

I hope that anyone who reads this will take the opportunity to stop by and personally experience what we have to offer.  We look forward to serving you lunch very soon.

Welcome & Happy Spring!


Dear Friends,

We are very excited to share this blog with you!  This is a place for us to show you a behind-the-scenes look at L’Espalier.  You can expect posts from the kitchen team about new menu items, products, techniques, recipes, and posts from the front of the house on aspects of service, wines, cocktails, our cheese program, and more. We will share news of upcoming events and exciting milestones. We’ll share news from our own Apple Street Farm and visits that we take to other farms.

We look forward to sharing with you all of the things that inspire us each day to create the L’Espalier dining experience.

Cheers,

Frank McClelland