Hooked on Cheese: Dining Out on American Artisan Cheese
These days, my work often takes me to Baltimore, a city whose food culture I’ve gotten to know well over the past few years. There are so many restaurants that impress me in Charm City; this week alone, I discovered two innovative places. What stood out about both was how their menus made creative use of American artisan cheeses instead of simply tacking on a cheese plate as an afterthought. Needless to say, this is a growing trend that I wholeheartedly support.
Tucked away on a side street in the fashionable Federal Hill area, the brand spanking new Outpost American Tavern serves up delicious American fare and has the vibe of a classic neighborhood stomping ground. I loved their superb arugula salad with hush puppy croutons, oven-roasted tomatoes and a big, crispy goat cheese fritter. It was damn good, extremely fresh local cheese, seasoned perfectly and fried until crunchy – the ideal complement to the refreshing, balanced salad.
The next stellar meal I had was at Parts & Labor, an unfussy restaurant from the owners of the acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen. We started off the night with the Spicy Cheese, P&L’s delicious take on pimento. My friends and I fought over the last bite; I won. Then I had the Kilt Greens salad, which showcased the delectable St. Malachi from The Farm at Doe Run in Unionville, PA. Next up was their distinctive take on seven layer dip with Sea Island Peas substituting for refried beans, also featuring a healthy layer of grated St. Malachi. This was so good I decided it will be my own go-to version from now on. The restaurant had seven different menu items that featured or included artisan cheeses such as Hawks Hill Cheddar and Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy, and that’s not even counting the well-curated cheese plate.
Uniquely, Parts & Labor also has a butchery and cheese shop. After dinner, I picked up a wedge of Firefly Farms’ Cabra La Mancha, a washed-rind goat’s milk cheese aged for 10 weeks. The piece I bought was thoroughly ripe, with a sticky orange rind, a tan interior and a white, unripened layer. I served it with slices of organic Fuji apple the following day to my new friend Lionel; the combination was outstanding. I opted to pair it with a St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Sauvignon blancs from this region are some of my favorite wines for cheese, and this one was no exception.
I hope to see more and more restaurants using American Artisan cheeses in their composed dishes. It’s yet another great way to get the word out about the magnitude of this moment in American cheese culture.