In the spring, I started a composed cheese plate at Park Kitchen. For whatever reason, we had never really sold much of the traditional cheese plate you see on menus all over town, a few wedges of cheese served with fresh or dried fruit, compotes, nuts, crackers, et cetera. It also never really seemed appropriate to the menu at Park Kitchen. I blogged about that first cheese plate, the Tete de Moine, in the spring. Since then, I have been featuring domestic cheeses, but I am once again returning to the cheeses of Switzerland for the first warm composed cheese plate of the year.
The melting qualities of Gruyere are well known and deserved. It is made from unskimmed and unpasteurized cow's milk, with a fat content of 45%. Aged from eight to ten months in 75 pound wheels, the dense texture and cream content make it one of the perfect melting cheeses, with its fruity aroma and nutty characteristics opening up as it melts. Shaving the cheese on a wooden Swiss mandolin is certainly fun, but you can use whatever you have. The dish is reminiscent of the classic Swiss croute au fromage, which is a sort of open faced croque monsieur. I have added a few elements to the traditional bread, ham and cheese. At the base of the dish are caramelized onions braised in beer. On top of that is a piece of grilled bread covered with melted Gruyere slices. Then we saute some chanterelle mushrooms and toss them with fresh sliced ham, pickled pears and pickled mustard seeds. As with the original croute au fromage, this is a hearty cold weather dish.