Nothing says “Happy New Year” to a true turophile like a plethora of cheese. Thanks to Brandon Chrostowski, fromager and General Manager at L’Albatros Brasserie and Bar here in Cleveland, Ohio, The Mouse started this year off with a major “Hello 2011!”. Fifteen luxurious cheeses ready for the tasting was almost too beautiful to believe, yet there they were in all it’s creamy, milky glory.
Brandon, a Detroit native, arrived in Cleveland after working in some of the world’s most prestigious eateries, whereupon he approached restaurateur Zack Bruell with the idea of a formal cheese service for his University Circle restaurant. This type of service is rarely seen in the United States–let alone in a Midwest town like Cleveland. Diners can’t help but be swept up in the passion and seduction of the cheeses presented, and it doesn’t hurt when the presenter looks like he stepped out of an issue of GQ Magazine (see image above). Without being pretentious or intimidating, Brandon explains each cheese knowledgeably yet passionately and there is a selection for even the pickiest fromage fan.
I deferred to Brandon for our selections and was rewarded with some truly surprising and tantalizing tastes. Some we knew, like Comte and Monte Enebro, but there were a few standouts on our plates worth noting.
First up was a funky little disk of Regal de Bourgogne with raisins, a French cheese from the Burgundy region. At first I thought it was goat’s milk cheese, but came to find it was actually fresh cow’s milk, giving it a heavier, almost dessert-like flavor when melded with the macerated raisins. Sweet without being cloying and a paste similar to ricotta, this tasty treat had me rethinking my aversion to combining fruit and cheese.
The next offering was a beautiful washed rind Cappuccetto Rosso from Italy. Another cow’s milk cheese wrapped in spruce bark, giving it an earthy, hearty flavor with hints of mushroom that get stronger as it gets closer to the rind. Although similar in appearance spoon-soft goodness of Rush Creek Reserve and Vacherin Mont d’Or, Cappucetto Rosso has a firmer interior.
We had two blues to end the offerings and both were amazing. The first is a bit of a mystery and I have searched high and low for more information and welcome any input. Giallo Blu, an Italian selection with a caramel hue against the smattering of blue crystals weaving throughout was milder than most blues I have tasted, with tangy shocks to the tongue, it was both beautiful to the eye and to the palate, and it neatly resembled the Italian marble it may or may not be named for
The second blue and our final selection was this gorgeous Bleu de Bocage from Pays de la Loire, France. Made from goat’s milk, the grassy, springy flavors dance over the tongue in perfect balance. Salty and sharp, this was a spot on ending for a perfectly balanced selection.
After a few glasses of wine, remembering all these great cheese selections can be a challenge, but have no fear. Brandon has ingeniously created a take-home brochure of all the cheeses offered at L’Albatros and will mark each selection chosen by his guests. That is exactly how I felt when we left after our meal…like we had been a welcome guests rather than a customer.
I cannot imagine a better way to start the new year than with my hubby, a gracious host, and some of the best cheese on the market. Here’s hoping the rest of 2011 proves to be as cheese-tacular as the start.
As a side note: Brandon was just named one of the most interesting people in Cleveland. Have a look at the article and be sure to visit him for a cheese and wine tasting. The next event will be January 17-18 for a Rhone cheese and wine pairing. Only a few spots left so don’t dally!