In kase you haven’t noticed, the American cheese revolution is in full swing, an established fact, and now as much a part of our culinary landscape as heirloom tomatoes and California cabernets. In less than three decades — roughly the time since ELV grad-jee-ATED from learnin’ legal stuff gooder in law school, the selections of cheeses in the hinterlands of America has gone from Kraft Parmesan dust in a cardboard can and rubbery mozzarella to all sorts of mass-produced-but-still-very-good varieties to scores of artisanal products from maniac cheese makers that turn out products approaching the best Europe has to offer. (And when ELV says “maniac” he means it. God bless cheese makers, especially the perfectionists that make the ethereal stuff, but most of them are weirder than a curling match.)
Las Vegas, the world’s capital of cheesiness was, unfortunately-but-typically late coming to the cheese party. It wasn’t until Trader Joe’s showed up in 1996 (with its middle-brow selection of world curd) that grocery shoppers actually had a selection beyond whatever Kraft or DiGiorno was wrapping in plastic.
Strip restaurants, even the fancy dancy ones, didn’t know a Colston Basset from a Camembert until Aureole started serving a cheese course in 1999. Now, you can find decent cheeses at a number of better places…. but only a couple can challenge Alex Stratta’s lineup for curdled curd supremacy:
Jasper Hill Sleeper
Moringhello di Bufala
Tomme de Chevre Aydius
Fleur du Maquis
Amanteigado (a forbiddingly strong Portugal raw sheep’s milk curd)
Epoisses (ELV’s favorite, so good ELV Camembert it…)
Persille du Beaujolais
They may or may not be familiar to you, but each is a revelation in the art of affinage (the aging of cheese for anything from days to years).
A selection of five of these is $35, seven are $70, and a tasting of all 13 selections = $90. That’s a lot o’ lettuce, but you’re also getting some of the best fermented curd on the planet, each morsel at its perfect stage of ripeness.
The cheeses are hand selected, cut and served by General Manager and fromage-o-phile Fabrice Bals, who takes understandable pride in elevating this experience to what is expected of Michelin 2 and 3-star restaurants worldwide.
On our recent fromage foray to Aureole, we were disappointed to discover that it no longer displays its selection on a luscious and tempting carte des fromage, as it had done for years. Wheeling the darn thing around apparently was impractical in such a large restaurant (over three hundred seats), and when you think about it, having a formal cheese presentation was always overly ambitious. Aureole and Charlie Palmer deserve kudos for getting Vegas pointed in the right direction, fermented curd-wise, but even they have to admit the smaller, more formal, very expensive and very French places, like Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon and ALEX have the knowledge, pride and resources to take cheese from the merely good to the ethereal (and charge for it).
When you think about it, though, the tariffs charged are a small price to pay for a few slices of heaven….and you needn’t take a full meal at ALEX to enjoy a sampling. Just sidle up to the bar.
And while we’re at it, ELV and his staff thought you might have a few pressing cheese questions for him, so, anticipating your thoughts, inquiries and desires with the prescience for which he is known, he thought he would give you the answers Jeopardy-style:
The answer is: Castelmagno and true Camembert.
The question: What are ELV’s two favorite cheeses?
The answer is: Stilton, Parmigiana-Reggiano, and Cheddar.
The question: What are the three greatest cheeses in the world.
The answer: Valley Cheese and Wine. (No place else is even close.)
The question: Where is the best place in town to buy cheese?
We will now leave you with a few curdled thoughts about this fascinating foodstuff, and take you home with the funniest skit about cheese ever written
Famous thoughts about cheese:
The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)
Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love.
Washington, DC is to lying what Wisconsin is to cheese.