Cheese: Across the board

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SOMETHING FROM the cheeseboard? Perhaps a chunk of dry cheddar, a very indifferent brie and some well-past-its-best Danish blue?That may sound...

SOMETHING FROM the cheeseboard? Perhaps a chunk of dry cheddar, a very indifferent brie and some well-past-its-best Danish blue?

That may sound unpalatable, but unfortunately it is the traditional cheeseboard experience for all too many pub customers.

However, the team at London wine bar Vivat Bacchus believes that, given a little love and affection, cheese can move from the side plate or dessert menu to take centre stage.

The venue has two walk-in fromageries, or cheese rooms, which allow customers to assemble their own cheeseboard from a selection of between 60 and 80 varieties.

Co-owner Neleen Strauss says: "We had a cheese room at a restaurant we operated in South Africa, and we brought the idea with us to London. It's far more popular over here - the British really love their cheese."

The first cheese room is part of the downstairs restaurant at Vivat Bacchus, allowing customers to select a post-dinner cheeseboard. However, it is the second, larger room, installed in the wine bar, which has proved the real success.

Customers can choose a cheeseboard-only option, priced at three cheeses for £9.95 or five for £11.95, served with fruit and biscuits.

There is also a cheese and meat board platter at £13.50. However, the star attraction is a visit to the cheese room where customers can assemble a personalised cheese feast for around £20.

The host on such occasions is cheese room manager Alan Fordred, who worked with the Vivat Bacchus team in South Africa and has transferred his affection for all things cheesy to London.

"I ask them what kind of cheese they like, such as cheddar or brie, and make recommendations for more unusual varieties based on their taste," says Alan. "There are times when you can look around the wine bar and all anyone's eating is cheese."

While most pubs would probably find it hard to justify the investment in a fully kitted out, walk-in refrigerated cheese room, there is nothing to stop the traditional British boozer learning a lesson or two from Vivat Bacchus's success.

"There are some great specialist cheese suppliers available to pubs," says Alan. "There's far more choice than we had in South Africa."

While 80 varieties might be ambitious, a cheese list of a dozen or so unusual varieties ought to be manageable.

Alan adds: "We have very little wastage. Once we open a cheese, it's normally sold within two or three days at the most."

Cheese tips

Some pubs are concerned about storage of speciality cheeses, especially if they are unpasteurised, but you can safely stand your ground with the environmental health officer if you follow a few simple rules:

  • Keep all cheese wrapped and refrigerated until it's needed
  • Keep cheese out of the fridge for the shortest time possible. If customers can make their cheeseboard selection from a wide range - and you don't have the luxury of a walk-in cheese room - offer them a 'cheese list' with flavour descriptions to choose from.
  • Some cheese buffs - fromagophiles? - will tell you that a good cheese needs an hour or two at room temperature to bring out the flavour, but for safety's sake you should leave cheeses for buffets and boards in the fridge until people are ready to eat.
  • Cut and serve only the portion required. Wrap and refrigerate any unused cheese as soon as possible. If it's been out for a while, consider using it in a sauce or cooked dish, such as Welsh rarebit, rather than re-serving on a cheeseboard
  • The Food Standards Agency advises pregnant women to avoid eating ripened soft cheeses of the brie, camembert and blue-veined types, whether pasteurised or unpasteurised.

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