Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, November 3, 2016
In meals of yore, one would often follow entrees with cheeses that aimed to spark the appetite for sweet desserts … or even replace them as the savory finales.
Boy, have times changed.
Nowadays, diners are just as likely to find the fromage at the beginning of their menus as at the end. And that has led me to wonder: What in the name of a fragrant, room-temperature Port Salut is going on?
Customs evolve, and I’m not decrying that. But isn’t it just a little strange that such a hallowed noshing tradition has switched tracks so quickly?
I can’t tell you how many bistros I’ve walked into in recent years that offer selections of cheese as opening plates. It’s not an unappealing trait, yet as one who was nurtured on French cuisine at an early age, I find this development to be quite peculiar. It’s like having cake as an appetizer or puréed charcuterie as a digestif. There’s something mighty weird about it, and I’m not sure it fits.
Is there a method to this all-too-runny madness?
It’s true that cheese can be addictive, and launching a gastronomic adventure with such fermented treats can be highly satisfying—especially when they’re paired with fruit or cured meats, as well as olives, preserves and other accoutrements. Still, I have to consider the possibility that folks are gravitating more and more toward concluding their dinners with dessert rather than milk-and-rennet mouthfuls, and this bothers me a bit. It suggests that a venerated culinary order isn’t set in stone, that it’s volatile, capricious. It indicates that the things I’m used to may not last.
That’s a sad concept to pontificate from any perspective. And I must, like a resigned epicure following his Lucullan destiny, go gently into that good night.
At some point, we’re going to arrive, I feel, at the end of eating innovation, where certain standards will be regarded as inflexible, where transformation won’t be possible because consuming food in a different way won’t be seen as practical or, for that matter, enjoyable. Already, we have a world in which we’ve seen all-dessert meals and people dining blindfolded. I suspect the next step would be to chomp on crunchy breadsticks underwater without getting them soggy or to scarf down grilled moose velvet while being attacked by grizzly bears in a caged enclosure set with white tablecloths and gladiator-style tridents. Until then, however, I assume I should be grateful that the biggest issue I can kvetch about from a culinary-ritual standpoint is the decline of the cheese course being applied to the latter stages of a meal. No, I’m not exactly pleased about it, but what can you do—rail, rail at the dying of the light? That’s not my style.
I’d rather take that Port Salut into my room and suck on its unctuous tender parts. Maybe consider an olive or two.
Nothing wrong with that of you know what you’re getting into. I do, that’s for sure.
Now I’m not big on nostalgia, but … how about ending this blog with a little chèvre—as The Godfather’s Tessio might say, “for old time’s sake”?
I just might cry into my Marcona almonds.