IMAGE: Roger Bong
Cheese seems to have become practically mandatory on Portland restaurant menus. Problem is, too often the cheese is there only for show—all style and no substance. But some chefs are devoting as much time and attention to their cheeses as they do to their locally sourced everything else, and we diners benefit. Here are a few local spots where cheese plates consistently shine:
The menu feels luxurious and a bit decadent: Choose from a variety of cheeses and cured meats on the list, and mix and match to your heart’s content. Thankfully, each selection comes paired with its own condiment, be it cured cherries, cornichons or Marcona almonds.
You’ll always find a cheese course nestled somewhere in Beast’s elegant dinner and brunch menus. Selections from Steve Jones at Cheese Bar are arranged into elegant, artful compositions further enhanced by seasonal fruits, honey, shortbread and nuts. Naomi Pomeroy and crew elevate fromage to a most sublime of art forms.
At Grüner recently, I was smitten by delicate florettes of Tête de Moine, a cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland. According to tradition, this cheese is served by carefully rolling it into wavy sheets with a special instrument—the Girolle—then folded into soft blossom shapes. Choose between a small daily cheese plate or indulge in the full cheese course, which proffers a selection of three Alpine cheeses and condiments, including stellar housemade crackers.
Masterful simplicity defines chef Jenn Louis’ culinary aesthetic, and it’s certainly reflected in Lincoln’s cheese course. Typically one cheese presented with several accompaniments, the plate unfailingly showcases flavor. A recent composition delivered Spanish flair: sheep’s milk Caña de Oveja paired with jamón Serrano, olive oil and grilled bread, as generous as it was satisfying.
The cheese plate at Ned Ludd is as unpretentious as the surroundings. But don’t be fooled: A recent plate was a composed study of local artisan cheesemakers, spotlighting Black Sheep Creamery, Willamette Valley Cheese Co. and Fairview Farm. German-style bread from Fressen Artisan Bakery, blueberries and almonds were comforting complements.
Tami Parr is the author of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest.