Big Cheese In the City

August 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm

If you’re like me and you’re feeling oppressed by the intense summer heat and you find that it is simply too hot to stand over a stove of boiling milk to make cheese – take a break and eat some else’s cheese.

Besides all the fabulous cheese makers that sell their products at farmers markets and local stores here in Chicago, there are a ton of restaurants that have wonderful cheese plates featuring local delicious cheese.

Cheese plates are such a great thing. They are served to you – no cutting required! They are usually only found at restaurant where the chefs know what they’re doing so you know you’re getting some great cheese and they’re usually paired with a swoosh of jam or preserves to bring out the flavors in the dairy. And they make an excellent dessert – especially when paired with a dessert wine!

It’s true that most of the time that you’ve seen a cheese plate it is at a wine tasting or a restaurant dedicated to their wine. But cheese plates are becoming more and more popular as the “real food” trend continues. Which is great for us because cheese is the best and really good homemade cheese is even better.

Pairing cheese, like pairing wine, is a skill that has to be learned. You can’t just throw a giant porterhouse steak and an albarino together – well you could, but it wouldn’t be displaying the wine’s and the steak’s hidden flavors. This is a great reason to go out and order a cheese plate because these chefs know how to pair things to bring out their food. And in case you don’t know just what preserve would go best with your homemade brie, check out some of these spots to get some ideas.

There are a lot of great dining establishments in Chicago that offer cheese plates but I am just going to name a few. The ones I’ve chosen are affordable and approachable to most and they’re my favorites.

The Purple Pig, at 500 North Michigan, offers a large selection of homemade cheeses including ‘Big Ed’s’ and ‘Truffle Tremor’. They also have a wide array of house-cured charcuterie to munch on with your cheese.

Lula Café, at 2537 North Kedzie, has a delicious plate that is constantly changing. If you get this plate ask for a glass of the Solera Crème dessert wine, it cuts through the fat and really brings out the distinct notes in the cheese.

Longman and Eagle, at 2657 North Kedzie, have a wonderful spread that can be eaten after dinner or simply as an after work snack with a glass of sparkling rose – which is how I did it.

Bin Wine Café, at 1559 North Milwaukee, while best known to me for their Tuesday night hamburger specials, this place has an awesome cheese options that can be cleverly paired with a wine flight. (wine flight optional but oh so good).

So there are a few places where you get started trying out new cheese and to get some ideas for your own pairings while supporting your local businesses and maybe finding a new favorite restaurant!

We will get back to making cheese soon but in the mean time, have a long, leisurely meal and try a cheese plate for dessert in the restaurant’s air conditioning until it cools down a little.