The (Cheese) Table
Last week, San Jose’s The Table was transformed into the cheese table.
The popular Willow Glen neighborhood restaurant hosted its inaugural cheese dinner. This one spotlighted the cheeses of Bohemian Creamery of Sebastapol in a $75 seven-course dinner that included paired beverages. I was lucky enough to be invited in as a guest of the restaurant, which plans to make the cheese dinner an annual event.
Owner and cheesemaker Lisa Gottreich was on hand to talk about her hand-made cheeses, which are sold at retailers such as the Cheese Board in Berkeley and Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, and featured at restaurants such as Ad Hoc in Yountville, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Nopa in San Francisco and SPQR in San Francisco.
Gottreich makes her 13 types of cheeses the Italian-way, with little salt. The goat cheeses are made with milk from her own herd of goats. The other types of milk that go into her cheeses are purchased from nearby farms.
The first course brought her Bodacious five-day-old goat cheese with a bloomy rind in a spring dish of asparagus and Oro Blanco grapefruit that was paired with Sikyo “Mirror of Truth” Takehara Junmai sake. What a great way to start with a creamy, tangy cheese and a floral, clean sake that worked well with the always tricky-to-pair asparagus.
Next up, one of her mildest cheeses, Bovoncino, a cow’s milk cheese aged six months. It was grated and showered abundantly over baby Lola Rosa greens and a thick puree of avocado smeared on the plate. The nutty, Asiago-like cheese was a nice compliment to the creaminess of the avocado. Alongside was Lagunitas “CitruSenesis” Blood Orange Pale Ale with a deep orange, hoppy flavor.
That was followed by her Aqua Buazola, a salty, tangy, funky blue cheese that’s incredibly rich because it’s made with buffalo milk that’s 12 percent fat. Baby marinated beets, candied beets, and an herbaceous puree that tasted strongly of dill helped tame the richness a bit, as did a lovely George Albert Schneider “Niersteiner” Kabinett Riesling that was delicately floral with a touch of sweetness.
Next, one of my favorite dishes of the night: rabbit confit with English peas over buttery egg paparadelle noodles. Chef de Cuisine Anthony Jimenez said he was nervous about the dinner after visiting Bohemian Creamery because he really wanted to do the cheeses justice. He nailed it with his shards of rabbit, which had been confited before being fried. Imagine rabbit bacon. That’s what this was like — all tossed with tender noodles and cubes of Holy Moly three-week-old mild, soft goat’s cheese with a bloomy rind. A Tolosa “No Oak” Edna Valley Chardonnay complimented without overwhelming with any additional butteriness.
Capriago is another Asiago-like cheese, but this time made from goat’s milk. Long, wide ribbons crowned a dish of creamy Anson Mills grits with Golden Chanterelle ragout fortified with pork sausage. The cheese looked beautiful, but was so mild that it got a little lost in this hearty dish. The Bodhi Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was a great match for the earthy, slightly fruity mushrooms and the sweet, herbal flavors of the pork.
One of Gottreich’s strongest cheeses is The Bomb, which she joked was a name she coined during the same year that President George W. Bush was blasting Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. A blend of sheep’s and goat’s milks, the washed-rind cheese takes after a French Epoisse. The rind is actually washed in Russian River Brewing Company’s Consecration ale that’s aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
This is a cheese you can smell immediately when it hits at the table. It’s that pungent, as well as rich and creamy. A creamy spring allium soubise and a couple of crispy potatoes accompanied the cheese, along with a smear of Meyer lemon marmalade, which had a bright sweetness that really cut through this in-your-face cheese. A gin-based Jack Flack cocktail garnished with fresh rosemary was a unique pairing, but its abundant botanicals also helped tame the strength of this cheese while still letting its meaty, complex flavor shine through.
Cowabunga was one of my favorite cheeses of the night. But then again, who can resist goat cheese stuffed with goat’s milk caramel? It’s as delightful as it sounds. And it tastes like cheesecake. House-made brioche and Medjool dates made up the rest of the plate, though, truth be told, you could eat this cheese all by itself and be happily content. Castello di Uzzano Vin Santo of Chianti Classico was perfect alongside, with its nutty, syrupy, tawny port-like flavor.
The Table doesn’t usually list its special dinners on its web site. To keep tabs on the next ones coming up, look for announcements on its Facebook page — and get ready to enjoy a very fun time.