plateau de fromage sur un plateau en bois

How to make cheese successful in a restaurant?

François Robin is a cheesemonger and Meilleur Ouvrier de France (top French craftsman). On 2 March 2022, he gave a conference at the Salon du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers (Cheese and Dairy Product Show) on how to make a success of cheese in a restaurant. He presented current cheese trends in restaurants and made recommendations to restaurant owners and cheesemongers on how to nurture their relationship.

Why bring cheese back into restaurants?

Global popularity of cheese

Cheese has come out of the health crisis in great shape! Its ease of use and comfort food status make it a safe bet.

The French have 'renewed their vows' with cheese: they are consuming more and more of it, and are more curious than ever about product origin and production methods.

There is a similar trend around the world. Cheese shows are flourishing on every continent. Although the Cheese and Dairy Products Show is the most prestigious, the Good Food & Wine Show in Sydney, Australia, is attracting more and more visitors every year.

This international popularity is demonstrated by the expression of international terroirs, pushing the French market to innovate if it is to 'stay in the game'. Even eating habits are changing: in France, cheese is traditionally eaten between the main course and dessert, but internationally, the aperitif cheese board is on the rise.

France is world-famous for its cheeses, and international visitors have expectations when they come to visit our country.

How to satisfy French and international consumers?

French consumers and tourists are often disappointed by the quality of cheese served in restaurants. Before Covid, 90 million tourists visited the country annually. They all thought that the best cheese in the world was to be found in France. Many were disappointed.

There is a real key to improving the quality of cheese on offer in restaurants: and that key is the suppliers. The cheese retailing business is booming: the number of cheesemongers is constantly increasing. This windfall enables restaurateurs to find quality suppliers who provide good products and welcome advice.

The big brands such as Metro or Secrets d'Affineurs are diversifying and now offer a premium range. In other words, there is no longer any excuse for not meeting the expectations of consumers who order cheese in restaurants.

How to create a relationship between cheesemongers and restaurants?

Echange entre exposants et visiteurs sur le salon du fromage et des produits laitiers 2022

Cheesemongers have real expertise to offer

For restaurateurs, price is often the deciding factor when choosing a cheese. However, cheese is a living product, whose value lies in its taste, but also in the history behind it: the work it required and the terroir it represents.

When negotiating with a cheesemonger, it is the quality of the cheese that should take precedence, not the price. On the one hand, because quality has a cost, and on the other, because this cost can be perfectly competitive.

The cheesemongers' job is to show restaurant owners their expertise. They have to present what is "good to eat and good to know". They present the cheese itself, what it will taste like for the diner, but also where the product comes from, how it was made and by whom.

Cheesemongers know how to select products, how to express their seasonality and their degree of maturation. They are the product's storytellers.

The "good to know" aspect is a strong mental trigger: it maintains the connection with the agricultural world. The trend is towards sustainability, and there are a lot of arguments in favour of cheese on that front.

The information provided by the cheesemongers makes life easier for the restaurant owners:  they are better equipped to sell cheeses to the customers if they have the right arguments.

 

Building a partnership of trust

To bring quality cheeses back into restaurants, restaurateurs and cheese makers need to develop a real partnership of trust.

Cheesemongers need to learn how to price their products and advise restaurateurs on their choices. There must be a structure for the relationship: dates and times of orders, product deliveries.

This structure allows both parties to interact and focus on the living products: the quality and choice of cheese. Restaurant owners can take advantage of the cheesemongers' guidelines and be more efficient in selling their cheeses in the restaurant.

This partnership of trust also means presenting the products properly. If the name of a dairy farm is mentioned, the majority of the cheeses on offer must actually come from that dairy, since the farm guarantees their quality.

Practical advice on how to market cheese in restaurants

Fromagère sur le salon du fromage et des produits laitiers devant son stand de fromage

Look after the living product

Cheese is a living product: trips back and forth between the refrigerator and the table can quickly affect its quality. Restaurateurs can get useful, practical advice from cheesemongers on how to take care of the living product.

They can show how to work on the presentation of cheeses so that they keep their quality over time. For example, placing the cheese in the dining room, under a cheese bell, in full view of the guests.

The bell protects the cheese while letting consumers see it. To make the cheese more visible, the restaurant owner can also put it on the menu, and not only on the now traditional optional menu with a surcharge (the famous +5€ or +7€ that restaurants add).

Taking care of the product also means learning to appreciate it. When tasting a cheese, we should look at it and smell it, like a wine. The rind tells a story, as do the smells it gives off.

The smell is often milkier on the inside, and more animal-like on the outside. When tasting it, we should start with the inside before trying the outside.

 Cheesemongers can take the time to taste the products with the restaurant owners, to help them appreciate the flavours. Restaurant owners can then do the same with their customers: a small bite to tease the taste buds and introduce a new cheese.

Learn how to present it

In restaurants, the traditional presentation on a cheese platter is in decline. Today, plated cheese is more common: pre-cut cheeseboards, which are very fashionable in the United States, are increasingly on offer in bars and restaurants.

Since quality cheeses are still relatively expensive, these boards are accompanied by dried fruit, raw vegetables, bread or crackers. Even when there is a small amount of cheese, these kinds of boards are visually attractive: they have appeal.

These presentations have other advantages for restaurant owners. The savoury boards make people thirsty and generate additional sales such as alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.

To present the cheese correctly, it must be cut nicely and the weight should be appropriate.

For example, cheese at the end of a meal represents about 20 or 30 g per person. For the aperitif, that would be 125 g per person. As a meal, a raclette or fondue for example, 200 g or even 250 g per person is required.

Cooking with cheese

In catering, there is often a distinction between the kitchen and the dining room. Cheese is said to be a dining room issue: it is considered up to the waiters to suggest and present the cheese.

This dividing line needs to be erased. The kitchen should also work with cheese, to give it ‘an extra something’ through creativity and inventiveness. Cheese can be a real alternative to a dessert.

Also, when it is served, the cheese can be staged: specific gestures, memorable moments, a flambé for example. These skills are easily taken on board by professionals who have attended catering schools.

In conclusion, there is no reason why restaurant cheese should not be profitable for both restaurant owners and retailers. By looking after the product to keep waste down and by promoting it to consumers, cheese can occupy a prominent place in restaurants once more. The relationship between cheesemongers and restaurant owners can grow into a real partnership of trust. As the partners taste the products and select them together, they are confident in what they are presenting to the end customers.

 

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