My love affair with cheese started years ago as a little girl. I could easily gulp down full-fat milk by the gallon, put extra cheddar on my burgers, and sprinkle grated cheese on just about anything I could get my hands on – obviously, dairy was my food group of choice.
As I got older, and for reasons I can’t even remember, I shunned cheese from my diet for a brief period of time. Thankfully, I came to my senses on our honeymoon in Italy where parmigiano reggiano, fresh mozzarella and soft, silky burrata made for a drool-worthy jaunt across the Italian countryside. After a few trips to France, as well as discovering London’s acclaimed La Fromagerie, my cheese buds were rekindled and I haven’t looked back since.
I was very excited when Jones the Grocer first opened their doors in Dubai, and I was even more excited when they opened a new location just steps away from my home. A casual gourmet eatery where service is warm and the space is comfortable, Jones is a place where I often sit down for a bite in a relaxed atmosphere.
While there’s no denying that the food and coffee are both great at Jones, it’s the cheese room that adds a unique dimension and really sets it apart from other restaurants in the city. Lucky for me, their location at the Dusit Thani is fully licensed, which makes an evening of wine and cheese pairings easy, fun, and accessible.
Reminiscent of La Fromagerie, the Cheese Room at Jones has a great selection of artisanal products, which can sometimes be challenging to find in the UAE. I was fortunate to have resident cheese expert Leony guide me through a visit before building one of Jones’ mouthwatering cheese platters. A cheese platter is always à propos, especially during the festive season.
A pair of sliding glass doors led me (and my holiday ready shoes – wings and all) into the cool, climate-controlled room, which was stocked with some great varieties of cheese that ranged from soft to hard – each with a clear description of origin, unique characteristics, and suggested wine pairings. The smells are intense, and they should be, it’s a cheese room after all.
Within the cheese room, fresh Italian Buratta, bowls of antipasti, as well as wine, spirits and cookbooks were peppered between logs of chèvre, brie, pecorino, blue, comté, raclette, and the list goes on… Leony was quick to point out December’s cheese of the month – a soft, triple cream Brillat Affiné (in other words, a truffled brie) from France made with cows milk and stuffed with a layer of shaved Italian truffle. As a self-proclaimed truffle lover, I could have stopped right there and walked out with my arms loaded with luscious, truffled goodness, but resisted the urge. We started talking about wine pairings, and I discovered that this cheese goes beautifully with Champagne and Chardonnay.
While I worked my way through all the cheese in the room, Leony selected what would work well on our platter.
Keeping in line with my truffle obsession, we started off with a Pecorino Moliterno al Tartufo – a raw, sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia. This is a hard cheese with thick “veins” of truffle woven throughout, perfectly paired with wines such as red Barolo, Barbaresco and Amazon.
Leony pulled out a massive double-handed blade, and with the skill of a seasoned samurai, she cut evenly through an enormous wedge of pecorino. When it was my turn to cut into the cheese, I thrust my entire upper body strength into the knife – not as easy as it looks – and while my samurai skills didn’t come close to Leony’s, I managed to carve out an even wedge that would make it onto our platter.
Our next cheese was a soft Valbrie from France. Made from cow’s milk and perfectly paired with dry white wine and Riesling, this double cream cheese has a black-peppered rind with a light and subtle taste, creating a nice contrast to the truffled pecorino.
A Bûche de Chèvre Blanche – also from France – is a soft goat’s cheese with an edible rind. It is one of my favorite cheeses and I often eat it in its natural state, or lightly oven-baked with salad and fruit. The taste is strong without being overpowering, and works beautifully when paired with wines such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, as well as champagne. We cut through the chèvre delicately with a wire (cutter) that was nearly as thin as string, careful not to break up the cheese. Since its quite soft, the chèvre would have stuck to a regular knife. By using the wire, we were left with beautiful rounds that were completely intact.
Last, but definitely not least, a Cropwell Stilton rounded out our cheese platter. A semi-hard cheese from Nottingham in the UK, I thought that this blue-veined Stilton would be on the side of pungent. On the contrary, it was smooth, mild with only a subtle hint of sharpness. Pair it with Shiraz, Pinot Noir, or port wine and you’ll have some very happy taste buds!
We assembled our four selections on one of the big, beautiful, wooden serving platters that Jones is known for. After adding dried apricots, roasted nuts, sweet grapes and salted biscuits, we tossed in a handful of dried cranberries for a festive touch. The contrast between the cheese, fruit, and nuts makes for a great balance between sweet and savory.
A perfect cheese platter that’s fit for entertaining over Christmas and beyond – easy to put together and even easier to eat. From novice to seasoned foodie, there is enough variety to satisfy everyone’s palate. Pair some great wines and let the flavors speak for themselves.
Photos by Murrindiefrew.com