The complexities of cheese are not to be overlooked at Bastille Kitchen, a French bistro at 49 Melcher St. in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood. It's here that executive chef Adam Kube puts together a succinct cheese board that reflects a European style but showcases the talents of local cheese makers.
"I found there's really no need to import because in the New England area, there are so many smaller farmers that do such a good job at making cheeses," Kube said. "Consistent products that are similar and at the same level as some of those cheeses that you would be getting from Europe. But it's nice being able to focus on a more local and sustainable product that's going to be obviously helping out the New England area more than the European market."
The current cheeses at Bastille pull from Vermont and New Hampshire and include Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue and the Halfpipe Alpine-style cheese from Mt. Mansfield Creamery.
Kube rotates the cheeses every month or two and with the overall seasonal changes to the menu.
"It all depends on kind of a balance of the rest of our menu, making sure that our servers are up on them and know everything they know that there is to know about them," Kube said. "But there's some that I stick to that I like, and then it all kind of depends on what the season is."
Characteristics of the cheeses themselves change with the season, based on what's on hand for the animals to eat while they are producing milk.
"It all kind of depends on the conditions that they have. Obviously, as the animals graze and everything, they graze on different items, so you do get a different flavor profile with some of your cheeses," Kube said. "Sometimes you can taste fiddleheads or asparagus in certain types of cheeses; you'll get those notes from what the animals are actually eating."
In the winter, animals eat more of a grain-based diet, and Kube said that since grains don't have much of a flavor profile, winter cheeses tend to be a bit more mellow than spring cheeses, which will take on some of the grassy notes from the animals' food.
So will the average person be able to pick up on these flavors? Possibly, Kube said, noting that guests at Bastille Kitchen range from general cheese-cravers to those who are supertasters.
"People can pick up on more subtle notes of all different types of food" if they are a supertaster, Kube said. "I've never been categorized as that, but I mean, being a chef, there are more subtle flavors that I can pick out versus other people. It's just that I taste food all day long, so I can notice little things here and there if they're not spot on."
As a native of Wisconsin, Kube said he has been a cheese fan since he was old enough to eat it, and when he went to culinary school at the Johnson & Wales campus in Miami, he started tasting more and more cheeses and further developing his palate.
As an example, he described evolving a taste for blue cheese.
"Some people aren't going to like blue cheese right off the bat, but as you taste it, you taste it over and over and over again, you taste the different types of blue cheese, you can appreciate the different styles," he said. "Some of them have different textures, different flavors, it's just amazing what can happen — different styles, different regions in which they make cheeses."
Kube said local creameries often use the techniques of the old world to create similar style cheeses that don't have the same trouble passing FDA regulations that many European cheeses do. He leans toward locally produced, French-style cheeses that match the menu at Bastille.
Before he adds a new cheese to the plate, Kube puts it through its paces to make sure it fits.
"I always want to taste it, try it out. I go through probably half a dozen or more cheese samples before I start to pick out certain ones that I like," he said. "There's things that I've tasted in the past that I, at that certain point, I didn't want to put it on; now, tasting it again months later, then I decide that I wanted to put it on this time."
Once the decision is made, Kube holds a pre-meal meeting with the staff, where he describes the cheese, gives everyone the information on it, then has the staff ask questions and cover all knowledge bases ahead of dinner.
Kube said Bastille goes through about 15 pounds of cheese each week and sells roughly 20 cheese plates a night on the weekends.
The plate comes with all five cheeses that are on the menu at any given time, plus Bastille's cranberry pecan bread, house-made fig jam, raisins on the vine, and spiced pecans (unless someone in the party has a nut allergy).
Kube said that he has never had any negative feedback about Bastille's cheese program — some people are blown away, and it is one of the restaurant's most popular menu items. At some point down the line, he said Bastille might consider expanding its cheese program and incorporating a cart, but for now, they are content with their crowd-pleasing selection.
[Illustration: Emily Phares]