If you're new to cheese, the Grafton Group restaurants are good places to start to learn a thing or two. Behind the doors of Grafton Street, Russell House Tavern, Park Restaurant and Bar, Temple Bar, and now State Street Provisions, there are cheese and charcuterie platters galore, which provide an introduction into the varieties of cheese out there.
Mark Goldberg serves as the culinary director for the group and is the resident cheese aficionado. Though it is by no means his only role, Goldberg helps oversee the cheese programs at each restaurant.
"In most of the restaurants, we're offering three different cheeses each night," he said. The key to a good board is variety of milks and styles that will cater to any palate, so Goldberg said the restaurants try to have a soft cheese, a hard cheese, and a blue cheese.
Whether a guest is a seasoned cheese eater or has an entry-level to intermediate palate, the cheese on the menu at this array of restaurants will likely seem inviting.
"I don't think we get too adventurous, flavor-wise, but I think there's a good — within three cheeses — a good array of tastes that are relatively approachable, nothing crazy," Goldberg said.
Blue cheese tends to be the most divisive, with a flavor profile that people either love or hate, but Goldberg said his group of restaurants tends to stay in the middle range of blues. The hard cheeses on the menu are generally Alpine style, with a bit of nutty or grassy flavors, and the goat cheeses are milder than the other two, and definitely softer.
Goldberg works with a distributor, Paul Marks, to source cheese for the Grafton Group restaurants, mostly with cheese from New England and the northeast.
"We have some great cheese producers between Vermont and New Hampshire, Massachusetts — Massachusetts alone is making over a hundred different types of cheese — or a hundred different cheeses, on the kind of artisanal level," he said.
The group has been able to expand a bit further with the addition of State Street Provisions, which offers six cheeses on its menu, and, as Goldberg said, "they're bringing in some big hitters from overseas."
"It's about the education of the staff so they can educate the guests. Keeping it interesting and fresh and, down at State Street, it's our most elevated program," Goldberg said.
The cheeses are on display in the pantry for guests to see, and there are three- and six-piece ordering options, Goldberg said. Keeping it small helps keep the program approachable while giving guests a chance to taste some things they maybe haven't before.
Once the programs are in place, Goldberg said, the chefs do a good job of maintaining them, switching out cheeses and bringing in new and tasty options.
"Sometimes we'll have a good run with a particular cheese," Goldberg said. "If it's in season, available, and it's delicious, I'll keep it going as long as we can get our hands on it. And sometimes it's a one-off."
Goldberg himself is well-educated in the cheese department. He said growing up, he just loved cheese, a passion he and his father share.
"He never really appreciated good cheese, he just always ate cheese," Goldberg said. "I'm changing him, introducing him more and more over the years to the more artisanal type cheeses, which he enjoys."
Goldberg has also had the chance to teach his three daughters — Carly (15), Audrey (12), and Malia (7) — about cheese. About a year ago, he said, they started making cheese at home, buying the milk, experimenting with aging, and of course, eating what they make.
"We did a farmhouse cheddar that we aged for I think about five months," he said. "Everybody got too impatient, so we ate it. It was okay. For a first run, it was alright. It's a lot of learning."
Goldberg said his girls love to make goat cheese because they like it and because it's fast. "We can go from milk to cheese in 36 hours," he said. "The girls all get involved and we have a little journal where they're logging everything, so we'll make mistakes and hopefully learn from them."
Goldberg's wife gets involved, too, taking pictures of the action, and he said when they go out for dinner, they would likely opt for a cheese board over a sweet dessert to close out a meal.
The variability of cheese appeals to Goldberg.
"I just really fell in love with the differences in cheeses and how much variety you can make from milk," he said.
"You have three different milks, basically, and you can make a complete array of textures and flavors," he said. "It's like wine. There's probably a few more wine varietals, grape varietals than milk varietals, but where the animal is grazing and the time of the year and how the milk is handled — everything affects the outcome, which is intriguing and pretty awesome."
[Illustration: Emily Phares]