That was one of the combinations I tried the other night at an unusual Seafood and Cheese tasting at Scardello Artisan Cheese on Oak Lawn. The class was hosted by Scardello and TJ’s Seafood Market. The protagonist’s point of view, which they promoted with the finest techniques of crack marketing, was that seafood and cheese go together like cheese and seafood. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Surf n’ turf can take forms never envisaged in a steakhouse.
To prove this point Scardello and TJ’s assembled eight seafood/cheese combinations (they weren’t all recipes). The first was on the stone platter that greeted each guest. A cooked cocktail shrimp was paired with dollop of sun-dried tomato and basil fresh chèvre (goat’s cheese) from On Pure Ground Dairy in Bonham, TX. To appreciate a tasting like this best, I need three scores: one each for the cheese, the seafood, and the combination together. I will give the cheese one star out of three – meaning good. On Pure Ground’s goat cheese has good sharpness and a consistent texture. However, it also has a lot going on with the other ingredients that make the cheese recede to nothing more than a base for sun-dried tomato and basil. The shrimp gets no stars as, like most shrimp in Dallas, it hasn’t travelled well and has shriveled into a carcass of al dente texture without much taste. The provided cocktail sauce was the flavor. Or, even better, the rémoulade sauce. For the synergy score, I will rank the synergistic effects of the cheese and the seafood. So 1+1=2 means no synergy. 1+1 greater than 2 means some synergy (the more the better), and less than two means that the two are better apart. In this case 1+1=0.8. The two seriously detracted from each other.
It was a similar story with the next pairing. A leg of cocktail crab and a chunk of Delice de Bourgogne. Delice de Bourgogne is French for ‘the cardiologist’s friend.’ This cheese defines what it means to be a ‘triple cream’. The person seated next to me had never tried it and the experience was clearly a revelatory moment for her. She was scribbling notes and made sure she bought some at the end. The cheese on its own got three stars from me. The mild crab claw no stars and the combo. 1+1 = 0.5. Again, the two were best alone.
The third pairing was a gloriously succulent flaky Chilean sea bass (2 stars) and a Cana de Cabra Spanish cheese from a goat that clearly has not been at all discouraged by Spain’s debt crisis. It was absolutely at the peak of ripeness. Two stars for the cheese and 1+1=2 for the synergy (i.e. neutral).
An ominous pattern was emerging: Good, even great components, did not makea great combination. However, this was not the end of the story.
A hot crab au gratin with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar was rich with the briny taste of flaked crab and creamy and slightly salty from the cheese. Two stars for each of the ingredients and 1+1=3 (lots of synergy) from the combination. Likewise, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese incorporating Gruyère was two stars for the lobster, three for the cheese but 1+1=3 again for the synergy.
The new pattern seemed to be that melted cheese in hot dishes with seafood is a winner, but raw, cold cheese paired with seafood isn’t. The French have known this for ages. Recipes like lobster thermidor are classics and au gratin is an expression that appears in the name of many seafood dishes. If Rich Rogers of Scardello and Jon Alexis of TJ’s are going to try and convince to have a cold cheese and seafood plate at the end of the meal, then I think they will have a better chance of winning the Miss America competition in a Burka. However, if they want to convince us that seafood and cheese can be combined to make great dishes with the right recipe, they are preaching to the converted.
Incidentally, I was seated next to a trade representative for Swiss cheese making a tour of Texas. He noted that the price for these classes is half what he would pay in his home town of Chicago. I second that they are a great value. The full house last night had tremendous fun but also learned a lot. Scardello holds these classes at a rate of more than one a week. See the schedule and sign up online.