Romantic Cheeses and Brie en Croute for Valentine's Day
I thought cheese might be a great way to start off your home cooked romantic Valentine's dinner for two. It can be simple, elegant, rich and a great way to start off the night.
There is cheese, and then there is cheese.
The first kind of cheese is the kind you find at the regular grocery store - mass produced, cut into blocks and vacuum sealed. Perfectly fine for making a sandwich or grating and sprinkling on tacos or chili, but not what we're looking for when it comes to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner.
When I asked my wife and a couple of her friends what kind of cheese they think of when they think of a romantic dinner, they all immediately said "Brie." Brie is a soft French cheese named for the area in which it is made.
Another similar soft cheese to consider is Camembert. Both of these cheeses can be found pretty easily in the gourmet cheese section at the regular grocery store.
They are rich, so a couple of ounces per person will be more than enough. And there will be more courses to come, so don't gorge yourselves on cheese.
While my wife and her friends I spoke to were partial to Brie, I am a big fan of French double and triple creme cheeses. By French law, double creme cheese must have a minimum butterfat content of 60% per gram, and triple creme cheese must contain at least 75% butterfat per gram. As you can imagine, these cheeses are all very buttery, rich and very spreadable when ripe.
One of my favorites is a French cheese called Excelsior - it has about 72% butterfat, so it is just shy of a triple creme. Another fine triple creme is Brillat-Saverin.
If you're wondering where you've heard that name, he is quoted at the beginning of the original Iron Chef:
Show me what you eat, and I'll show you what you are.
While these cheeses are very expensive, since they are so very rich, a little goes a very long way. It is well worth your time to go to your local gourmet shop or cheese shop and hunt down some double or triple creme cheese.
For a simple presentation, serve small wedges of soft cheese with some sturdy crackers, such as Triscuits, or toasted slices of baguette.
Add a few small bunches of grapes (no more than 8 grapes per bunch - you don't want to slam a whole pound of grapes down on the plate) or slices of apple (mix the juice of one lemon into a cup of ice water. Dip the apple slices into the lemon water to prevent browning), and you have a lovely fruit and cheese course for two!
Important - cheese is best served at room temperature, so make sure that you get your cheese out of the refrigerator well before serving so that it has a chance to warm up.
Serve the fruit straight from the refrigerator, and use freshly toasted baguettes and you will impress your Valentine not only with your simple and beautiful presentation, but also with the three temperatures on one plate - cold fruit, room temperature cheese and warm bread will elevate your cheese plate from good to great.
Let's get back to the Brie
If you feel comfortable and want to offer your Valentine a baked cheese dish, you can make Brie en croute. This is a fancy name for Brie wrapped up in puff pastry, and it is very easy to make.
Brie en Croute
- 1 small wheel of Brie
- 1 sheet puff pastry*
- 1 small jar apricot preserves
- 1 pinch salt
- egg wash 1 egg whisked toghether with 1 tsp. water
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Flatten your piece of puff pastry, and then roll it so it is about ⅛ inch - 3/16 inch thick. Set the small wheel of brie on the pastry just for reference, and then cut a circle of puff pastry large enough to wrap all the cheese entirely. Reserve the extra dough because you'll be using some of it later.
- Brie rind is edible, so just leave it on. Mix a pinch or two of salt into the apricot preserves and spread it in a thick layer on top of the wheel of cheese.
- Place the center of the circle of pastry over the center of the cheese, right on top of the jam. Gently press the pastry down the sides of the wheel of cheese. Turn the whole thing upside down and pleat and seal the pastry. Just press all the edges firmly together, but don't press straight down, or you'll mess up your layer of jam.
- Turn the pastry covered wheel right-side up again. Put it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and press down from the sides, just to make sure the cheese is sitting fairly level on the sheet. Cut a couple of heart shapes out of the extra pastry - or you could cut out your Valentine's initials or just some leaf or flower shapes. Use a little of the egg wash to "glue" these cut outs to the top of your wheel. Now, brush the entire wheel with a thin coat of egg wash. This will help it to get shiny and brown in the oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the pastry is a nice golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve with crackers, toasted slices of baguette and maybe some fresh fruit.