6 Cheese Questions for Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis
Although Michael Laiskonis is busy as the executive pastry chef at Le Bernardin in New York, he still finds time to dabble in restaurant consulting, food blogging, and teaching. On top of all that, he is writing his own book.
Recognized as an Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation, Michael has earned a four-star review from New York Times’ Frank Bruni, and three Michelin stars. How does cheese fit into this busy chef's life? Culture intern Alexandra is on a mission to find out.
What are your favorite ways to incorporate cheese into desserts?
Cheese on its own is a great bridge between savory and sweet courses, but so are more complex, composed dishes that incorporate cheese. I believe this is because cheese responds so well to both sweet and savory components, and it plays equally well with intense, concentrated flavors and lighter, fresher flavors.
A favorite transitional course in my repertoire is a pre-dessert of Fourme de Montbrison (a mellow, alluring blue from southwest France) paired with rendered bacon, prunes, crushed gingersnap cookies, and a slightly salty soy caramel.
Another favorite takes advantage of a cheese's composition- its calcium content. We blend a fresh, creamy goat cheese with a splash of milk, (and a pinch of salt and sugar) to a consistency slightly thicker than heavy cream. This goat cheese mixture is frozen into small orbs, then dropped into a water bath with sodium alginate (nothing sinister- it’s simply a seaweed extract) to create a perfect liquid-center sphere, which we’ve served with concord grape, candied walnuts, and a coarse grind of black pepper.
We hear you are writing a new cookbook; can you share any cheese-based recipes or ideas with our readers?
Well, it probably won’t be a cookbook in the conventional sense, but rather a narrative of the many passions I’ve discovered as a cook. Cheese, of course, is one of those passions. It’s funny, in the last couple of years I’ve found myself obsessed with milk - its composition and functionality - and dairy products in general!
At the end of the day, when cooking with cheese, I think it’s very important to retain just enough of its inherent integrity to make it recognizable as the star of the dish.
You are eating cheese, what are you drinking?
While I instinctively reach for a bold, sturdy red- maybe something from France’s Rhone Valley or the Ribera del Duero in Spain, one of my all-time favorite pairings is a Loire Valley goat cheese (Sainte Maure, Chabichou, etc.) with a Sauvignon Blanc from the same region- Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. It’s solid proof that two things that come from the same place have a natural affinity for one another.
I’m also a big fan of beer with cheese - a classic, but often overlooked pairing. I enjoy mixing and matching the subtleties of both to play off of each other.
If you could only choose one kind of cheese to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s a tough one! I love blues, I love soft-ripened cheeses, and I love crumbly, well-aged cheeses. And of course I enjoy cow’s milk, sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses (or any combination thereof). But if I could only choose one, I’d probably go ultra-simple with distinctive artisan cheddar. I’d never get sick of it!
You teach, write, blog, and cook - do you do anything unrelated to food in your spare time?
At some point it did seem that my job turned into a 24/7 lifestyle. It’s difficult not to see everything through a lens of food, but I don’t mind. I do enjoy soaking in almost anything creative - art, films, books.
What’s the worst food that you have ever eaten that had cheese in it?
There’s almost no cheese I don’t like, and I think overall it makes most things better. I’m fond of the saying from Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste: “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye”.
I can’t call to mind any ‘worst’ dish, but there is a cheese out there that is at once intriguing and terrifying: the Sardinian Casu Marzu – given a certain something special by allowing maggots to inhabit the cheese as it ages. I’m guessing that would be a challenge to eat!