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Cheese for Choosy Customers

SWEET AND CREAMY COMBO: The traditional pairing of Gorgonzola with wIldflower Honey is favored by many restaurants, including Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.

Adding flavorful cheese to sandwiches, creating signature pizzas, making memorable pastas and offering cheese courses as signature appetizers or robust end-of-the-meal specialties are all ways that cheese enhances today's menus.

The following recipes represent the variety of menu applications for specialty cheeses. From Tortas Jalisco in Lawrence, KS, comes a three-cheese sandwich idea. The stuffed cheese appetizer from One Walnut in Cleveland combines the flavors of walnuts and basil. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli is one of Chef John State's signature dishes at Disney's California Grill in Lake Buena Vista, FL. This year the restaurant on the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Chef John Caputo of Bin 36 in Chicago shares a recipe for Smoked Salami and Parmesan Pizza with Walnut Cream. And finally, consider complementary pairings for your cheese course, such as serving Gorgonzola with wildflower honey.

Walnut-Crusted and Basil-Stuffed Pianoforte Cheese

From: Executive chef Marlin Kaplan, One Walnut Restaurant, Cleveland, OH.

Yield: 8 servings.

1/4 cup shallots, chopped
4 tsp. garlic, chopped
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup champagne vinegar
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup truffle oil to taste, salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine shallots, garlic, thyme and vinegar in mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until well-infused. Whisk in truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper.

8 2-oz. Pianoforte Cheese domes
24 oz. walnuts, chopped
4 eggs, beaten
4 oz. fresh basil leaves
10 cups mixed greens

Chill cheese in freezer for 10 minutes or until stiff but not frozen. Halve each cheese horizontally. Lay 1/2 oz. basil leaves on bottom halves. Cover with top halves. Dip in beaten egg and coat each with 3 oz. nuts. Return to freezer to chill.

To serve: Cut each cheese in quarters. Place in 350°F oven just until soft. Place on greens. Drizzle with truffle vinaigrette.

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