Say Cheese : Fruits, Fromage, Dessert
How cheese found a place on the 19th C menu
Why do we eat cheese at the end of dinner? Remember that visit to a French restaurant where a trolley or platter with several types of cheeses was presented? You choose a slice from one or two and enjoy it with a glass of wine. When did this habit start? And does the cheese appear after the pudding or ice cream or pastry, or before? Towards the end of the 19th century a combination of Fruits, Fromage, Dessert will appear on the menu. Dessert being coffee, liqueurs, mignardises, chocolates and the like, not pudding, ice cream or pastry.
In this blogpost I use the word ‘cheese’ to talk about the product, or type, not the ingredient in a soufflée, or gratin. I was browsing in a recently acquired book Palais Royal – à la Table des Rois, an edition of the Bibliothèque nationale de France BnF, 2015, in a chapter about the way empress Eugénie, wife to Napoléon III, received her guests around 1860. Take for instance a soirée, with approximately 600 guests attending. The supper is held in front of a lavishly decorated buffet with many dishes, among which ‘assiettes de fromage’. Dishes with cheese. Clearly, cheese as a product to be consumed during or at the end of a meal. I wanted to learn more about this. So, time to dive into a collection of 19th century menu’s from Europe up to the 1880s, all for the nobility, elite, upper class, collected by Lord Chamberlain at the Hanoverian court, C.E. Von Malortie.
And then I scanned some food history almanachs and encyclopaedias. Cheese only appears on the French menu just before 1800. Two men are important in this respect. Brillat-Savarin ( 1755-1826) and Talleyrand (1754-1838) gave cheese gastronomic allure. Brillat-Savarin is the suspected source of the most charming quote: a dinner without cheese for dessert is a pretty woman missing an eye.’
One of Malorties menus is that for a 1812 dinner organised by Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837). Spectacular gourmand Grimod created a tasting team, that convened at the famous restaurant ‘Au Rocher de Cancale’ in Paris. Cheese did play a part in the menu, and this role will grow in importance during the 19th century. (See list below). It’s a pity for us that ‘cheese’ is mostly unnamed cheese. When mentioned it is most often Brie, Camembert, Gruyère or Roquefort.
Back to my query. What was I looking for? The trio Fruits Fromage Desserts on the menu, the identity of the cheese and if it was at home (at palace?) or in a hotel or restaurant. I also looked for the country, town, palace where the menu was served. Especially in the German countries I found so often ‘butter, cheese’, on the menu that I stopped counting. I wasn’t looking for the quantity, but the presence and form. I discovered that the trio Fruits – Fromage – Dessert is the successor or parallel of Fruits, Glace, Dessert. That is in itself remarkable, as we would count the Glace (ice cream) among the sweets rather than as a separate course.
Cheese was almost always present on the menu of a lavish diner, both in a hotel or restaurant or at a gala at the palace. This has not been an extensive research, I just wanted to know if and what was going on with the cheese board. Maybe looking for a trend.
1812 – menu tasting team Grimod de la Reynière – Fromage de Gruyère, de Brie, de Maroilles
1815 – Vertus chez Chalons diner for Czar Alexander – 20 assiettes de Fromage de France
1829 – Famille Royale Tuilleries – 24 assiettes fromages secs, fruits sec etc.
1833 – Literary Gentlemen’s Society in Paris – Fromage de Montd’or et de Entremonts les Gruyères
1875 – Berlin, dinner for the Russian Czar – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
1878 – Prusia – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
Sachsen – Fromage, Glaces, Dessert (portwein with the fromage)
Hotel Lidenburg – Camembert- und Schweizer käse, Gefrorenes von Vanille und Johannisbeeren
1880 – Braunschweig, slot Sybillenort – Chester et Camembert
Prussia – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
1881 – Sachsen Altenburg – Fromage de Roquefort et beurre, Glaces, Dessert
Hamburg, town council dinner for the German emperor – Fromage et Beurre en Portwein 1834
Wedding prince Wilhelm of Prussia & Victoria Sleeswig-Holstein – Fromage, Glace, Dessert
Wedding Rudolf of Austria – Fromage de Camemembert, Glace (Eis), Dessert
1882 – Prussia – Fromages, Glaces, Gauffres, Dessert
1883 – Sloꞵ zu Berlin – Gala dinner – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
Dinner Johanniter Orde – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
1884 – Prussia – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert
1887 – Prussia – Fromages, Glaces, Dessert also on March 22, 23, 24
Danmark Queens birthday – Fromage de Brie, de Hollande etc. , pailles au parmesan, Glace à l’Orange, Fruits et Dessert.
Denmark birthday Russian czar – Fromage de Brie, de Hollande etc. Glace à la Sicilienne, Fruits et dessert.
Hotel Bellevue (Germany) –Eis, Butter und Käse, Erdbere
But this is not the final word on cheese on the menu. Have a look at these menu’s. No cheese to be found. Not a bit of it. Just for a gratin here and there. This is Auguste Escoffier.
So although cheese was successfully introduced on the menu in the 19th century, thanks to Brillat-Savarin and Talleyrand, not every chef was convinced. The most important one of those defending their menu’s from the cheesy intrusion is probably Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Hundreds of his menus I perused looking for the trio Fruits Fromage Dessert. But no, absolutely no cheese. Escoffier -among all his other professional activities – belonged to the group of chefs providing the biweekly magazine l’Art Culinaire with menus. In Escoffiers menus you won’t find cheese. Many of his friends abstain. Rather a lot of sweets though, and no ‘trio’.
Do I have some idea about the practice in the Netherlands? I dive into the early 20th century het Kook- en Huishoudboek, with a readers group of chefs in hotels and restaurants. Both for déjeuner and diner, the results vary. A déjeuner might end with Fraises Wilhelmina, Bombe Sans-Gêne, Petits Fours and finally Fondu au Fromage. It’s cheese, but of the category ‘processed’. Chefs prefer that, because they like to show their prowess. Another déjeuner offers Bénedictines au Parmesan, a kind of choux au Parmesan. At a diner Chester Cakes. All belonging to the category ‘processed’.
Ending with almost an indigestion now, I find a couple of menus that follow the other road: After the chipolata pudding with a marasquin sauce the guests are offered cheese and then fruits. Another menu offers crême frite with apricot sauce, and then Fromage and Fruits. A third menu, again, after the Crême rubanée followed by Fromage and Fruits. So, maybe it’s typical for Escoffier and friends, maybe not. I haven’t found anything about this in his memoirs or books about him. Open to suggestions!
You’ll find Escoffiers menu’s here:
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