Photos by Rick Daugherty & Josh Keown
Cheese bread is an unfussy name for a pretty straightforward appetizer, and it seems diners like it that way. It does have fancier offshoots — from housemade French bread stuffed with Gruyère to pretzel bread twisted with fontina cheese. Different cultures lay claim to the cheese bread, making it their own with local ingredients and infl uences. In Brazil, pão de queijo (bread of cheese) is made with manioc fl our and queijo de Minas (similar to a queso fresco). In the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe, kachapuri is made with fl our, butter, yeast, eggs and yogurt, and stars a creamy salted cow’s milk cheese that is best described as a blend between havarti and mozzarella. Italy’s small town of Recco in Genoa gives us foccacia di Recco, two layers of very thin dough sandwiching a rich, creamy fresh cheese called crescenza. In the U.S., cheese bread is most often bread spread with butter or olive oil, sometimes infused with garlic and herbs, and then topped with cheese or a blend of cheeses. Turning cheese bread into a signature appetizer comes in through technique and choice of cheeses. Operators we spoke to say that a simple cheese bread, executed well, makes their customers happiest, and menu distinction is achieved through recipes that call for more than the expected mozzarella melted over a slice of bread.
Lou Malnati’s, with 30 units in the Chicagoland area, serves a Three-Cheese Bread with a dipping sauce of housemade marinara for $5.25. “It’s a family-sized portion, so it’s a great communal appetizer,” says Jim Freeland, corporate chef and principal at Malnati’s. He starts with French bread infused with proprietary spices. He cuts the bread, then spreads garlic, along with a blend of several different fats, over the bread. It’s topped with mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar and bakes in the oven until the bread crisps and the cheeses melt. “It is a pretty simple dish, but it’s important to do it well,” he says. “We use really soft French bread, and it crisps up beautifully in the oven. We get a nice contrast of flavors with the three cheeses, so you have several things happening on your palate. It’s really popular because it’s good. It’s not just mozzarella melted on a piece of bread,” he says.
At Palio’s Pizza Café in Mansfield and Ft. Worth, Texas (with other units throughout Texas owned by different franchisees), they make both a cheese bread and a Greek bread, offering them in two portion sizes. For the cheese bread, they start with a hoagie roll, cut it in half and slather it with housemade garlic butter. That gets topped with mozzarella and then toasted. Once pulled out of the oven, it gets finished with Parmesan cheese and parsley. A small order is six slices, and runs at $3.99. The Greek bread sees the hoagie roll slathered with pesto, then topped with mozzarella, feta and tomato, as well as a bit of olive oil. It sells for $4.99. “The Cheese Bread is more popular, but the Greek one does well, too,” says Seth Johnston, manager. “I think it’s at an easier price point for people, plus it’s familiar. We add our own touch to it with the Parmesan and parsley.”
At C.R. Gibbs in Redding, California, the Garlic-Asiago Cheesebread sees mayo in the cheese mix. By adding mayonnaise to the recipe, the chef brings in a binding element and is reduces the cost of the cheese. Mayo also cuts the strong flavor of the Asiago, mellowing it out with its neutral tone. To make it, the chef combines grated Asiago, mayonnaise, chopped garlic and chopped green onion. He blends them, then chills the mixture so it sets. He then spreads it on cut sourdough sticks and broils them in the Salamander until the cheese melts. The appetizer is served with a marinara dipping sauce. “The bread actually stays relatively moist because of the mayo. We don’t need to add butter or oil to the bread first,” says Jennifer Baird, a line cook at C.R. Gibbs. “The mayo also helps us manage the cost of the cheese. The trick is to cover all of the bread with the cheese blend, so you don’t get any burned parts.” The Garlic-Asiago Cheesebread, at $2.99 an order, is second only in appetizer sales to the fried calamari.
Cheesy Garlic Bread
1 large loaf French bread
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup of grated mozzarella cheese
1/8 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup fontina
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Marinara sauce for dipping
Cut the loaf of bread in half, lengthways. Mix the garlic with the softened butter; spread the mixture over each half. Sprinkle mozzarella generously over both halves. Top with Parmesan and fontina cheeses. Combine herbs; sprinkle them over the bread. Place bread on ungreased baking sheet; bake in 375 F oven until bread is golden brown and cheese is bubbling and melted (about 10-15 minutes). Serve with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
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