The Beauty of Cheese and Dessert, An Interview with Caroline Schiff

Caroline Schiff is a Pastry Chef in Brooklyn, New York. The following is transcribed from an interview with Caroline.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your current projects?

Yes, my name is Caroline Schiff and I am a pastry chef in Brooklyn, New York. And, I am going to be the pastry chef at Gage & Tollner which is reopening shortly in Brooklyn. Gage & Tollner was a legendary, famous chophouse in downtown Brooklyn. It opened in 1890s and it closed in 2003. It has this incredible legacy, and it was the place to go for more than 100 years. So many people of influence came through the doors and kitchens. Edna Lewis was the chef there at one point, which is an absolutely incredible thing. It has a landmarked interior, which is rare and really, really special. It’s probably the most unique project I could be working on as a chef, and the most exciting. It’s something that feels really creatively inspiring to be given something that has so much history and so many stories.

How did you get your start as a chef?

I’ve been baking forever, since I was a little girl. I have always loved pastry and being in a kitchen. It’s always been my greatest passion. After college I started working in kitchens. My first job was with Sohui Kim at the Good Fork who is the chef and one of the owners at Gage & Tollner – that was almost twelve years ago. It’s amazing to come full circle with someone who mentored you in the beginning. Pastry was the natural and instinctual thing for me and it’s, I feel very lucky I get to do the thing I love for a living.

You’ve traveled extensively, did this play into your love of cheese?

I’ve been to Switzerland, I lived in France for a year, in the Alps. I spent a lot of time in Italy, and if there’s anything I love anything as much as pastry, it’s probably cheese. When I was right out of college and interning at the restaurant, I also worked as a cheesemonger. Cheese is the best thing, it’s the best food. When I lived in France, I lived really close to the Swiss border. I had access to all of these incredible cheeses and local things, the selection was totally mind-blowing. I got totally into it and was spoiled and addicted. People close to me know that I have a cheese plate for dinner probably three times a week.

Recently, you’ve crafted a new recipe using Emmi Le Gruyère – tell us about that.

Yes! A little bit about Gruyère – it’s an Alpine cheese, it’s really iconic. It is Switzerland’s national treasure. It’s really buttery, it’s really nutty. It’s firm, but it’s really fatty, and it’s creamy once it melts. Because of that nuttiness, I think it can walk the line with sweet and savory. So, there’s certain applications that work so beautifully with it – on the sweeter side, apples, nuts and honey. On the savory, caramelized onions, bread and all of those delicious things. I wanted to with this recipe show how versatile it is and how it is a beautiful partner for all of these different kinds of ingredients. I made a Gruyère Apple Tart– there’s sage. The crust is a blend of buckwheat and whole wheat, and I did that because there’s a lot of flavor in buckwheat, it has a great earthiness to it, it is a little more interesting than white flower. Whole wheat also has more going on and I love the rustic quality that brings. It all tied together really beautifully, there’s some white wine in there because, you know, why not. I think the flavor combinations work together so well, and it’s pretty easy to put together. You don’t have to be a pastry chef to do it.

How do you feel cheese and sweets can play together?

I think with cheese we sometimes feel a little stuck with it, like it’s a cheeseboard, it’s a snack, and then you present it with all of these savory items that are delicious, but then that’s it. I think with the aged Swiss cheeses and the Alpine-style cheeses, Gouda and especially the Kaltbach varieties, there’s so much nuttiness, complexity and butterniness that they can go so well with tart fruit, nuts and honey. Things that are natural pairings that complement each other; I also love certain chocolates with cheeses. The Kaltbach Gouda has almost a butterscotch flavor and as a dessert with some dark chocolate, it’s pretty knockout; it’s pretty outrageous. I think people can think outside the box with cheese. Let’s not relegate it to a savory ingredient or as a snack or cheeseboard.

I think in terms of using cheese in pastry and in dessert, taste it! Just try to figure out what notes you are getting, are you getting nuts, caramel, butterscotch, even fruity, and what would you want to eat that with? Try it! It might be really good – the stakes are really low. The worst that happens is that you don’t like it. Cheese is like wine. There are so many flavors. It may start one way on your palate and finish in a completely different way depending on its age. Play around with it and have some fun.

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