Combining cheese with bread is like smiling: It seems to be a universal human impulse. Many cultures around the world have developed their own solutions to the cheese-plus-bread equation. And because both cheese and bread have almost endless variations unto themselves, there’s a dizzying array of options out there.
From French gougeres to Georgian khachapuri, Swiss fondue to Brazilian pao de queijo, every cheese-loving culture has developed a favorite. Cheese is sprinkled on top, sandwiched between and even baked directly into breads that are rooted in their own particular traditions and places.
Yet, the best bread and cheese dishes have one more common thread: They must be fresh. Whether it’s a quick bread like a pancake or a multiday process like fermented dough, nothing beats freshly cooked bread transferring its heat to melting cheese.
While different cuisines around the globe certainly make use of unique local ingredients, it can be just as interesting to see how people combine the same ingredients in different ways. You may have your own favorite cheese bread, but there are so many other options to try. When the combination of cheese and bread is so satisfying, there’s hardly any risk in exploration. You can try some of the best examples of this epic combination from cultures all over the world right here in Atlanta.
The French emerged from the Middle Ages as culinary leaders thanks to complex cooking techniques that transformed humble ingredients like flour and butter into gastronomic delights. The classic gougere is a beautiful example: Basic pate a choux, a simple dough made from just water, butter, flour and eggs, is mixed with cheese and baked into little puffs. Fresh gougeres, inflated by steam, are airy and chewy on the inside with a crisp, cheesy exterior. Though gougeres are typically small, the experts at Little Tart Bakeshop make giant versions each day. This is one situation where more of a good thing actually is a good thing.
Little Tart, multiple locations. 404-348-4797, littletartatl.com.
The French may take umbrage, but Indian cuisine does pancakes and crepes as well as or better than anyone. And while crepes are often eaten with cheese and other savory flavorings in the U.S., uttapam makes a good argument for treating pancakes the same way. Chai Pani makes several versions of uttapam, which resemble American breakfast pancakes on the surface but are made in a completely different way. Chai Pani’s uttapam is made with a batter of water, rice and dal that is fermented overnight, then ground together with salt, ginger, onions and chiles. With the addition of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, Chai Pani’s uttapam combines the best parts of a pancake and pizza, then adds a strong dose of Indian flair.
Chai Pani, 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-378-4030, chaipanidecatur.com.
Pao de queijo
Having seen continued growth in its five years in business, local company Mr. Cheese Bread is set to bring a Brazilian specialty to the mainstream. Pao de queijo, which literally translates to “cheese bread” in Portuguese, is a common snack and appetizer in Brazil. The little puffs of bread, denser than gougeres, are made in town with cassava flour imported from Brazil, resulting in a gluten-free product. Pao de queijo is served at many of the Brazilian steakhouses around town, but Mr. Cheese Bread’s version can be found at Galeto, a new churrascaria in Alpharetta. Or you can buy its product frozen from grocery stores and Hispanic markets around the city.
Mr. Cheese Bread, mrcheesebread.com.
Galeto Brazilian Steakhouse, 2355 Mansell Road, Alpharetta. 770-800-8044, galeto.com.
We Americans, and especially we Southerners, can’t be left out of the cheese bread discussion. And while we may not be able to claim its invention, it’s not a stretch to say that the fluffy, buttery biscuit was perfected in the American South. One restaurant that’s spent decades churning out thousands of these divine little quick breads is roadside cafe Stilesboro Biscuits in Kennesaw. When we talk about biscuits as cheese bread, the biscuit is actually the more important part of the equation. Stilesboro’s are near-perfect examples, with nicely browned tops and cloudlike interiors that steam when you crack them open. Order it with a slice of American cheese, and you have a deeply satisfying dish that could only be found in the States.
Stilesboro Biscuits, 3590 Stilesboro Road NW, Kennesaw. 770-429-5552, Facebook: Stilesboro Biscuits.
Once you’ve tried dishes that include cheese on top of, in the middle of, and baked directly into different breads, you may feel the urge to take the reins yourself. To do that, visit Italian powerhouse No. 246 in downtown Decatur and order the stracciatella. Stracciatella is actually the name of the cheese, which can be mixed with cream to make the more commonly seen burrata. No. 246 serves the loose, diplike curds in a bowl with salt, red pepper, olive oil and a bit of honey. The vehicle for this cheese is a freshly baked flatbread, essentially a naked pizza crust generously covered with minced garlic and more olive oil. It’s difficult to decide which is better — the fresh, sweet-savory cheese or chewy, piping hot flatbread. But it’s not difficult to tell that together, the cheese and bread are even more delicious than the sum of their parts.
No. 246, 129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 678-399-8246, no246.com.