Say what you will about the man who first decided to milk a cow, but you can’t say his decision was a bad one. Rummaging around the undercarriage of livestock resulted in milk, which in turn resulted in cheese, a glorious food that has been a part of the human diet since 8000 BC. A few thousand years later, when the Roman Empire was in full swing, cheese was a sophisticated industry, and now it’s thought that global consumption is fast approaching 21 million tonnes a year.
The popularity of cheese can be attributed to a number of factors. First, it’s downright delicious – with more than 500 recognised types of cheese in the world, each boasting its own distinct flavour and texture, there’s something for everyone. Another plus point is that cheese is addictive. No, really, it is: cheese contains the protein casein, which releases a morphine-like substance during digestion, giving cheese its addictive quality (ergo, a great excuse to eat more of the stuff).
While the Middle East’s contribution to the world of cheese isn’t on a par with Europe’s (halloumi actually originated in Cyprus), the region did bring us cheese manakish, for which we’ll always be grateful (especially after a night on the town). And, before you ask, camel cheese is almost impossible to make because camel milk doesn’t coagulate. Pity.
However, this isn’t to say that Dubai doesn’t have some semblance of a cheese culture. To prove it, we sent our team of turophiles (that’s the technical term for a cheese lover, before you call the police) across the city to find the top cheese nights, rating them on the variety of cheeses, value for money, the expert advice available (cheese know-how) and the condiments and beverages also on offer. Say ‘cheese!’
Vintage Sitting in Vintage is like being transported to a small, intimate English drawing room, complete with dark-wood decor and soft carpets. Though the night is focused more on grape-based beverages, it does feature a ’70s-tastic cheese fondue. There’s a special offer on Mondays and Fridays: while options are limited (blue or traditional fondue, and red or white grape), the quality, quantity and price is just right.
Value: 5/5 Selection: 2/5 Accompaniments: 3/5 Know-how: 2/5 Overall: 12 Dhs199 for one bottle of grape-based beverage and a bowl of fondue for two. Mon, Fri 6pm. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100).
Oeno This sophisticated bar features a live pianist, singers and jazz musicians in the evening and an outdoor balcony area for an al-fresco tipple (weather permitting). Guests have the option of choosing either three (Dhs75) or six (Dhs150) cheeses from Oeno’s well-stocked cheese room, although they’re served with a disappointing portion of chutney. If you visit between 6pm and 8pm, grape-based beverages cost just Dhs19 each.
Our Pick!: The Wharf This Madinat venue features an impressive temperature-controlled cheese room, making it one of the more high-tech cheese nights around. Simply ask for a bit of everything, as we did, or select the cheeses you’re particularly partial to – a tailor-made platter will be brought to your table with all the cheese-related condiments you could hope for (capers, sun-dried tomatoes, grapes and more).
Value: 4/5 Selection: 5/5 Accompaniments: 3/5 Know-how: 5/5 Overall: 17 Dhs200 for unlimited cheese and four glasses of grape-based beverage. Wed 5pm-11pm. Mina A’ Salam, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Media One As is often the case with Media One, the cheese night attracts a trendy after-work crowd. Here they tuck into cheddars and Edams, as well as more interesting offerings such as reblochon, charolais from Burgundy and French mountain cheese Tomme De Savoie Fermière. To accompany these there’s bread, salad, grapes, crackers, pickles, honey and quiche. Not advertised (but worth noting) is the fact you can order a rich fondue for your table, which is included in the price.
Value: 4/5 Selection: 3/5 Accompaniments: 2/5 Know-how: 3/5 Overall: 12 Dhs175 for unlimited cheese and grape-based beverages. Tue, Wed and Thu, 7pm. Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City (04 427 1000).
Qamardeen Hotel While the venue for Qamardeen’s cheese and wine night feels very hotel lobby-esque (the atmosphere and setting isn’t the best), the cheese-for-money factor wins here at a bargain Dhs109. The cheese selection ranges from strong and powerful to a variation of more subtle bries, and three glasses of good grape-based beverage wash down the selection nicely.
Value: 4/5 Selection: 3/5 Accompaniments: 2/5 Know-how: 1/5 Overall: 14 Dhs109 for unlimited cheese and three glasses of grape-based beverage). Wed, Thu, Fri 6pm-9pm. Emaar Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 428 5888).
Spike Bar Spike isn’t the cosiest of settings, but look beyond the decor and towards the cheese counter and you’ll see that this Emirates Golf Club location means business. Plate after plate is piled with choice cheesy cuts from across Europe, while soup, bread, crackers, grapes, dried fruits, cold cuts and desserts are served along with varying grape-based beverages. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the bar’s resident French chef, who’ll happily talk you through the selection.
Plantation There are about 30 French artisan cheeses on offer here, plus a fair selection of rye and white breads, and a few olives and dry fruits thrown in for good measure. The crowd is sophisticated – dare we say ‘mature’ – and the atmosphere is accentuated with exuberant hints of jazz, courtesy of the resident live entertainment.
Value: 3/5 Selection: 4/5 Accompaniments: 3/5 Know-how: 3/5 Overall: 13 Dhs150 for unlimited cheese and grape-based beverages. Wed 7pm-10pm. Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach, The Walk at JBR (04 448 4873).
Oscar’s Vine Society Oscar’s recreates an authentic Gallic vibe and, while the choice of cheese is relatively limited, you can eat as much as you like and enjoy an array of meats. Of note are the camembert (delightfully gooey) and La Roche (silky smooth). The chef stands in as sommelier, although his English isn’t always clear.
Value: 4/5 Selection: 2/5 Accompaniments: 2/5 Know-how: 1/5 Overall: 9 Dhs99 for unlimited cheese and cold cuts. Tue, Fri 7pm-11pm. Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111).