It's official: Japanese ingredients have found a way to completely infiltrate the American food system. Case in point is the Americanized dashi cheese at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar.
Dashi cheese is exactly what it sounds like: a slice of American cheese that has been fortified with kombu and katsuobushi. And also yes, the bi-cultural umami bomb tastes just as heavenly as you might expect—especially when melted atop one of Plan Check's thick burgers or smothered over tallow-fried fries.
For starters, the mouthfeel of the homemade cheese is simply insane. I learned this after sitting in during the making of a batch, which is composed of sharp Cheddar and Parmesan that's been blended with a milk-based dashi and emulsified with some melting salts. The restaurant plows through upward of 20 pounds a day, which is made fresh daily. The recipe was devised by Ernesto Uchimira, Plan Check's co-founder, who recently left the restaurant after four years there. He was the one who introduced the restaurant's slant toward Japanese techniques, including the cheese, which is carefully draped over each burger. Nonetheless, Michael Schneider—the current chef at Plan Check—assures me that Uchimira left the Japanese-American recipes in good hands.
"It's a nice surprise when you're biting into your burger," Schneider tells me while prepping for a busy Thursday night service at Plan Check's Sawtelle location. It is not even 5 PM yet and he is already busy flinging cheese slices all over the place. "There are so many variables with Japanese ingredients and techniques. When those variables are mixed with simple American flavors, it tends to lift the flavors of any dish—even cheeseburgers." He tells me about a homemade "Kim-cheese" that he makes in the downtown location, and the thought of a kimchi-enhanced cheese slice consequently blows my mind.
Talking to Schneider, I get the feeling that this man is no stranger to the world of mixing cultures through cuisine. I eventually find out that his OG fusion cooking philosophy is rooted with Roy Choi's, as he was the chef at A-Frame before coming to Plan Check. "Fusion tends to be misused but I don't think it is overexposed yet here in LA," he says. I start to pick up that in addition with being obsessed with melding new flavors into cheeses, Plan Check's homemade dashi cheese may be more of a nod to LA's diverse demographics. "From our base cheese mixtures, we can incorporate other ingredients like habanero, that Kim-cheese, which is made from dehydrated kimchi, and even truffle if we wanted to."
We finish our conversation and the time finally comes to take a massive bite of the Plan Check Burger. It's stacked with a minimalist combination of that highly anticipated dashi cheese, a slice of dehydrated ketchup leather—which melt together to form an unforgettably sweet and salty cheese goo—a medium-rare, thick beef patty, and dashi-cured pickles, all sandwiched between two squishy buns toasted with butter. The umami-filled bite is a great one, and it is only enhanced by a side of extra-crispy, waffle-cut sweet potato fries.
The Japanese-American cheese is just one of the secrets inside Plan Check's Japanese-heavy larder. The restaurant has a couple of locations in Los Angeles, so it's no secret in this city. Nonetheless, it's about time the rest of the world finds out why you too should be thinking about making your own dashi cheese at home instead of depending on boring ol' cheddar or other name-brand American singles for all of your melty cheese needs.
I wouldn't be surprised if homemade American cheese infusions catches on and we soon start to see them in the cheese case at Trader Joe's. However, I doubt it will be as deliciously over-the-top as the multicultural cheese being pumped out at Plan Check.