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Posts Filed Under The ‘Cheese and Wine Tastings’ Category

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

On the Bubble

Champagnes and sparkling wines have advantages over still wines in pairing with cheeses – their effervescence. The juice of hundreds of different varietals can go into crafting sparkling wines but true Champagnes are limited to three: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Each of these is planted in roughly the same amounts in the Champagne region. For sparkling wines produced outside that area just about every other grape known to man has had a go at sparkling wine production. I enjoy a good Cava every now and then, a chilled glass of Prosecco can be spectacular, but the sparkling wines that are made with Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir (maybe with a little Pinot Meunier mixed in) are my favorites. There are some spectacular sparkling wines made with these varietals that rival some of the better known Champagnes, and they are usually available at a much lower price.

Champagnes (and their facsimiles) are noted by their acidity, which helps carry the sweetness across the palate. The effervescence, the acidity and the fruity qualities of these wines makes them especially refreshing. If it were left up to those qualities alone, the ideal cheese partners would be easier to predict – cheeses that had a balancing level of salt, a harmonious level of acidity, and textures that can meld with these sparklers. As with any wine, the aromatics ultimately come into play. For example, the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes fare better with cheeses that pair best with still wines made from that varietal. This may sound like a given yet there are some people that will forego a glass of Chardonnay but will gladly accept a Blanc de Blanc made solely from this grape. The other major player in Champagne is Pinot Noir – a varietal everyone seems to enjoy. The Champagnes and sparkling wines made primarily with this varietal will be a little different than those made primarily or solely with Chardonnay. The most recognizable difference is in the aroma.

The Champagnes and sparkling wines that are 100% Chardonnay favor cheeses such as the especially pungent Beermat (a.k.a. Aarauer Bierdeckel) and Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), the more modest Langres (from Champagne country itself) and Pont l’Evêque. The ones that are mostly Pinot Noir pair better with some related but more aged cheeses such as Beaufort, Gruyère, Hoch Ybrig, Val Bagner and Sbrinz. The bubblies that are blended with both varietals successfully pair with more cheese types, most of the above as well as Tomme de Savoie, Vacherin Fribourgeois, Terraluna and Brazos Cheddar. The less-Brut styles, the ones with a little extra residual sugar, will pair very well with the broadest range of cheese types.

You might try pouring a little Blanc de Blanc into the crater on top of a Langres and allow the Champagne to seep into the interior of the cheese. This is more than mere theatrics; it softens the texture of the paste making the cheese that much more delectable. Keep in mind that it is the Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes that work best with Langres .

Max McCalman

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Pinot Noir, in all its Guises

When we think of noble grape varieties, there are few that surpass the expectations demanded of Pinot Noir. The range in textures found in Pinot Noir is wide, the perfume is variable, yet the typical “Pinot” flavors are a little more predictable, flavors being flavors.

Pinot Noir has been called a sommelier’s grape. This is partly because it makes for a pleasant wine in most cases and it agrees with many foods. To “agree” with many foods is one thing, to “love” a food is quite another. And so it is with cheeses. Pinot Noirs seem to get along fairly well with many cheeses (except for most goats and most blues) yet it rarely falls head over heels with any type. Might it be said that this grape is comfortable in its own thin skin?

Some of the fruitier wines of this grape have greater success with the more assertive cheeses but a Pinot Noir that can stand up to a blue cheese is a rare sighting. I urge caution with that exercise; you will not want to shatter your gorgeous Pinot Noir with a bossy blue cheese. Once you have introduced that blue in the mouth, your wine will never be the same. However if you want to grow your catalog of successful cheese pairings for this varietal I recommend that you experiment with as many cheese types as you can find, keeping in mind that the pairings are more about the synergies between the cheese and the Pinot Noir, and less about the assessment of either partner. Putting cheeses and wines together can dramatically alter one’s appreciation for a cheese or a wine. The pairing principles apply to Pinot Noir no less than they do to other varietals: balance of fruity and savory, harmony of acidities, relative “size” of flavors of each, the complementing textural components, and the confluence of aromatics.

There are some notable cheese surprises to be realized with Pinot Noir. One blue cheese that actually performs rather well with a Burgundy Pinot is Roquefort. Granted, the Roquefort is outstanding and most Burgundy Pinot Noirs are no slackers either. The salt in the Roquefort contributes to the success of this match. Salt has a distinct way of highlighting the fruit in wines.

Another surprise I discovered with Pinot Noirs years ago was how well they paired with cheddars. Some say that cheddar is best paired with beer. Would that be because wines (Pinot Noirs included) did not have successful plantings in cheddar’s native land, southwest England? A little shortsighted, I say.

Pinot Noir marries most successfully with cow cheeses, young to well-aged. The bloomy rinds like Camembert and Pierre Robert can balance this varietal well, and the younger wash rinds such as Epoisses and Taleggio are good matches too. Again, the salt content in these helps flatter the grape. The pressed firm cow cheeses such Le Moulis and Tomme de Savoie find good synergies; Cantalet and the aforementioned Cheddars pair very well. The aged Alpine styles such as Tarentaise, Beaufort, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, and Prattigauer; all make good partners. The extra-aged 4 year old Gouda and Sbrinz dovetail nicely with most Pinot Noirs.

There are a number of successes to be found with the sheep milk cheeses, such as the Ossau Iraty, and with the mixed milk cheeses that include sheep milk, such as the Robiola due Latti.

Remember to be careful with the goat cheeses and the blues! These families of cheeses can take the fun out of your Pinot Noir. This likable varietal finds its preferred cheese partners in the middle part of the CheeseClock™.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Merlot, no Wallflower

Merlot had been largely relegated to the role of blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, even though it is the most widely planted varietal in France today. The varietal suffered from an identity crisis for many years, and it still does, to an extent. California has been planting more Merlot lately, to the point that it will soon be one of the largest growing regions in the world for this varietal. Notable successes of varying weights are coming from Napa alone.

As with most grapes, the Merlot has its unique demands from its growing regions, or you could say that it yields different styles depending on the qualities of the terroir where it is grown as well as the goal of the wine maker. This is why lighter Merlots pair a little better with some cheeses and the bigger Merlots line up a little better with others. Regardless of the resulting styles, Merlot in all its dimensions marries very well with many cheese types and it clashes badly with only a few. That being said, Merlot should not be taken lightly, even though it has a “light” red wine reputation. When the rare cheese clashes occur with Merlot it is important that we do not “blame” the cheese. The wine may be delicious and the cheese may be delicious but sometimes they do not get along. Like a great guy and a great gal, they are simply not compatible. People can easily blame the cheese. This is one reason why it helps to first assess cheeses and wines on their own.

Merlot is no pushover. The grape should not be taken for granted. Looking over our cheese pairings we find that 100% goat milk cheeses do not make the Merlot cut, though there are a few cheeses with some goat milk in the mix that pair okay. It would be interesting to see if the “no-goat” cohort among cheese lovers might also be Merlot fans. The blues can also challenge the Merlots somewhat. The elevated butyric acids in blues are part of the problem. Merlot wines are not noted for their acidity – sufficient acid to harmonize with the acid levels in most blues. The more fruit-forward Merlots can match some of the mellower blues nicely but even those matches are rare. On the other end of the pH scale, the thistle rennet sheep cheeses do not balance the Merlots so well; those cheeses (Serpa, Torta del Casar, Azeitão, Serena, etc.) have a little bitter note which the Merlots do not. This suggests that Merlots pair better with the cheeses that are more middle-of-the-road on the pH scale. Relative acidities influence the success of cheese and wine pairings.

The traditional rennet sheep cheeses such as the Ossau Iraty, Pecorino Sardo DOP, Abbaye de Belloc, Idiazábal and Royale; all of these make excellent partners for the Merlots. Bloomy rind cheeses such as Lillé and Chaource, cheese types that can be especially challenging to other wines can pair nicely with the Merlots. Among the cow cheeses, some of the wash-rind cheeses can pair well with this varietal, Dorset among them. The basic pressed and cheddar-style cow cheeses make good candidates for Merlot: Windsordale, Cantalet, Brazos Cheddar, Le Moulis, and Tomme de Savoie (another cheese that can be challenging with many wines). The huge-flavored 4 yr. old Gouda and Roomano dissolve nicely with Merlot, tyrosine crystals and all; as well as most of the Alpine styles: Comté, Appenzeller, Hoch Ybrig, Gruyère and Scharfe Maxx. It is interesting to note that Merlot is one of the few successful red varietals grown in Switzerland. Then there is the majestic Sbrinz; that cheese gets along with most wines, reds and whites.

If you happen to find a little Merlot left in your glass at the end of your meal, try a couple of these cheeses alongside it. The finish will be memorable.

Max McCalman

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Sauvignon Blanc, a.k.a. “Spring in a Glass”

Sauvignon Blanc in most of its expressions is a varietal I associate with warm weather more than any other. Refreshing, with citrus fruit aromas and flavors, most Sauvignon Blancs are inherently delightful paired with warm-weather cheeses, mostly the lighter styles. The grape grows in so many regions that you might expect that it can grow successfully anywhere. In fact, this varietal is particular, not only with where it is grown but also with which cheeses it is paired. When a Sauvignon Blanc finds a good match with a cheese it is invariably a very good match. Sauvignon Blanc pulls no punches. If a little Sémillon and/or Moscadelle is thrown in (as in white Bordeaux and some of the lovely whites of Napa valley) this changes the lineup of cheese partners somewhat, as does oak barrel fermentation (as in the Fumé Blancs).

The aesthetic relationships Sauvignon Blanc enjoys with cheeses are fairly easy to pick out: the balance of fruity and savory, the harmony of acids, and the overall size of flavors. The aromatic synergies between Sauvignon Blanc and different cheese styles may be a little less obvious, though at times I am reminded of lemon meringue pie. Technically, the acidity associated with the grape has a distinctive way of cutting though the butterfats in many cheeses.

Sauvignon Blanc seems to be so self-assured that you would think you can throw any old cheese its way and the wine will not suffer. This is precisely one reason why the disappointments can arise: the varietal usually yields wines that are not considered soft, wines that are perhaps a little less malleable with “bossy” cheeses. Other white wines such as those made with the Chardonnay grape have a relatively round mouth-feel; they are usually a little less acid and are more “forgiving” of demanding cheese partners. This is not to say that some Sauvignon Blancs cannot stand up to assertively flavored cheeses; they just do not occur as frequently. Some of the stronger cheeses can flatten a lovely Sauvignon Blanc down to insignificance.

This is why it is important to be careful with Sauvignon Blanc and cheese pairings. The go-to species of cheeses is goat, with the sheep cheeses following close behind. Many of the goat milk cheeses will start to come into their primes a little later in the spring. The mixed milk cheeses always seem to have an advantage with wine pairings, such as the Nettle Meadow Kunik, which is delightful on its own, even nicer with a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the cow cheeses in the cheddar family marry well (largely to the harmony of the acids with this grape) and some of the wash-rind or aged Alpine styles can pair well too, if the Sauvignon Blanc has sufficient “fruit.”

Some of my current favorite Sauvignon Blanc cheese partners include: Pecorino Sardo DOP, Ossau Iraty, Pawlett, Brazos Cheddar, Cantalet, Humboldt Fog, Fladä, Windsordale, Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), Langres, Le Moulis, Sbrinz, Beermat, Comté, Appenzeller, Prattigauer, and Mousseron Jurassien. These cheeses are all at peak right now and delicious with Sauvignon Blanc. We will see a new crop of fresh goat milk cheeses coming in to fine form soon, again, always great with this varietal.

Max McCalman

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I’ll take a Chardonnay, thank you!

I use to say that I thought that I was weaned on Chardonnay. For a go-to white wine, no other grape has come close. When people simply ask for a white wine, if any other varietal is included in the glass, I will bet that there may be a moment of hesitation, almost as though something might be a little “off.” Even for the A.B.C. (anything besides Chardonnay) crowd, the attractiveness of wines produced solely from this grape makes them hard to dismiss. By “attractiveness” I am referring to the grape’s many flavors and aromas, its supple mouth-feel, and its versatility with many foods. The Chardonnay wines can be so delicious that they can be enjoyed on their own. This is a quality that other varietals may also claim – that they can be enjoyed on their own – yet you can lose that appreciation for them more quickly than you can for the Chardonnays. Their wines seem to offer the complete “meal,” not just the beverage accompaniment quality. Some of those aromas and flavors can be found in other varietals, certainly, yet Chardonnay seems to have more of them.

You could say “No two Chardonnays are the same.” This would suggest a level of connoisseurship beyond the grasp of most individuals, even a bit of snobbery. Yes, they are different, yet they are unmistakably Chardonnay.

The appreciation for Chardonnay extends beyond the ease of its pronunciation. How many ways can you say “Chardonnay?” The name rolls of the tongue and the opportunities for rhyming with it are myriad. The relative ease of pronunciation reminds me of the name “Stilton.” This was the cheese guests requested most frequently during my Fromager tenure at Picholine restaurant. Far easier to pronounce than the French equivalent – Fourme d’Ambert – it may have given some diners a sense of connoisseurship, the recognition of a great cheese name. Interestingly, an old article in the Wine Spectator mentioned the success of pairing Stilton with Chardonnay. This sounded preposterous when I first read it, yet I admit that when I tried the two together, it turned out to be a good match. The success of this pairing was confirmed by participants in a Matchmaking Cheese & Wine class recently; the recognition of the successful pairing was virtually unanimous.

Like my favorite red grape – Cabernet Sauvignon – the Chardonnays appear to prefer cheeses made from cow milk. Some of the many cheeses that can pair well with Chardonnay wines with a couple of goat and sheep milk cheeses thrown in include: Affidelice, Appenzeller, Barely Buzzed, Beermat, Beaufort, Bleu de Laqueuille, Blu del Moncenisio, Brillat Savarin, Cheddar, Comté, Dorset, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Försterkäse (a.k.a. Bergfichte), Fourme d’Ambert, Hoch Ybrig, Humboldt Fog, Langres, Livarot, Mahón, Le Moulis, Le Moulis Chèvre, Roquefort, Roves des Garrigues, Rupert, Sainte-Maure, Sbrinz, Shropshire Blue, Stanser Rotelli, Taleggio, Tarentaise.

Yes, a glass of Chardonnay can be lovely on its own but why not elevate it with a fine cheese?

Max McCalman

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

The Nose Knows

A question comes up frequently: how can a cheese smell so strong yet taste so mild? And conversely, some cheeses that have little aroma have a very strong taste. The short answer is that the tongue picks up five flavors only: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami; whereas the nose can detect hundreds of distinct smells. Our nose picks up aromas arising from volatile compounds in the cheese while the actual flavors in the mouth are caused by other chemical attributes. The combination of the aroma and flavor provides the signature “flavor” of the cheese.

One interesting comment I hear refers to the stinky blue cheeses. Many blue cheeses are aromatic but none of them qualify as “stinky.” The “stinky” descriptor applies best to the wash-rind cheeses – those that have the beneficial b. linens bacteria on their rinds. Some of the younger wetter cheeses that have that surface bacteria can be highly aromatic, or “stinky.” A little ammonia can be one of their aromas.

Some people avoid tasting some cheeses because they assume that an intensely aromatic cheese will make for an intensely flavored cheese, one that is over-the-top. For those that risk a nibble of a “stinky” cheese, they are often surprised at how mild-flavored the cheese actually is. The imprints on our cognitive receptors (our noses and tongues) can fool us. They pick up different aspects.

It is interesting to see how cheeses and wines complement each other so well most of the time. The flavors usually balance each other out nicely: the savory note in the cheese balances the fruit in the wine; the more sour cheese harmonizes with the more acid wine; the overall size of the wine matches the overall size of the cheese; etc. At least this is how they usually start off. Everything seems to be working well, then in the finish there is a huge clash.

This happens from time to time. Fortunately the clashes do not occur that often, but when they do the cheese and wine may both suffer because of the bad marriage. Sometimes the cheese simply flattens the wine. When these mismatches occur it is largely due to the confluence of the aromas in the cheese and the wine. They simply do not meld so well. The combination of the aromas can elicit some blends that may remind you of something you would rather forget, or just as often, the conjoined aromas may remind you of a lovely romantic interlude.

Whatever happens, it is usually left up to the nose, or at least to the retro-nasal profiles of the cheese and wine. All the opening acts: appearance, flavor, texture, etc. all these may be in sync, yet the finish is what seals the deal between a cheese and wine. When all these elements are aligned, you experience the “marriages-made-in-heaven” and the matchmaking is a success.

The nose knows.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Mastering Cheese in Twenty Hours

Our recent Master Series brought together the talents of several members of the Artisanal team, each member offering their expertise on different topics. We used to offer the series over the course of six weeks, one long weeknight per week. This format did not work well for out-of-towners so we consolidated the series into three days. Even that was problematic for some people: getting away from work for three days and paying for an extra hotel night in the city. So we consolidated the series into two longer days: Sunday and Monday. This has worked well for most people, although many students have said they would have enjoyed studying cheese several more days with us.

16058 Mastering Cheese in Twenty Hours

Actual cheese mastery certainly requires more than twenty hours, but with a little background coming in to our series, one can expect to become more masterful. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my editor: she asked me if I would like to write a book entitled Mastering Cheese. I asked her how long I could take to write the book, and how many words could I have. Neither the 15 months nor the 300,00 words were sufficient. Her patience allowed me an extra 3 months to write 450,000 words, 64,000 of which she let me leave in the final manuscript.

17dcpbb Mastering Cheese in Twenty Hours

I have always maintained that the best way to learn about cheese is to put it in your mouth. Kind of like a picture says a thousand words. Alas, there is only so much you can learn about cheese reading a book about it. Hands-on experience is invaluable. This is one reason that the Cheese Professionals certification effort endorsed by the American Cheese Society has an eligibility requirement. Work experience and academic training can be combined to meet the requirement to sit for the exam.

The twenty hours that a student spends with us in our Master Series can go a long way to help meet the eligibility requirements, more than the twenty hours alone. The series’ syllabus covers many areas, from the history of cheese, to basic cheese making, to pairing cheese with wine, storage and presentation, the nutritional values and safety concerns, all the way to cheese “business.” The series is geared to the professional, either in the retail or restaurant setting. Some people have a keen interest in cheese; call them cheese “enthusiasts” considering a change in careers. No other professional cohort has followed the cheese trail more than attorneys.

As people are preparing to take the first exam this August, several people have come in for our Master Series. Some people are already in the cheese business in one way or another. They take our Master Series to gain knowledge they can apply in their jobs. The networking opportunities usually lead to long-standing professional relationships.

One of the students in our last series was an established cheese educator and author, Ms. Jody Farnham. We also had Ms. Jane Bauer, the American Cheese Society’s Education and Outreach Manager; and Ms. Nora Weiser, the Society’s Executive Director. Needless to say, these students, combined with all the others from across North America made for a great group. This may sound like we had a large class. Actually, we have always kept the enrollments low, to give greater individual focus and interaction. As always, we also learned more teaching the series.

By the way, as of last year, the American Cheese Society includes the profession of Cheese Educator in the members’ jobs categories.

Max McCalman

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

World Championship Cheese Judges

These contests give us opportunities to witness other experts go through their different judging processes. Some judges take longer to assess the appearance of the cheese surface, while others spend more time assessing the paste. Some judges take a whiff of the fresh sample, then a second whiff, and then contemplate the aroma for a full minute before proceeding to the taste. For most judges, the taste matters most, and for a full assessment of the taste the judge must wait up to a full minute after the cheese is in the mouth to evaluate the full profile of a cheese. It is that imprint on the cognitive receptors that gives judges their final evaluations of a cheese. For some judges, the texture is almost as important quality as the taste.

One of the judges, Russell Smith who is a veteran cheese expert from Australia, told me that the texture is all-important. I agree; so many cheeses seem to have a nice appearance, a pleasant fresh milk aroma, even a balanced flavor, but the texture disappoints. For many of the categories he was judging, like almost all of my categories, there were several cheeses that had this flaw: a pasty, gummy, or mealy texture. As Russell and I agreed, this rubbery texture may not be considered a flaw by some consumers however the experience of tasting a cheese which has the appropriate texture for its class is an experience that you will not forget. I know of no cheese for which a pasty texture is desirable. I tasted many cheeses that had a well-balanced flavor yet their textures were weak.

Assistant Chief Judge Stan Dietsche, in his introductory remarks explaining the judging process, recommended the judges approach tasting each cheese with a certain reverence. He compared the proper approach to a two-minute love affair. That remark reminded me of one of our core classes – Sexy Cheese. Stan’s advice brought laughter from the judges, but his point was fully understood. This is certainly the approach my judging colleague Roland Barthélemy takes. Roland, who is president of the Guilde des Fromagers, takes in the full view of each new cheese he tastes, his eyes wide in wonderment. You can see his nose twitch slightly in anticipation. Yet he sizes the cheese up very carefully, all around its surfaces, before he focuses on the aroma. The judges take core samples with their cheese triers, hold the core sample up to their noses, and take in the full aroma. Roland has a distinctive flare to this process. He receives the tool used to extract the sample (the trier) as though he is receiving a sacred relic. He holds the sample up to his nose and sniffs the length of the sample. He turns his head to exhale then he goes through the exact same process again.

The usual process followed in cheese competitions involves taking in the cheese appearance, then the aroma, then the flavor, then the texture or mouthfeel, then you wait for the “finish.” That final aromatic profile is what “seals-the-deal” in the evaluation. Everything else may be fine, but the finish sometimes disappoints.

Again, the texture is very important. This contest lists twenty possible texture defects a judge can assign, with a couple of open spaces for any others. I recall going through several wheels of Appenzeller (one of my favorites) and finding good rinds, nice aromas and flavors (though slightly different, one wheel to the next) but when I got down to the texture critiques, I found myself checking off little deductions for the same “flaws.” Nearly all of them had a “pasty” and/or “gummy” texture, nearly all of them, unlike the Appenzeller we proudly offer. One of our sayings around here has been “Taste the Difference.” I would extend that to “Taste and Feel the Difference.” That two-minute love affair should last much longer, and the cheese’s texture helps make that happen.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Cheese Pairing Principles

WineColl.72 Cheese Pairing Principles
Everywhere you turn now people seem to be talking about pairing foods and beverages, especially the cheese and beverage pairings. This could be partly because we started digging into this study almost twenty years ago and now it seems like everyone’s doing it. Our pairings began with the focus on cheese and wine. The beer lovers hopped on the pairing bandwagon, then spirits aficionados, sakes cognoscenti, tea drinkers, coffee lovers, etc.

Cheese has been enjoyed with beers and wines for many centuries, the other ones are more recent studies. Yet Americans seem to have a near-obsession with the pairings, whatever the food and beverage, as though if we get it wrong we have made an egregious error. The pairing principles are good tools to use to master pairings but the variables are limitless, and we have to admit that it is a little subjective.

Our preferences for certain cheeses or wines (or other beverages) likely has a big say in our pairing assessments. For example, if we are particularly fond of Pinot Noir we might find more successful pairings with that grape than with a wine we avoid. The same goes for the cheeses. In our Cheese & Wine 101 class we dissect the pairings of several cheese types with a range of wines.
 Cheese Pairing Principles
This “laboratory” is probably not the way most people experience cheeses and wines–by mixing them in the mouth and noting what happens as the mixture crosses the palate. It is normally a less formal or academic exercise, one that is more leisurely. We have a sip of wine then we have a nibble of cheese a little later. Most people do not consciously force the two together simultaneously. Even though the “forced” pairing is not taking place in these casual situations the results can be very much the same. If the cheese and wine were not good mates to begin with, they probably eventually leave a disappointing finish.

More often than not, cheeses and wines (or beers) do work well together. Again, we all have our personal preferences and sometimes the confluence of flavors and aromas between the cheeses and beverages can bring out new flavors and aromas which some of us may enjoy while others do not. Those aromatics are what “seals-the-deal” in pairings not just with cheese but with all foods.

The balancing relationships between cheeses and wines have several parallels: the “fruit” in the wine (or beer or other beverage) balances the salty or savory characteristics in the cheese. The saltier cheeses pair better with the fruitier wines, generally even better with the so-called “dessert” wines. Those wines with higher levels of residual sugar should be called “cheese” wines. When you already have sweet in your dessert why would you want to top it off with a little more sugar in the wine? One of the classic matches between a cheese and wine is the one between a salty Roquefort and a sweet Sauternes.

Another balancing act between cheeses and beverages is how they relate to overall “size” of flavor. The bigger flavored cheeses can annihilate a milder wine. It is usually better to have the cheese and wine find a matching fullness of flavor otherwise the cheese can change the wine into water, so to speak. The gentle wine may wash the big cheese down nicely but the subtleties in the wine may be lost.

We have found that the more acid cheeses generally work better with the more acid wines. All wines are more acid than all cheeses. If the cheeses had those low pH levels they would be intolerable. This is more a relationship of harmony than an actual see-saw balance. This is perhaps one reason why beers and cheeses can mate so well, the pH levels in beers are rarely as acid as those in wines.
17bc Cheese Pairing Principles
Speaking of beers, the texture of each partner plays a not insignificant role. The effervescence in beers helps to lift up the butter fats and acids in cheeses so that they swirl around in the mouth like Balanchine. Wines have their textures too; it is not just “advantageous” sparkling wines and still wines. The mouth feel of still wines can be notably different. One varietal such as a Chardonnay has a round texture compared to a Sauvignon Blanc. This overall mouth feel is drawn from a number of qualities: acid, astringent (as those presented in tannic wines), trace minerals, barrel influence, and any effervescence.

Cheeses obviously have their own textures. Some are liquid like water while others are nearly as hard as granite. This is a relationship between cheeses and beverages that may be a little less important than others yet we have found that the firmer the cheese the better the mating with the beverage. This could be partly because the flavors in the cheese become more focused as they harden and age; the salts become more pronounced – those salts which play off the liquid partner so well, especially a liquid partner on the sweeter side. The softer cheeses often work best with the more effervescent beverages. The flavors in a younger softer cheese can be a bit scattered and unfocused compared to the harder cheeses. The bubbles provide a little texture to the duet.

Again, in more cases than not, cheeses and wines or other beverages do work well together. There are the occasional bad marriages but they are much less frequent than the successes. It should be noted that the hungrier and thirstier you are the more likely they pairings will be pleasing.

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

Original post at www.BigAppleNosh.com

Reprinted here in its entirety with permission.

Thanks Serena!

Artisanal 11 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

I am so excited to share these photos with you! My sister got me a 3-month subscription to Artisanal‘s Cheese of the Month Club for my birthday. My first delivery arrived in July, and I am just giddy with excitement! Cheese is my favorite food in the world (even more than dessert, can you imagine?) – if I could only have one food for the rest of my life, I would choose cheese. I would never tire from the variety of textures, aromas, and flavor profiles; I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like! As a restaurant devoted entirely to cheese, Artisanal is one of my favorite places to dine in the city. But enough about me, let’s get on with the CHEESE!

Oh, the goodness that was waiting inside this box was tantalizing:

Artisanal 1 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

I opened up the package, and packed in an insulated bag were four odoriferous bundles of heaven:

Artisanal 2 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

Also included was a “Cheese Clock” which provided “essential wisdom for selecting, presenting and enjoying Artisanal Premium Cheese!” – well, if there’s any type of wisdom I like it’s cheese wisdom:

Artisanal 3 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

Finally, Artisanal included a detailed description of each cheese with suggested wine pairings and flavor notes:

Artisanal 4 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

While this blog unfortunately doesn’t have taste-o-vision, below are photos of each cheese, as well as the included description in the notes. First off, Robiola Nostrano (Mild):

Artisanal 5 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

“The Robiola Nostrano is produced by Stagionatura Guffanti in northwest Italy. The cheese tastes a little like a Brie but it delivers a luscious flavor that you do not find in the bries we have available to us in the US. The soft unctuous texture is especially pleasing. The rind allows for good air exchange that enhances the overall quality of the cheese. This version is made with all cows’ milk, though occasionally they have one available that has other milks added. The Robiola Nostrano is not a cheese that you will have to worry about having any leftovers; they are so delicious that they are invariable finished properly.”

The texture of this cheese is rich, creamy and luxurious on the tongue. The taste is mild, hence the recommendation to start with this cheese, and what a delightful start it is!

In the Medium category, we have Stella Royale:

Artisanal 6 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

“Stella Royale is a traditional style of pressed sheep milk cheese from northwest Spain. The milk for this especially nutritious cheese comes from the Churra breed, a native of the region that is able to thrive throughout the extremes of the seasons. The high quality milk produces a cheese with a full-flavored nutty flavor that lingers luxuriously on the palate.”

The Stella holds its own with a drier, slightly crumbly texture and just the lightest hint of a bite. I especially enjoyed it with the tiniest nibble of fig cake – the sweet and salty juxtaposition was very satisfying!

The Bold selection was Tomme Fermiere d’ Alsace:

Artisanal 7 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

“Tomme Fermiere d’Alsace is a firm, washed-rind (smear) cow’s milk cheese made in the Alsace region of France. We receive this cheese into our caves and continue the maturing process for an additional two to four months, washing each wheel several times with a light Alsatian wine. This dramatically accentuates the lactic flavors and develops long, fruity notes with hints of mushrooms, grass and butter.”

Unlike the Robiola, this cheese has a firmer, more robust texture – however, it is just as creamy and buttery. I tasted notes of the wine wash on the Tomme Fermiere d’Alsace, which I especially appreciated. Heavenly!

To round off the plate, we finish with a Strong selection, the Bleu d’Auvergne:

Artisanal 9 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

“Bleu d’ Auvergne is a name-protected (Denomination Origine Protected, DOP) cheese from the Auvergne region in south-central France, where it has been made since the middle of the 19th century. Bleu d’Auvergne is made in the traditional manner from cow’s milk and features blue veining throughout. Its moist, sticky rind conceals a soft paste possessing a grassy, herbaceous and (with age) spicy, pungent taste. Here at the Artisanal Premium Center, we allow this cheese to drain until it reaches the creamy consistency we desire. Bleu d’Auvergne pairs well with Alsatian Rieslings and classic dessert wines such as a Sauternes.”

I said I wouldn’t name favorites, but that was before I met Bleu d’Auvergne – if you love blues, you will LOVE this cheese; I sure did! Suuuper creamy, tangy and very “spicy,” this was the perfect specimen of a blue. I dare you to find a better one, I dare you!

And below is a group photo, arranged as suggested by the Cheese Clock guide! Yummmm:

Artisanal 10 Artisanal Cheese of the Month Club! Month 1

I’m waiting for my sister to enjoy the cheese with me this coming weekend, but as you can tell from my descriptions, I’ve sampled a small portion of each – and they are gooooood. I can’t wait to try a heartier portion of each variety this weekend, but my favorite thus far is the Bleu d’Auvergne (couldn’t you tell? haha) – its juxtaposition of creamy texture and tangy bite is heavenly. I’m a lucky girl! I think this may be my favorite “thing-of-the-month” I’ve ever encountered. Now if only there were lifetime subscriptions…

What is your favorite type of cheese?

Serena
bigapplenosh.com