Weâ€™ve seen a cheese on the market that goes by this name â€“ FÃ¶rsterkÃ¤se. It is a nice cheese but it is not a great cheese. The Bergfichte we carry is the one that counts. It is absolutely spectacular, chock full of umami, and voluptuous. Some people canâ€™t get past the aroma but to me it is an endearing one.
One problem that fans of these softer wash-rind cheeses have with their favorite red wines is the limited pairing successes they seem to have. This can especially true for the Pinot Noir fans. They may crave those soft stinky cheeses but whether or not their Pinot will pair well with those cheeses is a bit iffy. These wines generally do better with natural-rind cow or sheep milk cheeses, pressed but not cooked types, rarely the goats or the blues.
Years ago when I was looking for the most-likely-to-succeed varietals for the cheeses that are featured in my second book â€“ Cheese, a Connoisseurâ€™s Guide to the Worldâ€™s Best â€“ I hesitated to try Pinot Noirs with the KrÃ¼mmenswiler FÃ¶rsterkÃ¤se (as it was then known). I recalled how often these types of cheeses can destroy that noble grape. To my amazement, not only did the wine and cheese complement each other, they elevated one another! Layers and layers of flavors came through, out of the cheese as well as the wine.
Granted, not all Pinot Noirs are the same. So what might happen with another?
Fortunately, I had the same great successes with just about every Pinot that I tried. Again, not everyone cares for the type of funky aroma that the Bergfichte exudes. Yet if you are looking for one of those drop-dead gorgeous matches between cheeses and wines, I recommend that you try this one.
Because the name FÃ¶rsterkÃ¤se (meaning â€œforest cheeseâ€) is a little easier to pronounce than its original full name, and because many people began to abbreviate the name without the KrÃ¼mmenswiler in front, we continue to call the cheese FÃ¶rsterkÃ¤se, even though the new name for the cheese is actually Bergfichte, that is if you want to get the great one.
The flavors for the Serras require depth in their wine partners to find the best balance. The cheese happens to be produced near where Portugalâ€™s best known wines are produced â€“ the Portos â€“ most of those being fairly deep wines themselves. The ports and Serras can harmonize rather well but one of the best matches that I have found for this cheese is found in wines that are either 100% Syrah (or Shiraz) or are wines in which that varietal is dominant.
The older Portuguese people appear to prefer their Serras on the more aged side when the cheeses become firmer and more intensely flavored as well as a little saltier. At this age the Serra pairs a little better with the Port wines. Again, we see the Serras arrive here on the younger side so you might look to the Syrah wines for the better match. The Syrahs are known for the jammy qualities and the Serras having their nutty flavors may remind you of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a classic and familiar matching, only better.
For all the many cheese types that are produced in France, no other type quite defines French cheeses than the triple-crÃ¨mes. I often refer to these cheeses as â€œluxuryâ€ cheeses because they are fat-added cheeses, more luxurious than the double-crÃ¨mes because they have a minimum of 75% fat in dry matter compared to the minimum of 60% for the doubles. 75% would not make them exactly triple the fat that would be found in the milk to begin with, yet considerably more than the 60% of the double-crÃ¨mes.
Neither of these cheese types may be my favorite types, not because they may be more fattening (because they arenâ€™t necessarily so anyway) but I have to admit that they are quite popular. I took one to a Bastille Day party recently and the cheese was devoured within a matter of minutes, the firmer cheese beside it lasted a little longer even though it weighed less. One reason that I may veer away from these cheeses is because they contain relatively higher water content than the firmer varieties (one of the reasons that they arenâ€™t actually more fattening). I would prefer to pay for the good solids offered in cheese than the water.
Every once in a while I sample one of those triple-crÃ¨mes anyway. At a Cheese & Wine 201 seminar recently we incorporated a Brillat-Savarin Frais (a rindless example from one of the best producers) into the mix of cheeses. One of the wines we sampled was a Friulano. The triple-crÃ¨mes have often presented challenges to their wine partners, or at least the pairings have only been rated as â€œgood.â€
Though I did not expect this matching to thrill us, after the cheese and wine had melded together in the mouth, the layers of flavor began to unfold into an unusual and exceptional finish. The Friulanos are noted for their delightful blends of aromatics â€“ floral, fruity, vegetal and nutty â€“ as well as their medium bodied textures, their softness that is balanced by some acid. These qualities would suggest a delightful match for the rich Brillat-Savarin Frais. The acid in the wine would dissolve the added fat of the cheese. The medium-bodied texture of the Friulano would complement the thick texture of the cheese. The nutty, fruity aromatics in the wine coupled with the sweet creamy flavor of the cheese might suggest a banana split.
What we noted was an enhanced savory note in the wine. A detection of the presence of umami rose up and it gave us the surprise top pairing of the evening. This was a pairing of cheese and wine where both the wine and the cheese were elevated, a one plus one equals three matching!
After experiencing this pairing I plan to include Friulano wines more frequently in our classes.
One of the most exquisite and memorable cheese and wine pairings that I have ever experienced is the one that occurs between wines that are made from the Chenin Blanc grape and a little sheep milk cheese from Switzerland â€“ the rare and distinctive Flixer. This cheese is related to the better known Alpine style cheeses such as Appenzeller; this cheese is cooked, pressed, and it receives several washings to enhance its savory flavor profile.
Chenin Blanc in its many expressions, from the lightest drier styles to the fruitier more viscous or sparkling types, generally pairs most successfully with goat or sheep milk cheeses (though in its sweeter incarnations especially, it can be a respectful wine partner for many cow milk cheeses). The Flixer prefers white wines, and the chestnut flavor and toothsome texture of this cheese provides the perfect complement for the honeyed peach and mineral notes of the Chenin Blanc wines. The good acidity that this grape acquires dissolves the compact Flixer to a mouth-watering finish.
Quite frankly: why this varietal is not considered to be one of the â€œnobleâ€ grapes is a little surprising. It can stand out on its own or it can blend successfully with a number of other grapes.
There are several lovely Chenin Blanc wines around, from the new world as well as its probable birthplace in France. There is however only a limited supply of Flixer available â€“ one solitary producer, Mario Cotti in Canton GraubÃ¼nden. This is one of those â€œbefore I dieâ€ cheese and wine marriages to experience.
In those times, however, the rind on the Camembert retained a blue coat given by the spores of the indigenous mold present in Normandy caves. It was also delivered to Paris in packs of six by diligent horses; which did not offer gentle transport for the delicate cheese. Thus, this posed a difficult situation to the dairies looking to profit from the demand of their cheeses from afar.
However, two important progressions occurred around this time:
- In 1863 Napoleon III opened the Paris-Granville railway.
- In 1880 Monsieur Auguste Lepetit invented a wood box to carry and comfortably pack her Majesty Camembert.
Hence: Packaging + Fast Transport = Success; the cheese began arriving in Paris in much better condition.
Because of these advancements, the texture became softer and the Penicillium coat was able to transform into an immaculate white coat, allowing the cheese to become what it is today.
Pairing Camembert de Normandie is a nightmare!
Let me introduce you to the difficult world of pairing her Majesty Camembert de Normandie (AOP).
One of our customers is the award-winning luxury cruise line Radisson/Seven Seas. Among their more popular cruises are the “Spotlight on Food and Wine” packages. With superior quality food and beverage on their ships, the company has been rated at the top in the industry. So, of course, to find the best cheese they come to Artisanal.
The passengers on these cruises are drawn to them in large part because they are truly interested in fine food and wine and want to learn more about the wonderful world of gastronomy. The acclaimed cooking school Cordon Bleu has a big presence on this line in the Signatures restaurants and in classes for the passengers. Guest chefs, wine makers, and other experts present lectures, tastings, and cooking demos during the cruises.
Again this year, I had the recent pleasure of presenting a couple of seminars on the Mariner. For the first session, a Cheese and Wine 101 class, we prepared plates of six cheeses to be paired with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from Hawley wines in Sonoma. Expecting a good turnout for the class of around 80 passengers the service crew set out 100 plates of cheeses just to make sure. Many of the passengers arrived early for the seminar but at the appointed hour the guests just kept on coming! Orders went back to the galley requesting more cheese! Orders went also to the desktop publisher on board to quickly print more tasting sheets. The sommeliers uncorked more bottles of wine. I began the discussion of the basic principles of pairing cheeses with wines and gave short descriptions of each of the cheeses we would be sampling. John Hawley, the proprietor and wine maker of Hawley wines introduced his wines and we then began the actual tasting.
Nearly 150 people, almost one fourth of the passengers on board, sat down to the Cheese and Wine seminar in the main dining room — The Compass Rose! Other programs competing for guests attention at the same time included a lecture on gemstones and one on bridge, a fitness class on tightening and toning the lower body, shuffleboard or golf chipping on deck 12, checkers on the garden promenade on deck 6, the Carita Spa on 7, and the swimming pool on deck 11!
The cheeses we tasted, chosen to illustrate the synergies between cheeses and two different wine types, were: Garrotxa: goat’s milk from Spain, Amarelo da Beira Baixa — sheep and goat’s milk from Portugal, Mahón — cow’s milk from Menorca, Vacherin Fribourgeois — cow’s milk from Switzerland, Gouda (4 y.o.) — cow’s milk from Holland, and Crater Lake Blue — cow’s milk from Rogue River Creamery in Oregon. Each participant was given a score sheet to assess the relationship each cheese had with each wine.
Afterwards, with other programs starting around the ship and the dining room crew anxious to reset the room for lunch service, several of the guests came up with more specific questions about cheese and about cheese and wine pairing. From that point on the remainder of my time on board the Mariner seemed to be an endless flow of cheese talk. We had hoped to have a little extra cheese for the cheese boards in the dining rooms that evening, but it was pretty much all gone.
Two days later, the second seminar on cheese focused on cheese making methods, the history of cheese, and the nutritional values of cheese, and coincidentally, on the relationship of 6 different cheeses to 2 different wines — a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, California. The cheeses were: Majorero — goat’s milk from the Canaries (I thought a maritime cheese would work well on board the Mariner sailing in the Pacific), Beyos — cow’s milk from Spain, Cheshire — cow’s milk from England (with a marine tang), Serena — sheep milk from western Spain, Appenzeller — cow’s milk from eastern Switzerland, and Harbourne Blue — goat’s milk from England.
This seminar was scheduled for later in the day when the weather was more likely to draw passengers to the pool. And coinciding with cheese time we had a Blackjack tournament in the casino, the Incredibles on the big screen, bridge, shuffleboard, crafts, needlepoint, a harp seminar, tea time with a view, and Pilates. So naturally, a thinner attendance was predicted, but again, to our surprise, we had nearly 140 people!
The Executive Chef, Quinn McMahon, asked if I would do a little Cheese 101 seminar for the Food and Beverage crew late that night after most of the passengers had retired. Tired as they had to have been, we again enjoyed a huge turnout of some particularly curious Chefs, Sommeliers, and other dining room staff!
It was amazing to see the response that the cheese seminars had. I thought to myself upon debarkation “next time we’ll need more cheese!”
Food and Wine Magazine ran an article on one of those Spotlight cruises on the same Mariner ship in the July issue last year entitled “Boat Camp”. Written by Abe Opincar and enhanced by the photography of Lucy Schaeffer, “Boat Camp” is available in our site’s In the News section.
I have been working at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center as an intern from The Culinary Institute of America for the last three months, in many different areas of the company, ranging from affinage and production to P.R. and event promotion. I have worked directly with cheese expert Max McCalman, as well as with Artisanal Roastmaster Keith Geter. I have accompanied fromager Waldemar Albrecht to promotional events, and ventured to the James Beard awards where I helped cut and serve cheese to hundreds of foodies and celebrities alike. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment Iâ€™ve spent here, but I must say that personally selecting the cheeses for the Cheese and Wine 101 class has been my favorite endeavor yet.
Max asked me to take a walk through our cheese caves to see if I could come up with a tentative list of cheeses to use in our Cheese & Wine 101 class. I excitedly agreed as I pulled out my notepad and began jotting down ideas. I knew what types I wanted to use; a fresh goat, an aged goat for comparison, a mild aged sheep, a washed rind stinker, a wild-ball eye opener, a well known cheese the way itâ€™s meant to be done, and a classic blue. Max told me to keep in mind progression and variety, as we always do. This was my selection:
I sent my original proposal to Max and he agreed with my selections. I felt, upon completion, a joy I had not yet known. This was my cheese list. I selected these cheeses for people to eat. I was proud of my selection and during the class everything seemed to taste five times better than I remembered. The guests enjoyed themselves just as much as any other night, only this time I had a hand in their pleasure. I have since followed a similar process to choose cheeses for other classes. I feel like this was a very prominent landmark in my stay here, since when I started in April, I knew nothing about cheese. I owe it all to my coworkers here at the Artisanal Cheese Center; they taught me everything I know.
Last Tuesday night we presented our first ever class featuring our fresh roasted beans and cheeses. I had the opportunity to share the panel with renowned coffee expert Daniel Humphries and our in house master roaster Matt Russo. We navigated through the intricacies of the coffee trade from its origins to its varietals and main producers, with Danielâ€™s engaging style.
Cheeses came right after with plethora of aromas, milk types and ripening processes. Guests had the opportunity to enjoy some of the remarkable tastings while enjoying the discussion and seeing firsthand the process of brewing coffee from scratch.
Kenya, Brazil Cerrado and Sumatra were some of the offerings, that left the palate wanting for more. It was then that with a slight java jolt and a happy tummy that we celebrated this groundbreaking experience.
This week has been full of a number of cheese musings, from enjoying Artisanalâ€™s cheeses with the Finnish Ambassador and his wife to thinking about “perfect pairing” between cheeses and wines and cheeses and pickles. It was great fun and quite delicious to be at an event with Artisanal cheeses and a number of embassy chefs in Washington DC this week. I enjoyed both domestic and imported cheeses, including the Wabash Cannonball and the specially made for Artisanal Roquefort. The perfect pairing concept is one that I will continue to explore, as it can be very rewarding.