Posts Filed Under The ‘Comte’ Category

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Fondue Weather

 

The weather we’re experiencing around here these days suggests fondue. For other parts of the country even more so! Nothing warms you better than melted cheese and currently there are several specimens here that dissolve beautifully into simmering white wines. One of the original fondue cheeses is Fontina d’Aosta, always crafted from raw cow milk, as they have been for over a thousand years. The so-called “mountain” cheeses are the ones to seek out, especially the cow milk varieties.

Why cow?

It seems that cow milk cheeses are better at melting into a fondue than sheep, and certainly better than goat cheeses. Many of these mountain cheeses are delicious on their own at room temperatures, yet Fontina (though delicious at room temperature) simply does not hold up so well when left out. A wedge of Fontina will start to slump, the butter fats will leach out, and the wedge will dry out quickly. The cheese seems to demand that it be melted down, which is one reason why it makes an excellent cooking cheese.

A similar cheese from across the border in eastern France is Morbier, more of a smear-ripened cheese than Fontina but equally nice at melting. The Morbier has the same disposition when set out at room temperature as the Fontina d’Aosta. The harder cheeses that are closely related to these stand up better when left out, such as Comté, Gruyère, Uplands Pleasant Ridge and Tarentaise. When I first started snacking on these types at room temperature I was admonished, as though that was the only way to fully enjoy them, melted.

Maybe that is true for today’s weather but when it warms up in a few months, I would prefer to leave the fondue pot in storage and instead shave off several thin slices of these marvelous cheeses, invariably some of the most popular in cheese competitions.

Max McCalman

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Have Cheese, Will Travel

Viva Italia 300x227 Have Cheese, Will Travel

I was a guest speaker at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival last weekend; the theme was “Italian Cheeses and Wines.” Ever since I made my first presentation there back in 1998 the cheese sessions have been some of the most popular seminars of the festival, always hosted by the inimitable Pam Smith.

It is no surprise these cheese seminars are so popular; it follows the dramatic trajectory of cheese appreciation in the US. We may not eat quite as much cheese as the Italians but we are catching up rapidly. Speaking of formaggi, we have some drop-dead gorgeous cheeses from Italy at this time, each of them screamin’ to be eaten. Along with the cheeses we presented last weekend at Epcot we have some that we see less frequently, such as a wash-rind Quadro di Bufala – a variation on the infamous Taleggio (which is also looking great now) made with cow milk. It turns out that making the cheese with Buffalo milk works especially well; the high butterfat content makes this version especially scrumptious.

Another cheese that we see rarely that is in peak form now is the Robiola Pura Capra. The Robiola family of northern Italian cheeses is vast; there are so many styles of Robioli that it is difficult to describe the group. Safe to say, they are made in northwest Italy, particularly in the Piemonte (foothills of the Italian Alps); they can be made from any combination of cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk; they come in small formats; and they are usually consumed on the young side. Other than that, there is little else you can say that describes Robiola; different types of rinds make a huge difference in their aromas and flavors, as much as the milk choices themselves.

One of the more popular Robiolas is one made with all three (cow, sheep and goat) milks – the Robiola 3 Latti – the best of all three worlds, all blended together. Blending the milks elevates the overall flavor of the cheese, while moderating some of the qualities in any one of those milks that some people may find less pleasing. By the way, these mixed milk cheeses exhibit tremendous pairing potential with many wine types.

Last weekend at Epcot we had a Robiola 2 Latti (cow and sheep blend) that paired magnificently with a white wine of the region – Arneis. This was a bit of a surprise for me, even considering that they are made in the same region. That same cheese paired well with an Amarone from the northeast of Italy. Then, Amarone is a cheese-friendly wine most of the time.

This coming weekend we will be presenting cheeses and wines from France. A tasting of French cheeses would not be complete without Comté, another cheese looking great in our caves now. Comté is one of those more assertive cheeses that generally pairs better with white wines, the best one being an unusual varietal of the region – Savagnin. No two Comtés are the same; this is one of the great things about this magnificent cheese: each wheel is distinctive. The regulations for its production are strict, and strictly enforced. This is what differentiates them: plenty of land for the animals to graze upon, milk collected within a short distance from where the cheeses are produced and ripened, and no pasteurization equipment is permitted in the cheese-making plant – the fruitière – by law.

In case I don’t see you at Epcot this weekend maybe you can enjoy some Comté and several other lovely French cheeses here at the Center. My colleague Erin Hedley has just a few seats available in her class Saturday afternoon.

Cheese is on the move.

Max McCalman

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Comté, s’il vous plaît

The Comté Cheese Association has invited me to come by for a visit. This will be my first visit to this land of cheese royalty so I am particularly excited; this mountainous region is home to heavenly cheese. The name is virtually synonymous with “fromage;” Comté is what many Frenchmen think of when they think of cheese. Were we that lucky!

Edward Behr, publisher of the excellent the Art of Eating called me down for not including Comté in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. This was a gross oversight of course. Maybe I took Comté for granted; the flavors may be quite familiar if it is a cheese that has been widely imitated. Yet if you close your eyes and take in all that a morsel of Comté can deliver, those flavors and aromas can resonate distinctly, delicious all the way through to the “finish.” Each wheel is unique, which is part of the beauty of this cheese – it would be difficult to ignore the differences among wheels of Comté, some more subtle than others. These variations make it a little difficult to generalize about what kinds of wines work with Comté; then again it also makes it a little easier to recommend a wine: try any of your favorite wines and see what happens when you pair it with Comté.

I recall experiencing more successes with white wines, more than reds, with Comté. I believe this is due to the many flavor/aroma dimensions of Comté; elevated tannins in the red wines can be a bit fussy with all that complexity. The white wines can be a little more tolerant of those layers of flavor; the tannins do not get in the way.

Comté is used extensively in cooking, able to add a profound accent on many dishes. The cheese can be enjoyed on its own, which is the way I have had Comté most every time. I recall seeing an older woman walking up to a cheese stall in a market in Nice. The fromagère knew exactly what her customer wanted – 100 grams of a young Comté. Today, many cheese lovers have acquired a taste for the more aged versions; the younger cheeses may seem to lack that “wow” factor.

On another occasion I witnessed a couple of Bordeaux wine makers snacking on Comté and fresh baguette. They were not having a glass of their lovely red Bordeaux with the cheese and bread; these two young ladies were having a soft drink instead. I thought it would have been lovely to see how the cheese and wine paired, right there by the vineyard. Then again it was early afternoon.

The A.O.C. rules define Comté rather strictly; the production rules are some of the strictest ones of France. You might think that they would all taste the same. It is precisely those rules that help give wheels of Comté their uncompromised and rather individual signatures.

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

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

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Champagne, Cheese and Karite

Originally posted at ModernSalon.com

Reprinted with permission

wcDSC 1548 Champagne, Cheese and KariteThe fine team at Rene Furterer offered a “Champagne and Cheese Master Class” to key editors last week offering a sneak peek at the new Kerite hair care line: Kerite Intense Nourishing Oil, Kerite Intense Nourishing Shampoo and Kerite Intense Nourishing Mask.

“This is a celebration of French luxury,” said René Furterer product manager Aubrey Scott who chatted with me after the event. “We wanted to introduce these new products in the luxurious setting they deserve.”

The tasting, held at the renowned Artisanal Cheese Center in New York City, was the ultimate indulgence. The beautiful tables featured 4 glasses of Fine French Champagne, and a selection of 7 special fine French cheeses from a Petite Mothais cheese made from goat’s milk to a Comté made from cow’s milk. Led by Champagne expert Cathleen Burke Visscher and Artisanal Cheese Center maître fromager Max McCalman, the class covered details such as the creation and bottling of Champagne, the difference between a Blanc de Blanc non-vintage and a Brut vintage, what gave each cheese its distinctive flavor and the fine points of Champagne and cheese pairings. At the heart of each table were the three products serving as center pieces.

wcDSC 1582 Champagne, Cheese and Karite

Although I left a little “buzzed” from the champagne, I just had to check out the products. It was a beautiful and luxurious experience as I cleansed and conditioned my hair. Launching in November, 2011, these products are something for every salon professional to look forward to!

By Maggie Mulhern