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Posts Filed Under The ‘Stinky Cheese’ Category

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Riesling, the Sommelier’s White

Many people dismiss Riesling, some people refuse the noble grape. It reminds me of how some people feel about goat cheeses, the number one no-no I hear from people contemplating a selection of cheese. They will accept any type except for goat. Not that some people may have an aversion to Riesling the way some people have an aversion to goat cheeses, yet many people skip right over the Riesling section of a wine list and choose any other white wine instead. This aversion could be partly due to the many inferior versions produced from this grape; most of them produced in the past, thankfully.

One reason Riesling is often called a sommelier’s grape is because of its versatility with many foods, cheeses included. When few other wines make suitable matches for the different courses served to a party of four, Riesling may be the right call.

As with other varietals, it is a grape that can yield different styles, though in the case of Riesling especially, they will be recognizably “Riesling.” Rarely found in blends, it is aged in stainless steel more often than oak barrels. This gives a more recognizably “Riesling” aroma and flavor to the wines. The leaner vinifications will have their successes with lighter cheeses, while the bigger and botrytized versions will pair better with the bolder cheeses. Regardless, Riesling will come through for you more often than not.

Some recent cheese successes include Alp Drackloch, Appenzeller, Beaufort, Beermat, Comté, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, La Peral, Le Moulis, Manchego, Morbier, Mousseron Jurassien, Pawlet, Piave, Pecorino Foglie Noce, Swiss Raclette, Sainte-Maure, Sbrinz, Scharfe Maxx, Selles sur Cher, Stanser Rotelli, Tarentaise, Thomasville Tomme, Toma Maccagno, Tomme Fermier d’Alsace, Tomme de Savoie and Vacherin Fribourgeois.

By the way, if you happen to be someone who is not so fond of Riesling, try one of those stinky wash-rind cheeses with the orange rinds. No other varietal will match this family of cheeses nearly as well. You may become a new fan for Riesling.

Max McCalman

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

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