So, after we ate ourselves silly on eggs, there was the wine and cheese pairing/tasting part of class. I know, you're already jealous.
We sampled 5 wines and cheese pairs, all French, and all paired based on the notion of "terroir." Loosely translated as "a sense of place," terroir denotes the idea that the shared geography, geology, climate, and farming techniques of agricultural regions give the wine and food produced unique, shared characteristics. More simply, as we say in English "what grows together goes together." The five cheeses represented five different areas of France, and the wines with which they were paired we from the same region, and complemented their flavors superbly.
Though I've been aware of the concept of food and wine pairing, I never taken it seriously. Occasionally I'll notice if something tastes really good together (when I cause that to happen, it's always just a lucky coincidence). More often I will notice that a wine that I enjoy before dinner will take on a harsh or astringent taste with food, probably due to exceptionally bad pairing on my part. The first time I actually had a restaurant meal with wine pairings was just a few weeks ago, and I kept marveling at how good everything was together, particularly because all the the wines for the meal were things that I would have never chosen on my own. With this recent experience in mind, I was very excited to sample two things that I love (wine & cheese), paired!
We started with a simple Chevre log paired with Sancerre. The bottle we drank was Henri Bourgeois Les Bonnes Bouches 2009. Both the wine and the cheese were from the Loire region of France. The chevre was creamy and slightly tangy, while the wine was very light and fruity. We started by taking a bit of the cheese in our mouths, and letting it melt on our tongues a bit, really tasting it but not swallowing it. Then we took a sip of wine, and let the flavors mix in our mouths, tasting how the cheese and the wine complement each other.
Serious wine & cheese contemplating underway...
Next we sampled L'Explorateur cheese with a White Burgundy, which are produced in adjacent regions (the former from the Ile-de-France region, the latter from Burgundy, as you may have guessed). L'Explorateur is a triple-cream cheese, which means it's about 75% butterfat, and thus is out of this world creamy, smooth, and delicious. We spread the L'Explorateur on Stoned Wheat Thin crackers--there was some logic for this, but unfortunately I can't remember what is is, other than that it tasted good. Likewise, I can't remember what the wine was like, other than I wrote in my notes "quite good." The wine was Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles 2008. Just so I don't sound totally clueless, I googled it, and found this review from one wine vendor: "A very fresh and intensely floral nose also reflects hints of lemon-lime and earth, both of which can also be found on the nicely rich and round flavors that are not only intense and delicious but also deliver better than average complexity." So that's a little bit more descriptive than my "quite good" note...
Third was Epoisse, with a red Burgundy. Epoisse, for those non-tyrophiles out there (that's my new word, it means "one who loves cheese"), is one of those fantastically stinky cheeses--not quite in Limburger territory, but not far off. When it's quite ripe it literally runs and oozes when you cut into it; ours was a few weeks shy of completely ripe, so it was a bit more manageable stinkiness-wise, and a bit firmer in the center, although still creamy. You don't eat the orange rind, whose color comes from the Burgundy wine with which its washed. However, the inside pairs well with sweet-tart dried cherries. We took a bite of cheese and cherry, and let the flavors sit in our mouths while we swished our Burgundy wine around--amazing. While I appreciated Epoisse before, this way of tasting it has increased my enjoyment so much more! (Probably helped too that the cheese was not quite as over-ripe as my dad likes to serve it!) The Burgundy that we tried was Domaine Fribourg Closerie Des Alisiers Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits 2009. I liked this wine okay, but I think if I ever recreated this tasting, I'd find a different Bourgogne.
Fourth was Emmentaler with Cotes du Rhone. Emmentaler, the original Swiss Cheese, is a firm, mild cheese, with the subtlest spicy aftertaste, as well as a faint nuttiness, which we enhanced by eating it with walnuts. As someone who likes slightly stronger cheeses, I found the Emmentaler to be a little dull, but I can appreciate how it fit into the cheese tasting due to its flavor and texture. And, with the wine, Clos du Mont-Olivet Cotes du Rhone Monteil-la-Levade 2008, and the walnut, it certainly took on more interest than it had on its own. The wine was a beautiful dark red, and while I can't remember how it tasted, I didn't write anything bad in my margins, so it must have been okay!
Finally, my favorite wine (Sauternes!), with my least favorite cheese (Roquefort...). But add some pear, and hot damn, I actually found something new to like! For me it was the most eye opening pairing, since I am a huge Sauternes fan (chalk it up to my insatiable sweet tooth), but generally not a fan of blue cheeses (too potent and moldy tasting). However, with the sweet, creamy Bosc pear slice, and the honey-like sweetness of the wine, the pungency of the Roquefort was nicely tempered. I don't think I'm going to be putting it on everything, but I see that in the right situation it can be quite enjoyable. Oh, and for those who don't know, Sauternes is a very sweet, often expensive, fortified dessert wine. Most people find it painfully sweet, but not this girl. We tried Castelnau de Suduirant 2003, a "deuxieme vin," (the Chateau's 2nd tier bottle) but still pretty tasty. Roquefort and Sauternes both hail from Bordeaux, making them a good pairing in this terroir exercise, and this particular bottle wasn't too expensive for a Sauternes, but for generally more pocket book friendly alternative, Chef John suggests an Orange Muscat, such as Quady Essensia Orange Muscat.
Finally, we experimented by tasting wines and cheeses that weren't meant to go together, just to understand how a good pairing and a bad pairing can really change your experience with certain wines and foods. I tried the Sauternes with the Chevre, and while I love both things on their own, together they were kinda funky, not gonna lie... I also tried the Sancerre, my next favorite wine of the group, with the Epoisse--again, a little bit off. Then I just snacked on the dried cherries, because they were so good! The takeaway from this lesson is that a) Cheese is good. b) Wine is good. c) Together they can be fantastic, or weird, depending, so pair well! If you are lucky enough to live in Boston, check out Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge or the South End--the cheeses there are fantastic and the staff is beyond knowledgeable. For further reading from Chef John, check out his feature of having a wine and cheese tasting on his website.
And again, I've rambled on too long, so I must be off to do my reading for tomorrow!