What is a natural bedfellow for cheese?
As long as I can remember I’ve loved cheese. It must be in the genes. My late grandfather had a penchant for mottled gorgonzola (at a time when most of his generation viewed foreign, smelly cheeses with suspicion). My father eats copious amounts of cheddar during his insomnia induced midnight wanderings. And my brother is so in love with the stuff that he is prepared to shove his vegetarian morals aside when buying his beloved Comté.
Brillat-Savarin quipped that “Dessert without cheese is like a pretty woman with only one eye”. I’m not sure I share his sentiment but selecting a cheese board gives me almost as much pleasure as cooking the meal itself. But I’ve always had a nagging doubt as to what libation to serve with the cheese. I usually plump for port but this, as I discovered on a recent cheese and wine matching evening at La Cave à Fromage, is not always the best choice.
“Many people wrongly assume that cheese should only be served with port,” explained David, La Cave’s knowledgeable manager. “They’re terribly disappointed when we tell them that we don’t even sell port.”
This would be a night of revelation for me and my fellow Brighton Food Society members. Our tastebuds would crisscross the Channel as we nibbled our way through an eclectic selection of cheeses washed down with some very surprising wines. It’s a tough call to pinpoint exactly which cheese I liked the most so here is my run down in reverse order.
- No. 6: Morbier – the quiet and gentle cousin of Comté. If this cheese were a guest at a cocktail party it would be the timid wallflower type that people largely ignore in favour of the more gregarious guests. I’m afraid it was outshined by all of the other cheeses on the platter. It’s not unpleasant. It’s just a bit dull. But like all wallflowers it was livened up with some alcoholic lubrication provided by a crisp Reisling.
- No. 5: Cerney goat’s cheese. To me goats smell of farms or more precisely manure. Sometimes I feel this pervasive whiff of ammonia filters through to the cheese. I’m not a huge fan of cheese that tastes overly goaty. However, this one from the Cotswolds was really very pleasant. It had been aged for a further four weeks by La Cave rendering it hard and crumbly with faint citrus notes (echoed in the accompanying sauvignon blanc) rather than a saliva sapping acidic tang.
- No. 4: Lord of the Hundreds. This is one of my favourite Sussex cheeses so it irks me a bit to only rate it fourth in the taste stakes (I did say it was a tough call). This particular cheese was perhaps slightly less mature than others I have had having a waxier texture. However, the mellow flavour that grows in your mouth and finishes in a sweet nutiness was still there. A blackberry scented Malbec helped seal it’s rustic credentials.
- No. 3: Époisses. This is the loveable rogue of the cheese world – stinky and bullish yet somehow still endearing. Washed in Marc de Bourgogne this is not a cheese for the faint hearted. Cheese haters will chastise you for giving room to this pungent oozing mass in the fridge. It’s rather like marmite – you either love it or hate it (and it even tastes a little like it too). It may look gooey and soft but it’s about as macho as you can get in the cheese flavour stakes. It’s bolshie about who it drinks with too. Floral scented dessert wines will be crushed by it’s beefy aroma. Époisses needs a full bodied red like a Malbec to reign in those powerful flavours.
- No. 2: Brillat-Savarin. Not the French gastronome this time but a soft unpasturised cows cheese from the Ile de France (the same place that Brie hales from). Mild it may be but it certainly isn’t meek. This is a coquette of a cheese, seductively rich and creamy (it has a 75% fat content per 100g) especially when it’s decadently drizzled with truffle honey. It’s flavour is delicate and slightly fruity. No ordinary wine would be good enough for this classy cheese. She’ll only shine for a blushing rose champagne (yes, really!). Poor old Morbier wouldn’t get a look in whilst this silken minx is on the plate.
- No. 1: “La Cave” Stilton in Port. It may seem a bit boring to have a Stilton as my number one cheese of the evening but this was no run-of-the-mill Stilton. La Cave take the cheese and lovingly bathe it in port before injecting it’s veins with even more port. Purple hued like the nose of an eighteenth century port loving gent it becomes smooth, sophisticated and the blunt metallic flavour present in some blue cheeses has dissipated. No match for the brutish Époisses the honeyed Muscat was in it’s element with this cheese.
“Dessert wine beats port every time with blue cheese,” David told me.
It had been an education but it hadn’t resolved my beverage dilemma. It wouldn’t be practical to serve a different wine for each cheese on a platter. So what is the solution?
“You can’t go wrong with a really good fruity red for a cheese board,” smiled David. I guess I will just have to keep the port for a rainy day.
If you want to have a similar experience La Cave frequently runs tasting events.