Monday, November 27, 2006

Mmmmm Cheese!

Tonight I went to a cheese class at Murray's ( It was amazing. Herve Mons was the instructor. If you haven't (as I hadn't) heard of him, he is "one of four master affineurs recognized by the French government as a 'Meilleur Ouvrier,' or master craftsman". He's awesome. He not only knows his cheese, he's got both a passion and a sense of humor about food. I was totally enthralled. (Some women go for poetry, but I'm a sucker for a guy who knows his food.) If you have the chance, check out his cheese!

We started off with a bit of a game. There were 20 glasses of water in front of us: 5 columns, 4 rows. Each column had a different taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salt - and nothing) and each row was progressively stronger. The goal was to guess the column's taste as early as possible. I got all of the columns right and got bitter and sour exactly right (turns out the first row was a plain water for each), the salt column I identified correctly from the first row - but it wasn't in that one (they did use NYC water which is clorinated - I'll do anything not to be wrong). I missed the sugar row entirely - interesting question as to whether that's the hardest to identify (they said that it disolves very cleanly in the water making it more mellow than sweet) or whether as an American I just have a 'naturally' high sugar threshold. Anyway, I felt reasonably pleased with my identification abilities. It was actually a fun test.

After that though, we got to the best part: the cheese. We were given the following plate

Clockwise, starting from noon, we had:

1. Brillat Savarin

2. Tomme des Templiers

3. Lavort

4. Comte

5. Maroilles

6. Bleu de Sassenage

7. Persille du Malzieu

I'll cheat and let you in on the ending - the Comte and the Persille du Malzieu were the very best (though all were outstanding), now I'll go back for a few more details. We were encouraged to describe the cheeses according to all five senses (we even got a comment about people's lack of use of touch with food - clearly Herve has not met my brother L, but that's a story for another time). It's really hard to put the words to what you're smelling and tasting (the touching, etc. are easier). I have the same problems with wine, though it has gotten easier with practice. Anyway, I found the Brillat Savarin to be a very (very!) nice triple creme, soft, creamy, a little salty, a hint of sour (and according to Herve) a hint of mushrooms in the rind. Next was the Tomme, this, it turned out was a bit too young (about 2 months) and was to show us how it was a bit too sour - which I am proud to say I did notice, I have a feeling though that those two months could have made it amazing. Next was the Lavort, which was a few months (1.5, but who's counting) too old, which also seemed to make it a bit too sour. These two had been chosen to show us what happens when you don't have impeccibly aged cheese. The Comte, it turned out, was to show what happened when you do. It was amazing. And that's an understatement. It was sweet, with just the lightest hint of sour and nut, it was moist, but not buttery. I ate the whole thing - and would have kept going if there had been more. The Maroilles was also wonderul - I got the sweet and tangy (he called it lightly bitter), but missed the barn smell. The Bleu de Sassenage was salt, crumbly, soft and damp, and a little astringent (with apparently that little hint of mushroom that I keep missing). But, while it was great (really!) it totally lost out to the Persille du Malzieu which was an amazing blend of grainy, moist, soft, very salty and sweet. It was heaven.

And then the wine pairing. The three pairings that worked the best were

  • The Comte with the Arbois Savagnin Puffeney 2002 (walnut (and I got apricot too) overtones in the wine with the nutty cheese
  • The Persille du Malzieu with the Dom. Baumard Coteaux de Layon 2002 - not that pairing a blue with a sweet wine is that much of a risk, but it was lovely
  • And the one that surprised me, the Maroilles with the Brookly Lager - they both had a bit of a bitter finish that was just great

The thing I learned here was that if you taste the cheese, but leave some in your mouth, then take a sip of the wine/beer and use that to swallow with, it will (with the right pairing) truly enhance the experience. I've paired them before, but never quite as firmly as "don't swallow the all of it" and it does take it to the next level. Try it.

I, being everyone's ideal customer, did buy a bunch of cheese's on the way out. Including one that is almost inexplicably named after me. I will apparently be having a cheese tasting at some point in the near future. Feel free to stop by.


Post a Comment

<< Home