cheese plates


Today is Global Champagne Day, organized by wine blog Vintuba to “encourage people pause their hectic schedules, to take time to celebrate their lives, friends, and loved ones by enjoying the wonders of Champagne.” It’s also supported by the Champagne Bureau, which works to promote truth-in-labeling — so make sure you’re celebrating with a real Champagne from the Champagne region of France, okay? Good.

As you can imagine, this is a holiday we’re pretty excited about here at CheeseandChampagne. It’s been pointed out that we give the second half of our title short shrift here on the blog, and I promise you we plan to rectify that. (Not being able to imbibe for 9 months put a temporary damper on our pairings research.) And we’re beginning today, with a quick taste of some French cheeses to pair with France’s other famed export. (As an aside, how is it possible that cheese was omitted from the list of suggested champagne pairings on the event site? I mean, have you been to France?!)


Some of our favorite champagne-appropriate cheeses include Chaource (from the Champagne region, even), St. Marcellin, Comté, and Grès des Vosges. (Click here to see all our French cheese reviews to date.) Now we follow the “what grows together, goes together,” rule quite a bit — but don’t be afraid to branch out. Be a rebel and try some Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill or Nettle Meadow Kunik with your champagne. Any creamy, rich cheese will yield perfectly to the crisp bubbles of your champagne.

I also reached out to local cheesemonger Sebastien Tavel, of Alexandria’s La Fromagerie. While he curates a wonderful selection of local and domestic cheeses at this Old Town cheese shop, he’s also a native Frenchman with a few thoughts on pairing cheese and champagne. When you’re springing for the real deal, you don’t want your cheese to overpower the bubbly. Tavel suggests a creamy Brillat-Savarin, “a wonderful triple creme that is mild and very delicate,” or the “nutty and complex” sheeps-milk Abbaye de Belloc with a rosé champagne.

While French imports to the US have been slowed due to the transportation strikes abroad, Tavel has a full array of French cheeses in stock, including: Brillat-Savarin, Abbaye de Belloc, Brie, Boucheron, Bleu d’Auvergne, St. Agur blue, Morbier, Comte and Raclette. (La Fromagerie is open today until 7pm so stop in to pick up your favorite cheeses to toast with tonight.)

In Minneapolis, Jill reached out to Benjamin Roberts of France 44 Wine & Spirits. His choice with France’s best bubbly? Langres.

What’s your favorite cheese with champagne?

Sharing the same bright orange hue as Mimolette, Double Gloucester luckily does not mimic that French cheese’s blahness. Many confuse it for a cheddar, but Double Gloucester is not quite as firm. The cheese is made from the raw, whole milk from two milking sessions, hence the “double” moniker. (Single Gloucester is also made in England, but is not exported nearly as much, according to the British Cheese Board.)

I served Double Gloucester last week as part of a cheeseboard with a Belgian goat gouda, Humboldt Fog and Ouray, and while the four of us all enjoyed it, we had a hard time describing its flavor. My friend Casey thought it was minty, and upon further tasting and reflection, the rest of us got a sense of the cheese’s herbal undertone. Artisanal calls it “eggy” and Gourmet-Food.com says it has “the sweet aroma of milky carrots.” Regardless of how you describe it, Double Gloucester is delicious, and I like it paired with Stilton in the layered cheese creation called Huntsman. Serve it with a big red like Syrah or a British ale.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the tongue,
And therefore is fromage best sampled blind.”

– Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: this is not an unbiased review. We first met Tia Keenan, mistress de fromage, virtually via Twitter. It was love at first tweet as we instantly sensed a kindred spirit in cheese. So when Jill and I realized the stars would align for us to meet midsummer in New York, Casellula was top on our agenda. On a night when the biggest and brightest of the professional cheese trade were in town, many also visiting this intimate cheese and wine cafe, Tia was a warm hostess and generous with her time and talent.

As cheese junkies, it is futile to ask what kind of cheese we like best. Would you ask a mother to name her favorite child? Well, right now we can, but that’s only because we each have only one. But back to the point, we prefer to do the asking when at a cheese shop or ordering a cheese plate, and our best finds are often those when we relinquish control and let the cheesemonger surprise us. This was certainly the case at Casellula, where we selected the New York flight as the most likely to contain cheeses we weren’t familiar with, and were delighted when Tia made a few adjustments for us. New York’s 3-Corner Field Brebis Blanche (so fresh!) and Red Meck were certainly delicious, but we were totally smitten with the Pipe Dreams chevre log and sweet pea puree pairing. Lazy Lady Farm’s Bipartisan, a fresh goat cheese ball dropped into a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, was a most welcome treat. The cheese plates Tia lovingly prepares are truly inspired, with pairings ranging from a typical mustard to pickled ramps and coconut macaroon balls.

While the rest of our trip was meticulously documented in photos, tweets and tasting notes, we declared ourselves off duty and simply savored our wine, cheese, plate of fresh anchovies with fennel and pickled shallots, blue cheese-laden endive salad and mouth-watering desserts. So we can’t tell you what wine we drank, other than that it was a lovely full-bodied white Czech tokai, but we can tell you that the parsnip cookies with Pipe Dreams chevre filling are simply not to be missed. Aside from that, entrust the wine suggestions and cheese selections to Tia’s capable hands, and you’re sure to walk away refreshed and inspired.

Casellula
Hell’s Kitchen NYC
401 W. 52nd Street
5pm – 2am, 7 days a week (reservations not accepted)
212.247.8137
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

The first in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. We made a quick stop in Brooklyn the day before, but our real day of cheese grazing (#chzday09) began Sunday morning at Artisanal Bistro in Midtown. As this was our first joint cheese expedition in NY, we started by visiting the classic landmarks. We got some great tips from new friends for our next visit, and the day culminated in a truly inspired dinner at a new favorite spot. You’ll have to stay tuned for that review, however.

Back to our brunch. I had been to this original Artisanal bistro several years ago, and while we were tempted to check out the newer Bar Artisanal we decided to stick with the classic this time. While the food was satisfactory, the overall experience was underwhelming. The service was indifferent at best, and the cheeses were well-cared for but served naked and forlorn on a stark white plate.

We opted for the seasonal cheese plate and received two traditional European cheeses, Pierre Robert (France) and Monte Enebro (Spain), and one from our list, Thistle Hill Farm’s Tarentaise of Vermont. Of course we couldn’t resist peaking in to the well-lit cheese cave, where you can actually reserve a table to dine in the midst of the cheese. The cheese counter had a nice array of cheeses available for purchase. 
Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thistle Hill Farm is an organic-certified small family farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. They use raw, organic milk from their herd of grassfed Jersey cows as the base for this Alpine-style cheese. Check out their website for the full story of their cheesemaking education. They use a custom-made Swiss copper vat and cultures imported from France in their labor-intensive process. The curds are scooped by hand, pressed and molded and then aged four to six months in an aging room used solely for this cheese. The finished cheese is very smooth, golden in color and meaty but sweet. It has a soft, full-bodied flavor with notes of sweet hay. You’ll notice just a few of those crystals found in true Alpine cheeses (like Appenzeller). We found it too sweet for our brunch cocktails, but would suggest a medium-bodied red wine. 

Next stop: Murray’s.

I ate this week at a fairly new restaurant in DC, Art and Soul, helmed by Chef Art Smith. A Southern-bred, James Beard award-winning chef who came to Washington by way of Chicago — and formerly cooked for Oprah –, Chef Art has a menu that highlights local, seasonal ingredients. Sure, many restaurants profess to do the same, with varying degrees of success, but what impressed me here was seeing the “eat local” philosophy carried over to the cheese menu. Sadly, we didn’t actually sample the cheese this time as it was not on the Kids’ Restaurant Week prix fixe menu (boo!), but the list is familiar to any DC-area cheese fan: Talbot’s Reserve from Chapel’s Country Creamery (MD), Everona Dairy’s Piedmont (VA), Meadow Creek Dairy’s Grayson (VA), and Firefly Farms’ Black and Blue (MD) — all fine choices!

Just to round out the local dairy offerings, Art and Soul also dishes up Moorenko’s ice cream and sorbet. (You can read more about our dinner over at FoodieTots, and if you live in Chicago or NYC, your Kids’ Restaurant Week kicks off tomorrow, June 20.) 

elsewhere in cheese this week ….

Check out Madame Fromage‘s sheep’s milk blue discovery; and, It’s Not You, It’s Brie describes a cheese with “more texture and flavor variations than Mariah Carey has pink stilettos.” Click over to check them out!