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?

As the holidays approach, we turn this week to a pair of classic, decadent European cheeses that are ideal for your party cheese platters. In the food world, it’s hard to match the sense of history behind Europe’s fine cheeses, many of which are still hand-made according to centuries-old techniques. Today’s pick is Chaource, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese that has been produced in France since medieval times. The Lincet family, producers of the Chaource most readily found in the US, have been in the cheese business for five generations. Chaource takes its name from a village of the same name in France’s Champagne region, and is AOC-protected, which guarantees both that the milk comes from the designated region and that the cheese is made according to strict, specific production guidelines. 

Chaource comes in a petite round, easily distinguished in the cheese case by its wooden wrapper. Like last week’s Humboldt Fog, Chaource ripens from the outside in, so when you allow the cheese to stand at room temperature before serving, you can expect a runny, gooey layer to pull away from the firmer interior when you slice into it. The soft rind with a tangy, yeasty flavor is enjoyable, but the “goop” is the highlight in my opinion. While not aggressively stinky, the cheese has a light pungency reminiscent of earthy mushrooms.

You can serve Chaource spread on thinly-sliced baguette, but if you’re like me, you may be tempted to skip the accompaniment and dig in with a spoon. For a more civilized presentation, serve with an assortment of dried fruits and nuts, which alternately bring out the sweet and salty notes of this cheese.

Generally, I follow the experts’ advice and pair cheeses with beverages from the same region, and Chaource and champagne are a match made in heaven. Champagne is an ideal pairing for rich, creamy cheeses as the bubbles cut through the butter-fat to refresh the palate. But for an unexpected, more irreverent twist at your holiday party, try a Belgian beer. While I love beer and cheese together, I am not a hops expert, so I delegated the pairing to my husband and a beer-aficionado friend who collaborated to bring us a Lindeman’s Peche (Peach) Lambic. This fruity, tart and fizzy beer was a nice complement to the sweet, yeasty flavors in the cheese.  

While you may expect a French AOC cheese to be pricey, Chaource is actually one of the more affordable options at under $10. It is fairly easy to find at gourmet shops, Whole Foods or through on-line sources. Check back on Thursday for another decadent French cheese review, and stay tuned for more holiday entertaining tips!