Tonight’s the night! If you celebrate Christmas, by now your tree should be decorated, your presents wrapped, and your dinner either eaten or bubbling in the oven. If you don’t, you’re likely eating Chinese food (or wishing you were eating Chinese food because your father, the sole Jew on the planet who doesn’t like Chinese food, is visiting). But regardless of your holiday of choice, everyone is welcome to celebrate Cheesemas!

Whatever your plans for the weekend, we hope cheese is part of the menu. Colleen picked up some Oma and Kunik at La Fromagerie today. I’ll be snacking on this delectable Chabichou du Poitou, which I picked up at the Cheese Shop at France 44 this morning. I’m still deciding whether I’ll share with the rest of my family with flutes of Champagne. Ah, I guess I should – that Cheesemas spirit and all.

Colleen and I wish you and yours a very happy holiday! If you taste any out-of-this-world cheeses or get fun cheese-related gifts, please share in the comments section. Merry Cheesemas!

Advertisements

Jill's dad at La Fromagerie

When my parents told me they were going to Paris, I did two things. First, I pitched a small fit that they weren’t taking me along. And then I asked them to bring me back cheese.

As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, my parents are not cheese people. Sure, they love pizza and even sprinkle a little feta on their salads, but they totally don’t get my cheese obsession. My mom just read the blog for the first time two days ago – and Colleen and I have been writing for two years. I was sure my parents would tell me to forget about it, but they surprised me by saying, “What do you want?” I said, “Something soft and gooey that you can’t find in the United States.” This was my politically correct way of saying, “Bring me some of that good, illegal, raw-milk stuff!”

I held my breath that Customs wouldn’t confiscate the cheese upon my dad’s return to the States, but somehow, even though he got pulled for extra screening, the cheese arrived back to my parents’ house in Seattle unscathed. And when I went to visit two weeks later, I got to claim it! I brought it back to Minnesota and waited for the perfect moment to cut myself a wedge and savor its creamy tang.

Oh. My. G-d. It was THAT good. The cheese was Boursault, and it had to be made with raw milk because I’ve never tasted such a rich cheese before. It had the consistency of a triple-cream cheese with the zestiness of a fresh chevre, even though it’s a cow’s-milk cheese (the picture of the goat on the label made me think it was goat’s milk), and is perfect for spreading on a water cracker. One taste of this cheese and pure bliss washes over you. You forget your work troubles, your dirty house, your extreme sleep deprivation. It’s the best thing to ever come from France, and that includes french fries.

I didn’t enjoy my cheese with any drinks – juggling two kids makes it hard to get to the wine shop – but I imagine it would pair beautifully with champagne (the real stuff). I have one tiny piece left, and then my cheesy goodness will be gone. Maybe Mom and Dad would like to Paris again…

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?

What separates the cheese freaks (like myself) from mere cheese lovers or cheese admirers? A subscription to Culture magazine. A willingness to spend $20 or more each week on cheese. And use of the following words when describing cheese: “beautiful,” “mind-blowing,” “irresistibly charming.”

All those phrases are apt for my second featured cheese of the week, Tome d’Aquitaine. Also known as Clisson, this French goat’s-milk cheese takes cheese worship to a whole new level. Its paste is light, floral and salty, with a smoothness that makes it easy to inhale. During the dog days of August, Tome d’Aquitaine is a breath of fresh air – perhaps a breeze blowing off the Atlantic. I don’t meant to get all poetic – it’s just that good.

Tome d’Aquitaine is another example of how cheesemakers can work in tandem to create tantalizing cheeses that neither could fully develop on its own (see Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot and Jasper Hill, and Grafton and Faribault Dairy). This cheese begins its journey in the Loire Valley (a premier goat-cheese-producing region) at the Union Laitiere de la Venise Verte, a dairy cooperative that produces cheese, butter and baby formula. Later on the wheels of Tome d’Aquitaine travel to Bordeaux, where renowned affineur Jean d’Alos washes the rind in brine and Sauternes. The result – total cheese bliss. Serve it up with a dry white wine, like a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.

Psst…this cheese also makes a great birthday gift, and I’d share it with a certain birthday girl today if we didn’t live 1,000 miles apart. Happy birthday, Colleen!

Happy National Cheese Day, y’all! Regular readers of Cheese + Champagne know that Colleen and I never need a holiday to serve as an excuse to eat cheese, but we’re happy to mark the occasion all the same.

If you’re looking for something different to try for Cheese Day 2010, consider Corsu Vecchiu, a sheep’s-milk cheese from the island of Corsica. I hadn’t noticed this cheese before Monday, when I went to Surdyk’s for its cheese sale, and it was on the list of top 20 staff picks. One taste and I was ready to buy a wedge – despite being a sheep’s-milk cheese, Corsu Vecchiu doesn’t carry the oiliness that characterizes so many of its ovine counterparts. I was surprised and delighted with its lightness both in flavor and in texture and the subtle saltiness that comes through at the end of each bite. I would have eaten my entire wedge in one sitting if I hadn’t stopped myself, but I managed to make the cheese last for two sittings. Surdyk’s recommends a medium red wine on the side, like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. I had neither in the house (I’m still rebuilding my wine supply after nine months of abstaining), so I enjoyed the Corsu Vecchiu with some fruit for a very satisfying snack.

Which cheese(s) will be enjoying for National Cheese Day this year? Share your picks with us!

After nine months of abstaining from wine, it was only appropriate that I select a boozy washed-rind cheese for my first post-partum review. Like the wine in which it is bathed, L’Affiné au Chablis is made in the Burgundy region of France, which is also home to the notorious stinker Epoisses. But if you have a stinky-cheese-phobic spouse like mine, you don’t have to worry about this cheese causing him to hide in the basement for the better part of the evening – L’Affiné au Chablis is much milder than Epoisses and lacks its odorous punch.

So what makes this cheese worth seeking? Its creaminess, of course – as with many soft-ripened cow’s-milk cheeses, L’Affiné au Chablis has a luxurious mouthfeel that’s hard to resist. I let my wheel sit on the counter for a couple of hours and then dug into it with a spoon. My mom was a little weirded out by this gesture, but I found it to be a perfectly appropriate way to consume the cheese. (It was delicious on a cracker, too, in case you agree with my mom.) The flavor of the Chablis is definitely present with each bite, but it was subtle enough to allow the creamy richness of the cheese to take center stage. The wine pairing should be pretty obvious.

After a year-plus of eating a new cheese almost every week, one inevitably begins to compare the fine fromages to one another. This one may be packaged like Cheese A but smell like Cheese B, or it comes from Country X but tastes like the specimens from Country Y. So when I unwrapped my 6-oz. cylinder of Langres yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “Hey, this comes in a box like Camembert, has a similar shape to Le Chevrot and tastes like Red Hawk.” So do all those comparisons add up to a positive cheese experience? You betcha!

Langres is one of those cheeses you’ll find sold whole in most shops, thanks to its diminutive size, and it’s actually an excellent cheese when you want the funky yeastiness of Red Hawk but don’t want to purchase a large wheel. Though the Langres you’d buy in France would be made with raw cow’s milk from the Champagne region, the imported version is pasteurized since the cheese isn’t aged for very long (anywhere from 15 to 90 days). If properly handled and stored, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the raw-milk goodness – pasteurized Langres still has the kick you’d expect from a raw-milk cheese, plus the creaminess that soft-cheese lovers favor. The cheese is known for an indentation at the top in which diners traditionally poured champagne or another spirit to enrich the cheese. I prefer to have my bubbly on the side rather than on top of my cheese, but give it a try if you’re inclined. And don’t be alarmed by the cheese’s orange color – it’s supposed to look like that!