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!

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?

PSA: If you’re in the DC area, head down to La Fromagerie in Alexandria right now for a chance to snatch some of the infamous 15-year-aged cheddar from Wisconsin’s Hook’s Cheese Co.

After selling out before Christmas, the second batch is rolling out to cheese shops now. Have you tried it? Spotted it? Cheesemongers, let us know if you’re carrying it and we’ll alert our cheese friends on Twitter.

We may have had a whole box of cheeses waiting when Jill arrived for her visit last month, but that didn’t stop us from venturing to a cheese shop.  After all, Jill hadn’t been to La Fromagerie yet and we’re certainly not ones to miss out on visiting a new cheese shop! And of course we managed to come across something new, Bloomin’ Idiot from Hook’s Cheese Co. of Wisconsin. Yes, the same Hook’s whose 15-year cheddar has become something of an obsession around the cheese world. But that’s no reason to overlook their other fine cheeses, particularly the clever double-creme-slash-blue specimen here. In fact, prior to the cheddar craze Hook’s was known for their variety of blues. And since it’s Valentine’s week, it’s worth pointing out that Tony and Julie Hook were college sweethearts who’ve been making cheese together for over 30 years. Now that’s romance.

Bloomin’ Idiot is a cows-milk, semi-soft and creamy cheese that at first glance resembles a brie-style cheese. In fact, if you scoop out a bite from the middle and exclude the rind, it has that same mild, creamy, slightly sour milky taste you would expect. Take a bite with the bloomy, mottled rind, however, and you’ll get the tangy astringent flavor of a blue. Huh?

is it just me or is that cheese smirking?

In traditional blues, the milk is inoculated with mold and mold spores are injected into the cheese to encourage its development. By skipping the injections, this cheese develops blue only in the rind, creating a cheese with almost a split personality. We give this experiment two thumbs up, with bonus points for the amusing name.

Cheese is often omitted from newspaper food sections, so it was a nice surprise to see an article about choosing summer cheeses in today’s Washington Post. Guest writer and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti highlights 13 cheeses with “seasonal charms suited for warm weather,” with input from Sebastien Tavel, the owner of La Fromagerie.  C+C readers will find a few familiar cheeses, such as Tomme Crayeuse and Idiazabal, along with some newcomers to this blog, like Dragon’s Breath.

What do you think of Domenica’s picks? Did she miss anything? What are your can’t-miss summer cheeses?

This spring, a new cheese shop opened on the main street of Old Town Alexandria, Va. That makes two cheese-dedicated shops each precisely 1.1 miles from my home, plus several cheese-stocking gourmet shops, which makes this cheesewriter one happy clam. Or curd, I guess you could say. Despite its French name and inspiration —  co-owner Sebastien Tavel is a native of the Rhone region — La Fromagerie specializes in high quality, local and domestic artisanal cheeses. A blackboard behind the sales counter proudly proclaims their support for several cheesemakers in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Everona Dairy (VA), Firefly Farms (MD) and Keswick Creamery (PA).

While they have a handful of your old European mainstays, Roquefort and the like, this is not the place to go with narrow-minded intentions of obtaining a specific Alpine cheese or brand of Robiola. Rather, this is the perfect shop to spend some time letting Sebastien and his wife Mary fill you in on their latest find. They offer domestic prosciutto and charcuterie from La Quercia (Iowa) and Salumeria Biellese (NYC), fresh, local glass-jarred milk, butter and yogurt (from Trickling Springs and Blue Ridge Dairies) and a carefully chosen wine and beer selection.  They’re also planning to host classes in the near future.  And with drier summer days finally in sight (perhaps?), call in an order for a local cheese and Virginia country ham picnic basket and stroll down to the waterfront for a romantic cheese lovers’ tryst.

This Saturday, June 6, La Fromagerie will host Firefly Farms’ cheesemakers for a special meet-the-cheesemaker tasting from 4 to 7 pm, and they are having a sale on burger-ready bleu cheeses through the weekend. Visit the website for more details, or stop by the upper King Street shop en route to the water taxi if you’re headed to the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA
703.879.2467
http://www.lafromagerieonline.com
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 8:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm
Closed on Mondays