Last night I attended the launch party for DC’s newest cheese enterprise, The Cheese Course. Fromager Carolyn Stromberg, well known among DC cheese lovers for her work running the cheese cave at Old Hickory Steakhouse, is setting out on her own to teach cheese appreciation classes around town. At last night’s event, hosted by Cheesetique, Carolyn led guests through a guided tasting of several wines and cheeses, beginning with a sparkling wine and triple-cream L’Explorateur. “I always like to start a tasting with sparkling wine,” explained Carolyn, “because it’s festive.” It’s also hard to go wrong in matching a sparkling wine with cheese, which makes it an easy choice for beginners.

Carolyn Stromberg at The Cheese Course launch

Carolyn went on to lead us through a white, two reds and on to the dessert course, Sauternes with Sweet Grass Dairy‘s Asher Blue from Georgia. The Sauternes was a little sweet for my liking, but well suited for the assertive blue. My favorite pairing of the night was the California Queen of Hearts pinot noir with Abbaye de Belloc. (I’m a bit of an Oregon pinot snob, but this was a really delightful and fruity California rendition that would go well with a variety of cheeses.) I was also delighted to try the Cinerino, a mild, almost floral tasting, ash-rubbed sheeps-milk cheese from Casa Madaio in Campania, Italy.

DC has a wealth of fabulous cheesemongers and shops, but too few opportunities for the cheese curious to study the subject matter more in depth. Carolyn’s passion for cheese is evident, and her casual approach will put even novices at ease as she leads them through a guided pairing. Visit her website and contact her today to schedule a cheese tasting for your holiday party. Plans to host public classes around town are in the works, so stay tuned and we’ll be sure to give you a heads up when they’re scheduled.

The Cheese Course
www.cheese-course.com
p: 202.236.3044
@cheesecoursedc

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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!

Morbier

I recently read an article (don’t ask me to remember where) that compared Morbier to Humboldt Fog. Naturally, I was intrigued since my love for the Fog is well-documented. But it turns out that the only thing the two cheeses have in common is the thin line of vegetable ash running through their centers. Otherwise, not so much. Humboldt Fog is a goat’s-milk cheese; Morbier is made from cow’s milk. Humboldt Fog is from California; Morbier is French. Humboldt Fog is amazing; Morbier is not.

I’m not saying Morbier is a bad cheese – it was perfectly pleasant enough with a soft, slightly rubbery interior and stinky but not-too-funky aroma. But the taste was so mild that my tastebuds said, “OK, next, please.” Maybe it’s because a leftover cheese – some producers, like Jean d’Alos, make it from the leftover curds from the Comte they also create. Morbier is the meatloaf while Comte is the steak.

But don’t cry for Morbier. It’s an innocent cheese just trying to make its way onto your cheeseboard. And since it’s so mild, it’s a good choice to serve if you don’t know how adventurous your guests are with cheese. Pair it with a Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer or Pinor Noir.

I know that the Scots probably don’t care much about American football, but it seems to me that their Isle of Mull Cheddar was made for the Super Bowl. A cheddar with flavors of mustard and malt? Score.

The mustardy flavor of Isle of Mull Cheddar makes it an ideal match for pretzels - and football.

The mustardy flavor of Isle of Mull Cheddar makes it an ideal match for pretzels - and football.

What gives Isle of Mull Cheddar its distinctive flavor? The cheese’s island namesake, located off the western coast of Scotland, is home to the Tobermory malt whiskey distillery. The cows that supply the milk for this aged raw-milk cheese feast on the distillery’s leftover fermented barley, which in turn give the cheese a Scotchy taste. Once brought to room temperature, the Isle of Mull Cheddar has a mustardy aroma that intensifies with each bite. Bring on the pretzels!

As you might expect, Isle of Mull Cheddar is a natural match for Tobermory Scotch, but for those of you who aren’t planning on breaking out the hard stuff during the game, consider serving the cheese with a Pinot Noir or, as Jamie Forrest of Curd Nerds suggests, a California Chardonnay. But let’s be realistic – you’ll be serving it with beer for the Super Bowl. In that case, DiBruno Bros. suggests an ale.

Special note: Isle of Mull Cheddar has also been toddler-approved. My 1-year-old son couldn’t get enough when he spotted some on the counter yesterday.

For the first time since starting this blog, I took out my bible, Steven JenkinsCheese Primer, to see what he had to say about Epoisses, my cheese of the week. Steven is known for his strong opinions on cheese, and since Epoisses has been around much longer than the book’s 1996 publication date, I knew it would be included. Sure enough, he waxes on about Epoisses, calling it one of his favorites cheeses in the world, but there’s a catch. Since Epoisses is French and made with raw milk, it must be aged more than 60 days to enter the United States (thanks a lot, USFDA), and Steven did not recommend the pasteurized version. Hmm, well, I figured if Wine Spectator put Epoisses on its 100 great cheeses list, something must have changed in the past 12 years to merit such a ranking. So I threw caution to the wind and bought myself a (pricey) wheel.

There’s no way of putting this mildly – Epoisses is a stinker. How stinky, you ask? Well, according to a BBC story from 2004, Epoisses has been banned from French public transportation systems because its odor is so strong. And this is a French cheese! My husband is not a fan of stinky cheese, so I warned him ahead of time that I’d be opening the carton, and he hid out in the basement while I tasted it. But then when he came upstairs he claimed he could still smell it, and I have to admit the smell was lingering in the kitchen.

Is it a creme-filled donut? No, its Epoisses!

Is it a creme-filled donut? No, it's Epoisses!

But the taste – oh. my. Lord. This cheese is unbelievable. Though most cheesemongers tell you to let cheeses sit on the counter for one hour prior to serving, I let mine sit for two or three because I like them to be really soft and runny. And it was a good call on my part. The Epoisses looked almost like a creme-filled donut, and when I cut into it and the inside came gushing out, it was heaven on a cheese spreader. The cheese was silky, buttery and decadent – every bit as good as Chaource (one of my favorites) and with a little something extra. Maybe it was the slightly stinky (but in the best way) taste that washed over my mouth after each bite. This cheese is a keeper, which is good because I had to buy the entire wheel. Epoisses gets so runny that the lady who helped me at Premier Cheese Market said they will only sell it whole.

It kind of looks like the cheese is wearing a beret.

It kind of looks like the cheese is wearing a beret.

As for the wine pairing, however, I wasn’t satisfied. I did my research online and found that Epoisses is often matched with a white Burgundy or a Pinot Noir, which makes sense because the cheese is from Burgundy. I headed off to Surdyk’s and picked out a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and popped it open last night. I don’t know if it was the particular bottle I bought or just a personal preference, but I didn’t think it was a good pairing. The wine did nothing to enhance the taste of the cheese, and the Epoisses made the wine fall flat on my tongue. (The wine did taste good later that evening when I had vegetable soup and a tomato and mozzarella panini, so it wasn’t a total loss.) But in hindsight, I should have gone with the white Burgundy.

The pinot noir wasnt the best match, but the stem of the wineglass provided some entertainment value.

The pinot noir wasn't the best match, but the stem of the wineglass provided some entertainment value.

So skip the Pinot, but go for the Epoisses. Your tastebuds will thank you. Can’t promise your nose will, though.