Hello, my friends. Last week, I had the great chance to share some of the wonders of American artisan cheese with a group of French ex-pats. This was my second time presenting to this group. Many of them came to me last week to tell me how excited they were about this tasting, because they had such good memories of the first American cheese extravaganza, which you can read about. Hearing those words alone made my evening!
This time, I shared 7 American cheeses, and a French oenophile, the husband of the organizer, presented 5 French wines. With only 10 people present and 2 bottles of each wine, we thought that 7 wines might have been overkill. It all worked out beautifully in the end.
Pennyroyal Farm, goat, sometimes with ewe’s milk, pasteurized, traditional rennet, California, USA
This fresh cheese is made from cheesemaker Erika Scharfen’s own animals on her farmstead cheesemaking operation, which also has a vineyard and wine-making facilities. The cheese is left to coagulate slowly, over 22 hours, instead of just a few hours. The result is a wonderfully lush mouthfeel, and fresh milky flavor.
Toluma Farms + Tomales Farmstead Creamery, goat, pasteurized, traditional rennet, California, USA
This creamy, fudge cake-like goat’s milk cheese features a wrinkly rind, a wet, heavy paste, and plenty of mushroomy, yeasty, and hard cider notes to keep your palate guessing at what’s next. This was a favorite of the evening!
Sequatchie Cove Creamery, cow, raw, traditional rennet, Tennessee, USA
This was a last-minute addition to the cheese plate, and another favorite of the evening. I was a little nervous at first because French folks don’t usually eat the cheese that this one is inspired by—Reblochon—on a cheese plate very often. However, several of my guests commented that it was their favorite of the evening! Was it that hearty crust with distinct notes of sweet grass and earth? Was it the gooey paste with its shiitake mushroom, butter, and walnut notes? Of all of the cheeses that evening, I felt that this one most conveyed the flavors of the land. If it wasn’t for that cheesy, oozing texture, I would have thought we were grazing in a field!
Alemar Cheese, cow, pasteurized, vegetarian rennet, Minnesota, USA
You wouldn’t be able to guess from looking at it, but this is another cheese that was influenced by Reblochon. Good Thunder’s plump, square form is inviting with promises of scrumptiousness. Plus, it’s washed in Surly Brewing Company’s Bender, a brown ale, which makes it slightly orange and slightly funky smelling, so it could make for a good starter washed-rind cheese! It has a bit of brightness in the flavor, as well as meaty notes with hints of coffee and caramel. The mouthfeel is oozy and silky, not very heavy on the tongue.
Jasper Hill Farm, cow, pasteurized, traditional rennet, Vermont, USA
This wonderful spoonable cheese, inspired by Vacherin Mont d’Or, will tickle your taste buds with its tongue-coating goodness and notes of wood, lemon, mustard, and asparagus, among others. It is a cheese that seems to grow in complexity with each bite. My French guests went crazy at being able to serve themselves and watch the cheese flow down the spoon onto their plates. This was probably the ultimate favorite cheese of the evening! I should have bought another wheel!
Tubby has been a recent discovery for me. Aged for a year under the streets of Brooklyn by Crown Finish Caves, this cheese reminiscent of Comté has wonderful notes of melon, piña colada, bouillon, and peanut butter (especially by the rind). While its corpulent form and logo featuring a bathing nude woman might make you think the name Tubby refers to something of a chunky nature, it is apparently named after a New York architect of the 19th century, named William Bunker Tubby.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, cow, pasteurized, traditional rennet, California, USA
I wanted to finish the tasting on a local note, and Bay Blue was it. One guest exclaimed, “There’s nothing like this cheese in France!” I think he’s right—I haven’t tasted anything like Bay Blue, with its maple syrup, caramel, hazelnut, and fruit notes in France—or anywhere, for that matter. Its thick, fudgy texture and sweetness make for a perfect meal closer. It is modeled after Stilton, but Bay Blue is in a class all its own!
Spoiler alert: They were all EXCELLENT.
2014 Henri Bourgeois “Jadis”: Sancerre
Henri Bourgeois. What an absolute delight this wine was. The nose was heady with notes of stone fruit and light citrus, while the flavor was refined with mineral notes, with some staying power on the tongue. It was only the first wine of the evening to go with the Laychee, and I was already in love.
2014 Blanc Joseph Drouhin : Chassagne-Montrachet
When I drink Chardonnay, I tend to go for Burgundy Chards—they aren’t crazy with oaky, buttery flavors like a lot of my local options, and are easy to drink with food and cheese. This one had a lot of flavor mid-palate, which made it easy to pair with Kenne particularly. The citrus, stone fruit, and light minerality paired beautifully with the cheese. Its pleasant finish made this one wine I wish I could have sipped a little bit longer . . . .
2015 Blanc Joseph Drouhin : Chassagne-Montrachet
Joseph Drouhin. We tried 2 vintages of the Chassagne-Montrachet, and boy, were they different. The 2015 seemed a little more mature in its flavors than the 2014. The 2015 had notes of fresh tobacco, grilled stone fruit, and spice. With an elegant mouthfeel and long, perfumed finish, I’d pair this with the Kenne or another younger goat cheese like Sofia (still one of my favorite American cheeses).
2014 Domaine Blain-Gagnard 1er Cru : Chassagne-Montrachet “La Boudriotte”
Domaine Blain-Gagnard. This was the wine we paired with Harbison, and I wholeheartedly advise you to DO THIS PAIRING RIGHT NOW. It was extraordinary. I think some people around the table actually gasped from the ensemble. The wine, another Burgundy chardonnay, had wonderful apple, pear, mineral notes that evolved into brush/bramble notes after a time. The wine paired beautifully with the spruce notes in the cheese, and the matched brightness of cheese and wine made for gustatory fireworks.
2014 Domaine Baud Chardonnay L’Etoile Blanc
Domaine Baud. This chardonnay from the Jura was a surprise for everyone at the table. I learned that the Jura region does make wine, and the secret is only recently starting to get out. This lovely wine reminded me and others strongly of Calvados, the famous Normandy apple liquor, with apple, nutmeg, and clove notes. The “étoile” in the wine’s name refers to the ancient sea urchins that used to live in the region when it was under the sea. Now, those sea urchins and their old hunting grounds make up these perfect grape-growing conditions. We paired this with the Tubby, since Tubby is inspired by Comté, a Jura mountain region cheese. The pairing was rustic and elegant at the same time, a gentleman farmer at the table.
2016 Domaine Huet “Le Mont” : Vouvray Demi Sec
Domaine Huet. We ended the evening with Bay Blue paired with this Loire Valley lovely made from chenin blanc grapes. The wine, with a long finish, brought balanced apple, honey, and freesia notes to the table. I loved the slightly viscous mouthfeel, which complemented the cheese’s long finish well.
Phew—by the end of that tasting, my tastebuds were tired. Everyone had a wonderful evening, and I loved hearing which cheeses were everyone’s favorites!
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