Cheese and wine. Classic pairing.
Lucy Hoffman of lifeandcheese.com geeks out on cheese that way yours truly geeks out on wine. And as part of the Wellington Foodies meet-up group she presented six of the best chesses from the 2014 New Zealand Cheese Awards. And Jules van Cruysen of xyeats.com and Macvine International wine distribution supplied three lovely, distinct New Zealand wines to sample with the cheeses.
Nugget number one: there is a right way to taste a cheese plate. You’ll want to start with the really soft, delicate ones, move through the semi-hard to the stronger hard cheeses and always finish with the blues. This allows each of the cheeses to be appreciated without being overshadowed by the one that preceded it.
When evaluating cheese, there’s a lot of overlap with wine tasting. You start with the eyes, then the nose and finally the palate. We were given a sheet to record our notes on the appearance, odour, texture, flavour and preferred wine match. Along with this we got a list of terms to describe the colour, texture, flavour and aromas of a cheese.
When pairing the two, cheeses can be grouped into three lots: softer ones like goats and buffalo cheese; the hard (including semi-hard) ones; and the creamy ones, including blues. Reds go well with hard cheese (and pretty much only hard cheeses), sweeter styles and true dessert wines go well with the creamy ones and the soft goats and buffalo can go with a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or, if it has a bloomy rind, try a sparkling wine. At least that’s the general idea. We were advised to make a cheesy highway in our mouths. Chew the cheese but leave it in your mouth so when you take in the wine you can let it wash over the cheese and get a real appreciation for the pairing.
Nugget number two: do not server your cheese straight out of the fridge, they’re always going to taste better if given the time to warm up. For smaller cuts of cheese give it a couple hours out of the fridge, for larger wheels you’ll want it out of the fridge for several hours. You can rest them in a cooler with ice packs.
Before we look a little closer at the cheese, a quick introduction to the wines, starting with the 2011 Gladstone Vineyard Sophie’s Choice, a fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Although more refined than a typical Marlborough Sauv, it’s still has the high acidity that’s key to its food pairings. Next up was the tannic and astringent 2007 Newton Forrest Cornerstone. Finally the sweet, rich, slightly spicy Auslese-style 2011 Clark Estate Block 8 Riesling.
Flight oneCheese number one:
Flat White Goats Cheese from the Crescent Dairy in Kumeu, Auckland.
Winner of the Fonterra Champion Original Cheese
A shiny, white soft cheese with yeasty, sour cream odours. Squidgy on the plate, satiny smooth in the mouth. Tangy, salty sour milk on the palate that pairs beautifully with the Sauvignon Blanc cutting through the acidity in the wine and rounding out the pairing.
Cheese number two:
St Benedict the Black Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese from the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Company in the Whangaripo Valley
Winner of the Best New Cheese
Off-white, uneven colouring with subtle cabbage and interesting mushroom odours. An elastic, spongy texture and a sweaty, eggy flavour. The edible rind is quite strong and slightly bitter. Again the cheese was best paired to the Sauvignon Blanc as the soft richness cut nicely through the acidity in the wine.
Cheese number three:
Very Old Edam from Mahoe Cheese in Kerikeri
Winner of the Cuisine Artisian Cheese Award (for the third year in a row)
Yellow-ish and shiny with little oil spots throughout. Strong and sharp odours reminiscent of buttery popcorn. Semi-hard that goes crumbly in the mouth. Sweet and tangy flavours and again plenty of buttery character in the mouth. I found that none of the wines really suited this cheese. The cheese overpowers all three of the wines rendering them rather neutral. For those a little less wine focused, both the Red and the Riesling got nods of approval for how they complimented the cheese.
Nugget number three: there’s a classic way to cut different types of cheese. For simplicities sake, cut your cheese in wedges, this will allow for a taste of the centre all the way out to the rind. If you want to really geek out on cutting cheese, YouTube will have plenty of details for you.
Flight twoCheese number four:
Pecorino from Mercer Cheese in the Waikato
Winner of the NZ Chefs Association Champion Sheep Cheese Award
Yellow at the centre spreading out to golden at the rim with a real salty character for both the aromas and flavours. Crumbly, semi-hard a bit sweaty and grainy. There’s also a touch of butteriness to the flavour profile. The saltiness in the wine made for a great pairing with the Cornerstone or the Riesling.
Cheese number five:
Galactic Gold from Over the Moon in Putararu, Waikato
Winner of the Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award
Creamy coloured and oozing, so very rich. A complex array of aromas and flavours ranging from mushrooms to delicate florals. A bit of sweet nuttiness. The Riesling paired with this cheese was a real winner the two complimented each other perfectly.
Cheese number six:
Mahoe Blue from Mahoe Cheese in Kerikeri
This cheese didn’t win an award, but part of the cheese selection criteria for the night was that you can’t just grab it from the supermarket, it was a chance to see something different. This one was aged in a gouda shape rather than a stilton shape, allowing for a drier, less creamy style.
Mostly golden with little spots of pure yellow with the necessary spider webs of blue. The wine isn’t as creamy as I’m used to, a bit drier texture as we were told to expect. Funky and salty with a pronounced umami character and a nutty complexity. The Riesling and the blue is by far the best pairing of the night.
Nugget number four: if you want to buy cheese in bulk and help it last as long as possible, wrap your cheeses in baking paper and store it in a big, well sealed plastic container. You want to create a humid environment without the wine getting cramped or sweating.
The night wrapped up with promises of more specialised pairings, like Italian cheese and wine or Dutch cheese and beer. Gorgeous.