I happened to be in London during the annual Spring Cheese and Wine Festival. Held at the Southbank Centre Square, this event was all about everything related to this perfect pair. There were cheese vendors, there were wine vendors, there were bakeries, and there were sweets aplenty.
I attended two demonstrations (complete with tastings, bien sûr!). Warning: if you’re not a fan of beer, wine, or cheese, the rest of this post might be useless to you. However, if you’re at all interested, I hope my notes provide you with some additional insight.
The first mini course was, “A Cheese and Beer tasting with Ivett Kerekes from Isle of Cheese and Meantime Brewery.” I was actually really excited to go hear this talk because I’ve never really had these two together – normally in France we enjoy our cheeses with a glass of red. And to the American in me, I’m more used to beer being paired with… oh, I don’t know, bad American pizza? Chips?
Well, this cheesemaker and brewery had come together to decide on pairings of beer and cheese that would enhance the flavors of each. These were our tastings. I can’t provide great commentary on the beers as I’m very much a novice to beer, but I did write in my travel notebook what I thought of the pairings.
- London lager + provola. The smokiness of this provolone went really well with the lager.
- Wheat beer + asiago. Wheat beer almost went out of fashion once upon a time but I’m so glad it didn’t because this pairing was divine. My favorite pairing by far.
- London pale ale + pecorino. This dry sheep’s cheese is made in a similar manner to parmesan, so it matched well with the bitterness of the PA.
- Yakima red ale + gorgonzola. I’ve never been a big fan of gorgonzola or any blue for that matter so I was glad for this Washington State beer to wash it down. My least favorite pairing, but that was to be expected.
- Raspberry beer + taleggio. I was way too much in awe of this pairing to listen to what they said about the beer, but it was so tasty. The taleggio is from northern Italy and has an earthy creamy flavor. It’s made by putting in balsamic vinegar and oil in alternance.
- Chocolate beer + goat cheese. This chocolate beer was by far my favorite drink of the day! It was a beer with the most delicious chocolate aftertaste, and as the beer brewer said, “One could drink this morning, day, and night.” I’m not really sure that putting a goat cheese with it did either of them justice. The beer and cheese by themselves are so good by themselves. It seemed a bit of a shame to dilute their tastes.\
My second crash course was on how to create a perfectly balanced cheese board for your next dinner party, presented by La Cave a Fromage. Don’t be fooled by the French name; La Cave a Fromage is solidly an English company. It was actually quite appropriate that a Brit company with a French name was giving this talk because they emphasized that the perfect cheese plate should be made of cheeses from different animals’ milk, textures, but more importantly countries. Every country out there has their own unique ways of producing cheese.
When serving your cheese platter, you should always invite your guests to start with the mildest cheeses first, and then slowly progress to the strongest (and stinkiest!) towards the end. The textures of the cheeses don’t matter as much, but if you served a really strong blue at the beginning and then followed it with a light, such as a brie, then the brie would be completely overwhelmed.
Our cheese expert suggested the following cheese (in this order) and let us sample each of them.
- Brie or Camembert. Both of these are French bloomy rind cheeses. They both have a light coat due to bacteria added to the curd during the first part of production. I won’t go into the differences between these two cheeses (believe me, the French can argue this for hours; camembert comes from Normandy and brie comes from the southeast of Paris) but they are both mild, creamy cheeses made with cow’s milk. Perfect to start a cheese course with.
- Valençay. This is a pyramid-shaped cheese that comes from smackdab middle of France. Legend has it that it was made for Napolean as a victory celebration for a battle in Egypt. Well, as irony would have it, Napolean lost that battle and in his rage apparently took his sword and chopped off the top of the pyramid. To this day, the cheese is a pyramid missing a top point. This is a goat cheese often covered with ash, giving it a more earthy, grassy flavor.
- Manchego. I mentioned this in one of my Barcelona posts, but Manchego is a cheese of Spanish origin. This is a soft cheese with a great nutty flavor. It becomes creamier as one bites into it and chews on it.
- Comté. This is one of France’s most popular cheeses (it’s the most produced in France) and comes from eastern France. This cow’s cheese has a hard texture and a strong, slightly sweet, nutty taste. In fact, due to its AOC standard, the milk used for this cheese can only come from 3 dairy cooperatives in France. Imagine that!
- Stinking bishop. This cheese comes from the southwest of England and is a soft washed-rind cheese made from cow’s milk. It has a quite strong smell because it is washed with perry made from the Stinking Bishop pear during its ripening.
- Cornish blue. Now this last cheese had the most interesting story. It was voted as last year’s best cheese in the world by some folks who really like cheese. It’s an English blue cheese made with vegetarian rennet. Rennet = enzymes normally produced in a mammalian stomach to digest the mother’s milk. It used to be made with the animal rennet but is now made with the veg version.
I’ve got to admit, I was a little surprised by the variety of cheese this man told us to put on a plate. Having lived in France for over half a year now, I’m so used to having cheeses just from this country. The idea of serving a French comté with something called “the stinking bishop” would make my French friends die a little inside. But I suppose the Brits don’t care so much for a plate of just French cheeses…
Regardless, I wish you all bon appétit! and bonne chance! if you ever have the occasion to throw a dinner party where you need to prepare a cheese platter. Oh, and don’t forget the wine or beer.