It might seem odd to go to New York City to taste cheese but it’s home some of the most exciting stores and tasting programmes in the cheese world. One of the key figures is Max McCalman of Artisanal Cheese, author of several excellent cheese books including the recently published Mastering Cheese: lessons for connoisseurship from a Maitre Fromager.
I was lucky enough to have a private tasting with him yesterday which produced some fascinating combinations. We tried six cheeses, a number of which were new on me and two wines, a crisp, citrussy 2007 Fillaboa Albariño from Rias Baixas and a soft, damsony Portuguese red - a Vidigal Reserva 2005 from Estremadura. Here are my tasting notes and Max’s observations.
*** an outstanding match **a good match *Fine, no clashes. No stars: best avoided.
A pasteurized goats' milk cheese from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery. A surprisingly full-flavour for a pasteurized cheese - almost more cow-like than goat but with a lovely citrussy freshness. Predictably great with the Albariño which acquired some lovely crisp green apple notes ***. Rubbed along fine with the Vidigal Reserva*
A tangy semi hard goats cheese from Extremadura in Spain, rubbed with pimenton which gave it a spicy edge (and a stand-out colour on a cheeseboard). Although Max and I agreed that geographical proximity doesn’t always make for great matches (Epoisses and red burgundy being a classic example) we both thought the Estremadura from over the border in Portugal was a good match ** The Albariño worked fine too**
This Portuguese unpasteurized sheep's cheese which is set the traditional way with cardoon rather than animal-based rennet was a new one on me and one of the stand-out cheeses of the tasting. It had a lovely clean fresh citrussy taste and crumbly texture that was terrific with the Albariño *** and worked well with the Estemadura too **
A luxuriant fresh Italian cheese made from mixed milks (cow, sheep and goat. Max is of the opinion that mixed milk cheeses often give you the best of all worlds - the creaminess of cow with the balancing acidity of goats cheese and tanginess of sheep cheese) It was a touch creamy for the Albariño* and the Estremadura red was fine ** but there’s probably a better pairing out there
A crystalline parmesan-style cheese from Switzerland made from whole rather than semi-skimmed milk which gives it a fuller taste than parmesan. Very good with the Estremadura red***, fair with the Albariño* (Interestingly the tasting note on the Artisanal website recommends champagne as a pairing which I can imagine would be delicious)
A particularly fine example of this lesser known French blue - creamy, salty with a slightly crystalline finish. Really did no favours to the Albariño (no stars) though eating it with a slice of sourdough just about kicked it into touch with the Estremadura (*)
All in all there was a lot to be learned from this beautifully balanced and unusual cheeseboard which - note - avoided pungent washed rind cheeses and concentrated more on hard and semi-hard cheeses with a clean finish. (Soft cheeses like bloomy-rinded and semi-soft washed-rind cheeses have a mouthcoating quality that often set the palate up for a wine-clash though the bright primary fruit of New World reds can sometimes power through).
There's some very useful cheese and wine pairing guidance on the Artisanal website. The company also runs regular cheese classes.