An edited version of a very interesting article written for the Oxford Wine Company's magazine by cheese expert Juliet Harbutt, organiser of the Great British Cheese Festival and author of The World Encyclopaedia of Cheese.
Cheeses like Camembert and Brie with their crusty white rinds and soft, butter-yellow interiors are classed as soft white-rinded cheeses. There are thousands of variations around the world including at least 50 in the UK, many of which are made from ewe, goat and even buffalo milk but Camembert is probably the best known and Brie de Meaux the strongest. The rind is edible, particularly on the creamier cheeses, but can be quite bitter and even soapy if it is wet or can taste like eating paper when dry. If it smells strongly of ammonia it is over the top and will deliver a vicious bite. However one man's meat . . .
When to eat these cheeses is a matter of individual taste - some prefer young cheeses with their dry, chalky centre and sharp slightly salty tang, others like the soft, runny custard-like texture and stronger more distinct flavour that comes with maturity. Many commercially made versions are now 'stabilised', to give the consumer a mild, sweet, buttery tasting cheese with a long shelf life and a supple (rather than runny) texture that remains stable, meaning that it does not ripen any further but nor does it have much flavour.
Cream enriched varieties are made by adding cream to the milk before it is coagulated increasing the feel good factor and almost doubling the fat content. Consequently they feel wickedly rich as they roll across the palate leaving behind a distinct if subtle mushroom taste which tends to go well with sparkling wines.
(all supplied by the Oxford Wine Company)
Brightwell Bacchus 2005, BRIGHTWELL VINEYARDS, ENGLAND - £7.49
Isabel Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND - £12.99
Rosé Domaine Houchart 2005, PROVENCE, FRANCE - £6.49
Viognier Commissioner’s Block 2006, MERBEIN, AUSTRALIA - £6.49
Chardonnay Orangerie de Pennautier 2005, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France - £5.99 (UNOAKED)
Chardonnay Jean d’Alibert 2005, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France - £5.99 (OAKED)
Matching the Wine with the cheeses
Trying to decide which wines to include was a challenging, but not entirely unpleasant task. Some wines that I did not include but need mentioning because they make very poor bedfellows with soft white cheeses are a straight Alsace, a crisp Australian Riesling and all reds except Merlot. Pinot Gris on the other hand is brilliant as long as it has good fruit and is not too sharp.
To make it easy to see what goes with what I have only included descriptions of the combinations that worked.
1 Flower Marie, Golden Cross Cheese Company (Raw ewes’ milk) Sussex
Winner of Best Soft White Cheese in 1999, this is a cheese that never ceases to amaze me or to capture the imagination of anyone who tries it. Mild and very creamy with a delicate hint of mushrooms and coffee – it is almost like drinking cappuccino with chocolate.
(Strength of flavour 1 = very mild to 7 = extremely strong)
What an extraordinary combination it is - like having Greek yoghurt smothered in wild honey
The wine real brings out the sweet character of the ewes milk with flavours of vanilla and butterscotch
Umm, now that is good - creamy with a vanilla finish – the cheese lends a subtlety to the wine
Chardonnay [oaked] 4/10
2 Cotswold Organic Brie, Simon Weaver (Organic cows milk) Gloucestershire
A thin, dry, smooth crust and very mild creamy and buttery texture with a hint of mushrooms from the rind - like a very creamy mushroom soup but has a slight graininess. This may produce a slightly floury feel in the mouth with some of the wines.
The aromatic character of the wine is really emphasised and the cheese takes on a whole new ripe fruit and pear drop personality
Surprisingly good and although the gooseberry of the wine wins through you can definitely taste the creaminess of the cheese
Tastes like drinking raspberry ice cream - seems that the sweet fruit of this excellent Rose loves the creamy cheese
Cheese is a little overpowered by the acidity but does it provide an excellent foil
Not bad – the tropical fruity flavours are enhanced but the floury feel of the rind is starting to come through
Chardonnay – Oaked 7/10
A bit more oak and the two of them are standing hands on hips daring the other to step forward – a win-win for both individuals
3 Tunworth, Hampshire Cheese (Raw Ayrshire milk) Hampshire
Chosen Supreme Champion from over 840 entries in the 2006 British Cheese Awards - less than two years since it made its debut on the market. Perfectly ripe and wonderfully rich and gooey, it runs to meet you. Mushroomy with an attractive green grassy sharpness on the finish and an attractive uneven crusty rind. There is a slight sharpness which with the wrong wine tends to lead to soapy flavours (especially with tannic reds).
Tasted like drinking creamy Ribena with a sharp finish
Chardonnay – Oaked 1/10
Pinot Gris 9/10
In desperation I tried a New Zealand Pinot Gris from Esk valley and it was fabulous - passion fruit, peaches and cream
4 Ragstone, Neal’s Yard Creamery (Raw goat’s milk) Hereford
Consistent medal winner Charlie Westhead makes great cheeses and this is one of my favourites. A small log with its rustic looking white rind, this cheese becomes runny around the edges and develops real complexity from almost sweet and aromatic to herbaceous with an almondy finish. There is also a slight salty tang that will make finding a good match challenging.
The wine’s aromatic character is heightened while the creamy character of the cheese really comes through – these two should get together more often
Now that is a combination I would happily repeat - they bring out the best in each other
This rosé obviously just loves cheese – another good match - like yoghurt with nuts and raspberries
Chardonnay – Oaked 6/10
5 Brie de Meaux AOC, (Raw cows’ milk) Donge, France
The fine undulating rind encapsulates the luscious butter-yellow interior which is almost but not quite soft enough to run – at its best it tastes like a rich cream of mushroom sauce made with a slightly salty beef stock - this one from Daylesford Organic was exactly that. Pasteurised versions smell more like fresh hay and button mushrooms. The aroma should be of damp leaves or fresh mushrooms becoming more intense with age.
Interesting warm fermenting fruit - melons and mango chutney with a bit too much vinegar to finish
Now that is more like it - tropical fruit with a little cinnamon and rich custard though a little too salty on the finish
Chardonnay – Oaked 9/10
Umm even better - little sign of the salt, more mushroomy with a lovely sweetness from the wine
NB The scores were based on the combination of wine and cheese. If one completely dominated the other I scored them under 5. A score of 5 indicates it was a nice pairing but that neither really gained from the combination
* The cheeses came from Gill Draycott at Well’s Stores, Peachcroft Farm, Twelve Acre Drive, Abingdon OX14 2HP. 01235 535978
Juliet runs masterclasses for foodies and cheese lovers – for details see www.thecheeseweb.com or email her on cheese@the cheeseweb.com