News & views | Cognac, cheese and trigeminal sensations

News & views

Cognac, cheese and trigeminal sensations

This week I’ve been on my first visit to Cognac, a place - and yes, there is an actual town of that name - I’ve never managed to get to during the 22-odd years I’ve been writing about drinks.

So what’s it like? A small, prosperous (as you’d expect) French town with classic stone buildings, brasseries and some unbelievably lavishly kitted out cellars and chateaux which show off some of the world’s most expensive liquor.

Because we’re part of a VIP group* we’ve had access to chateaux like Hennessy’s Chateau de Bagnolet which has its own indoor winter garden but as a member of the public you can still visit the visitors' centres and gaze at the jewel- and silver- encrusted bottles you can’t afford unless you’re a Chinese or Russian oligarch.

Anyway we’re not here to gawp - though gawp we do - but for an international cognac summit focussing on pairing cognac with food.

There are five workshops on meat and poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables, patisserie and chocolate and cheese (mine) and we’ve been locked (not literally) in session deciding which products work with different styles of cognac - VS (the youngest style of cognac) VSOP, frozen VS and XO which is made from older brandies.

It’s been a challenging exercise because we’ve been instructed to put the usual tasting descriptors aside and focus exclusively on what the tasting sensation is in the mouth to try and achieve maximum objectivity.

We had a fascinating presentation at the beginning of our three days by a tasting expert Joachim LeFaure from a company called CQF Dégustation. Happily he’s in my group so can keep us all up to scratch. We have to focus on the temperature, texture and primary tastes (sweet, sour, salty etc) of the food we’re tasting but most intriguingly the trigeminal sensations, physical sensations of hot, tingling or stinging which are particularly relevant when you’re tasting a 40% spirit

I’ve still got one workshop to go so I’ll report back on what we found but unexpectedly good matches from other workshops so far are pigeon, caviar, carrots and, er, Chelsea buns which the cognac promotional body, the BNIC, has curiously chosen as representative of British baking. So next time you have a Chelsea bun you can drink something stronger than a cup of tea ...


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