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Pairing Cheese and Champagne
Cheese and champagne might not sound like natural bedfellows but if you think about the pairing for a moment you immediately realise they have quite a thing going. Many canapés - like gougères and cheese straws - are made with cheese for example and go wonderfully well with champagne but what about individual cheeses?
I had the opportunity to taste a range yesterday with chef Mark Hix and Selfridges food and restaurants director Ewan Venters at Hix’s new champagne bar at Selfridges and came to a few new conclusions.
- Mild slightly chalky cheeses work well. The classic example is Chaource, a cheese which is often paired with champagne but a mild but flavourful cheese like Gorwydd Caerphilly is good too. Very mild cheese like Mozzarella is an undemanding but also slightly uninteresting match
- Rosé champagne seems a more flexible partner than ordinary non-vintage. We tried two - a Moet rosé and a Benoit Marguet Grand Cru Rosé and they both showed well, particularly with Mistralou (goats cheese wrapped in chestnut leaf) and a Brie de Meaux. But a stronger goats' cheese killed the Marguet stone dead so you need to take care.
- An Ossau Iraty sheeps cheese went well with most of the champagnes - the slightly nutty taste and smooth texture of hard sheeps’ cheese seems a good foil to champagne
- Washed rind cheeses as usual are tricky. If they’re not too mature, like the Reblochon and Langres we tried, they may work but if they’ve been allowed to get very mature like an incredibly gooey St Marcellin they’ll slaughter champagne (along with most other wines)
- Strong blues, as might be expected, are quite overwhelming but the creamy texture of Stichelton, an unpasteurised verson of Stilton, made it an unexpectedly good match for an elegant low dosage Jacquesson 732 (though coming mainly from the 2004 vintage it has quite a bit of bottle age)
- Parmesan is probably the ultimate champagne cheese - a case of umami meets umami
In general the stronger the cheese the older and more powerful the champagne you need. A mature Comté for example overwhelmed the fresh-tasting non-vintage champagnes but I suspect would have been great with an older champagne or a Prestige Cuve like Krug.
I shall just have to carry on experimenting ;-)
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