Shhhh! We’re about to reveal a state secret!
Ever wondered why, when sitting down for dinner with a French family, they’ll gladly let you have the freshest, cleanest, most wholesome looking piece of cheese?
The answer is simple: They’re not doing you a favor! They just know better. Cheese is best at its ripest.
French cheese shoppers know just when milk quality and aging blend for the utmost taste experience. And a trip to the dairy section of a grocery store (usually the largest of all departments) is a serious matter, worthy of many inspections. So go ahead, eat that bland piece of prepackaged Brie unless, of course, you’d like to venture into the aromas of pastures and mountain herbs or taste the creaminess of silky milk with crushed berries and walnut flavor enhanced by thick, crusty bread!
Cheese is so important in France that it is typically an entire course for a main meal, usually after entrees and before dessert. The balance of your wine glass accompanies four or five selections ranging from runny, chalky (usually goat) and harder cheeses.
As the renowned GASTRONOME Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”
Over 800 cheese varieties are produced in France — the choices are endless. But here are a few classic French cheeses with perfectly paired wines:
Brillat-Savarin & Champagne or Cremant de Bourgogne
Recommendations: Champagne Perrier Jouet Brut NV, $39.99 or Brut Cremant de Bourgogne Montigny NV, $16.99. An extraordinary cheese developed especially to honor the legendary Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. A triple cream that is super buttery with a Brie-like in texture. Champagne is a perfect match because the carbonation nicely mutes and cleanses the somewhat fatty taste of the rich, velvety cheese.
Camembert Fermier & Beaujolais Villages
Recommendation: Beaujolais Seigneurie D’ Arcelot 2014 $9.99. Camembert Fermier is a creamy, reddish crusted cheese from Normandy with great full flavor (the runny type mentioned earlier). An ideal wine pairing is a slightly chilled Beaujolais to match the earthiness of the Camembert. Both the wine and cheese are simple and somewhat rustic, so they match up beautifully.
Comte & Macon Villages or Pouilly Fuisse
Recommendations: Macon-Villages Blanc Fontenay, 2014 $11.99 or Pouilly Fuisse Val des Choues 2013, $16.99. A cheese favorite worldwide, Comte is a French Gruyere — a slightly fruiter, lighter version of the Swiss Gruyere. The fruit acidity of the Macon Villages and of the Pouilly Fuisse provide a harmonious counterpoint to the fruitiness of the Comte. Try a young Comte (3-6months old) for fresh nuttiness or an older version (12-18 months old) for an unequalled taste experience!
Chèvre du Poitou & Gevrey Chambertin
Recommendation: Gevrey Chambertin Tanlay $32.99. A young cheese made from goat milk, Chèvre has a creamy center with a chalky exterior. Chèvre also has tremendous acidity, so much so that sometimes it is necessary to blend the goat’s milk from 2 or 3 different days to hope for a milk that is not so bitter. The elegance of the Pinot Noir that makes up Gevrey Chambertin is all one needs to achieve great tasting pleasure.
Muenster & Meursault
Recommendations: Meursault Broissia 2013, $32.99. One of the true delights of French cheeses, from the family of washed rind cheeses. Cheese with a washed rind is submerged or wiped down with liquid to keep the rind moist and soft and to help the inside of the cheese retain moisture and a supple texture. The liquid used is typically either salt water or alcohol. The rind of washed rind cheeses often has a pinkish, orange hue.
But don’t be afraid of the appearance of this cheese! You’ll find that the Muenster has the texture of a cheese soufflé and is richly aromatic. The best match is a Gewurztraminer (which means “soft and spicy” in German) And indeed, the wine has some spice, but it is definitely on the sweeter side. The pungency of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine create an ideal balance.Top the Muenster cheese with toasted almonds and Acacia honey for the ultimate treat. If sweetness is not for you, then pair the Muenster with Meursault. The wine shows a little oak and vanilla aromatics which enhance the cheese flavors as well and is a good bit drier.
Ossau Iraty & Red Bordeaux
Recommendation: Chateau Haut Villet 2013 $18.99. One of the most popular French cheeses in the U.S., this creamy, soft-textured sheep’s milk cheese is made in the Pyrenees. Ossau Iraty is often accompanied with a fig or quince jelly. A good wine partner is the Chateau Haut Villet, a highly rated (90-92pts) wine from St Emilion. The merlot in Haut Villet , steps up to the nutty and creamy flavor profile of the cheese, without overwhelming it.
St. Agur Bleu Cheese & Sauternes
Recommendation: Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes, 2011, $37.99. No French cheese table would be complete without a Blue Cheese in the selection and St. Agur is one of the most fabled cheeses — a rich, smooth cheese you can easily spread. The sharpness of the blue veins is somewhat muted with the buttery creaminess. And the saltiness of the cheese is beautifully complimented with the sweetness of a Sauternes. The Doisy-Vedrines, recommended here, offers a great value for the price as well.
So, bring a little taste of France to your next dinner party with a few good cheeses and wine. And remember, the next time you’re invited to dinner with a French family — be sure to pick the ugliest, least appealing, RIPEST piece of cheese on the plate. Then watch the faces around the table fall. It may not look like it, but you got the prize!