Yesterday evening, I had the great opportunity to attend a wine and cheese tasting! The evening was hosted by Wine in Provence (http://www.wineinprovence.com/) which is run by several friendly Americans based in Aix all of whom know their stuff about wine. They offer a variety of tastings, cooking classes, and vineyard tours in English. The student tasting was 25 euro and consisted of 5 wines, 5 cheeses, and lots of bread and salami.
At the very beginning of the class, the instructor stressed the importance of the 5 S’s of wine tasting: see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor. With each wine that we tried, we had to practice this proper method of wine tasting. This means you have to do the over the top sniffing and swishing that you see the pros doing in movies. We were also constantly reminded that it is very bad form to hold the wine glass by the glass; hold it by the stem. That way the heat from your hand is not affecting the flavor of the wine.
The tasting started off with a rosé wine paired with chèvre, goat cheese. One goat cheese was aged, and the other was fresh. The farmer milked the goat yesterday, put the milk in into the molds directly after, and the wine people bought it the next morning at the restaurant. That is some fresh, non-pasteurized, creamy goat cheese! While the fresh cheese was delicious, I preferred the aged cheese because it had more flavor and balanced the wine better in my opinion. The combination was light, fresh, and very delicious. We were also taught how to properly cut cheese; there is an art to cutting cheese with very particular rules. Goat cheese, for example, comes in little, white circles, so you cut it into wedges like pizza.
The next wine of the night was a white wine called Gewurtztraminer from Alsace. This was probably my favorite wine of the night. Gewurtztraminer is originally German, and gewurtzt means spice, which summed up my first impressions of the wine. This wine was paired with Gruyère cheese. Since Gruyère comes in thick wedge, you can just take a slice off the end, cutting off the end bits of rind. I love the texture of Gruyère- the salt particles in it form little crystals. Again, this pair was quite tasty together.
The third wine was a 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. It is a very dry wine since there is no residual sugar in the final product. This was paired with Selles-sur-Cher. This cheese is also made from goat milk and comes in small rounds. Since it’s a round like chèvre, you cut it into wedges. The outside is completely covered in blueish-gray mold, the inside is very soft and melty, and it smells kind of musty. Although it looks alive and ready to crawl off the plate, this cheese is delicious! While I liked both the wine and cheese, I think I actually preferred them on their own. I guess I liked the cheese too much and didn’t want to adulterate it with wine.
Our only red wine of the night was a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. This wine was a beautiful, ruby-red color. It was almost too pretty to drink; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a red wine so light before. I’m not always a huge fan of red wine, but this one was easy to drink and very good. We ate this with Époisses, a cheese made from unpasteurized cows milk washed in brandy. I’ve tried this cheese before at home with my host family. The packages often have monks on them because it was a specialty of the monks from the town of Époisses. This cheese stinks. I think I mentioned it before, but it smells like dirty kayaking gear- no joke. It’s awful, but luckily it tastes nothing like it smells. It’s actually a quite mild cheese and pretty creamy. It’s really good on fresh fruit and nut bread.
Our last wine was a Sauternes, which is a dessert wine made in Bordeaux. Sauternes are very expensive and distinct because the grapes are left on the vine as long as possible in order to let a particular type of fungus grow on the fruit. Since the grapes sit on the vines so long, they dry out some meaning there is less juice to make into wine thereby raising the price. This bottle was a 1999, making it even more expensive. Because it had aged for so long, the wine was a deep, gold color. After all the hype about the wine, I actually didn’t like it on it’s own because it was overwhelmingly sweet. However, the wine was paired with Roquefort, which completely changed my opinion of the wine.
I learned about Roquefort the other day in French class when the professor was trying to explain the difference between a bleu cheese and Roquefort. He explained that bleu cheese is made from cow’s milk but Roquefort is made from “milk of ewe.” Unfortunately, because of the way he was waving his hands about pointing directly at students, there was an awkward moment of confusion before we realized he was not saying “milk of you” and was instead referring to female sheep. We were all disgusted for a minute when we thought about eating cheese of breast milk. Now that that is clarified, go buy some Roquefort for dinner tonight. You will not be disappointed.
That being said, Roquefort was my favorite cheese of the night. It comes in a large wedge, but instead of cutting slices off the end like Gruyère, you have to cut slices the other way. This is because the fuzzy, blue mold that makes Roquefort distinct grows from the inside out. If you were to cut slices directly off the end, the person with first slice would get the best part, and the person eating the end would get no flavor. That’s why you have to essentially take a cross section of the cheese to ensure equal enjoyment by all. Roquefort is very salty and strong. I loved it on it’s own, but it made the wine much more enjoyable because the salt balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
There is talk of the wine people hosting a wine and chocolate pairing night, which I would love to go to! Last night’s class was a great experience, and I feel like I learned a lot about both cheese and wine. I know we just scratched the surface of everything there is to learn, so I plan on continuing to try new combinations to get a better feel for French cuisine. If you ever come to Aix-en-Provence, be sure to check out Wine in Provence. You will not be disappointed!