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Cheese Series: Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol

I love cheese and wine together! It’s my favorite type of pairing to do. I always end each dinner party with a few cheese courses, serving only one cheese at a time and each cheese paired with its own wine. The cheese and wine pairings at my dinner parties have always been wildly successful so I thought that it would be a good idea to start a cheese series in this blog. I have already written a post back in November about pairing Camembert with apple cider. This post is the second of many entries on this topic.

The wine that I’m featuring today is Sancerre, a wine from the Loire Valley made with the sauvignon blanc grape. I am a fan of sauvignon blancs in general because I really enjoy the fragrant wines that these grapes produce. But I especially love sauvignon blancs from the Loire Valley (in addition to the Sancerre, the other famous sauvignon blanc from this region is the Pouilly Fumé). This wine region is fairly up north in France and as a result enjoys a cool climate. Grapes grown in regions with colder temperatures and less sunshine tend to create crisp wines that are high in acidity. I love these wines because they are so refreshing.

Acidic wines go great when contrasted with rich foods – such as creamy sauces and cheeses. On the other hand, acidic foods don’t work as well because they augment the acidity in the wine, making the wine appear unbalanced. Acidic wines also go really well with savory foods, as salt highlights and enhances the acidity in a wine – for instance salty potato chips and super acidic champagne work wonders together.

Sancerre goes especially well with another local favorite from the Loire: crottin de Chavignol, the goat cheese produced in the village of Chavignol (which only boasts 200 inhabitants). It is made with unpasteurized milk from Alpine goats and as I always say, raw milk cheeses taste infinitely better than their pasteurized counterparts. Crottin is not a fresh goat cheese and spends at least four weeks aging and in the process becomes slightly crumbly. The longer it ages, the stronger and more crumbly it becomes. In the aging process, the cheese also becomes more savory – the salt that will work really well with the acidity in the Sancerre. The crottin is definitely saltier and stronger than fresh goat cheese (but still mild enough to not overpower the lightness of the Sancerre).

whole crottin

You can see from the picture below that the outside of the cheese is becoming crumbly while the middle is still creamy. This definitely one of my most favorite cheeses!

cut and whole crottin 2

I am pairing this cheese with a Sancerre produced by Pascal Jolivet. It is part of his “Initial” line and the vintage is 2013. Domaine Pascal Jolivet is an excellent Sancerre producer. My other favorite from this region is Domaine Vacheron.

bottle

label

This wine has a beautiful color. It has lots of zing, racy acidity, and citrus aromas. What a lovely Sancerre!

glass

Pairing a food from the Loire valley with a wine from the region is what’s called a regional pairing, where foods from a particular region are paired with wines from that same region. When in doubt about which wine to serve, I usually do a regional pairing. The idea behind this type of pairing is that because the food and wine share the same terroir, they will work well together. However, this is not foolproof and not all regional pairings work. For instance, the regional pairing for Epoisses cheese is a red burgundy. However, Epoisses is such a strong cheese in flavor and especially aroma that it often overpowers the delicate flavors of the burgundy. Rather, a late-harvest gewürztraminer is a much better pairing.

whole platter

I think the Sancerre with the crottin de Chavignol is a match made in Loire heaven. They just go so well together! However, with the crottin de Chavignol, you don’t have to do a regional pairing and another type of wine I love with goat cheese and especially the crottin is an Alsace Riesling.

Cheese Series: Eating Camembert? Give wine a break and try apple cider instead.

In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a perfectly ripened Camembert! Not too hard and not too runny. As it ages, the Camembert develops a smooth texture and a delightfully rich and buttery flavor. The best comes from the Normandy region of France. It is becoming increasingly more common to see Camembert made from pasteurized milk but it is traditionally made with raw milk. While there’s a bit of controversy in the US regarding raw milk, I think it produces a better tasting cheese with more complex flavors. If I have the option to buy raw milk’s cheese, I always opt for that. The Camembert that I’m featuring in this post is made with raw cow’s milk and is made by E. Graindorge from Normandy. I am serving it with a bit of sweet preserves made from apples and Calvados. Calvados is a traditional apple brandy (made from apple cider) from Normandy. While I’m generally not a huge fan of hard liquor, I do like and enjoy Calvados. cheese box cheese 1 My favorite pairing with Camembert is – gasp – not wine, but cider! If I had to have wine, I would choose a light, fruity red, like a Beaujolais. However, I find that apple cider is just a heavenly match with this cheese. Before I go on to my cider choices to go this the Camembert, I want to share a wonderful gem that I was introduced to this past summer: “Xidrectrasex,” a dry apple cider made by Cyril Zangs (the name is a play on words meaning extra dry cider). Even in Paris, this is not that easy to find (I have seen it on the menu at Le Mary Celeste in le Marais). If I could find this here in Abu Dhabi, it would’ve been my preferred pairing with the Camembert. If you come across it, definitely give it a try! Unfortunately, in preparation for this post, I could not find any cider from Normandie (or from France) so I’m going with a couple of alternatives: English and Swedish ciders. These are two different styles of cider with each a distinct flavor and texture. I am curious to see which will work best with Camembert (with and without the apple-Calvadoes preserves). The first is the English cider: Strongbow Original, which is quite popular and really easy to find. This is a dry cider with a rich amber color and fine bubbles. strongbow The Swedish cider is the Kopparberg Naked apple. This is much sweeter than the Strongbow. It is lighter in color but the bubbles are larger and more pronounced on the palate. Kopparberg Here’s how the two ciders compare side-by-side: two glasses Before I compare the two cheeses, let me first discuss why cider generally works really well with Camembert. As Camembert ages, it acquires stronger and more complex flavors. The intensity of flavors in cheese can be contrasted and balanced by light fruitiness in whatever that accompanies it. That’s precisely the reason why apple-Calvados preserves work well, as do fruity red wines and fruity ciders. If properly aged, Camembert can be quite creamy. You would need a drink that can offset that richness and lighten it up a bit. The cider has can do this in two ways. First, the effervescence of cider works as a great cleanser to refresh the palate between bites so there’s no build up of flavors and richness. Second, the high acidity level of cider provides is another refreshing element that lightens up the creaminess and the rich buttery texture of the cheese, so it is not overwhelming and you can keep on eating it 🙂 Both the Strongbow and the Kopparberg have these refreshing and fruity qualities to be a great match to the Camembert. I found that the sweetness of the Kopparberg to be a bit too much for the Camembert. It overwhelmed and drowned out the flavors of the Camembert. When you’re pairing wine with food, you always want to shoot for an equality of sweetness between the two so there is a nice balance. This same logic applies to cider and Camembert. When I taste the Kopparberg after taking a bite of the Camembert, the flavor of the cheese gets lost. If you like the apple-Calvados preserves with your Camembert, this cider works much better but I find that the Camembert’s flavors still get lost. I actually prefer my cheeses without any preserves or chutneys (there are a few exceptions like Pelardon cheese with honey, or aged Parmigiano with saba) because I don’t want to mask the flavor of the cheese. For this reason, I think the drier cider – the Strongbow – is a better choice for the Camembert. It is quite refreshing to drink with the Camembert and it wonderfully complements the flavors and the texture. It is no surprise that if I add the apple-Calvados preserves to the pairing, the balance is thrown off and the Camembert becomes too sweet for this cider. I think the difference in bubble textures between the two ciders didn’t matter as much because the dryness levels played a much more important role in the pairing. Although I would say that the stronger carbonation in the Kopparberg made it a lighter cider than it’s sweetness level would otherwise produce. But I much prefer less intense, finer bubbles – whether I’m drinking sparkling wine or cider – as it generally amplifies aromas more and it does not provide too much of a tactile distraction from the cheese.

Cheese series: Virginia wines with French cheeses? Mais, bien sur!

I spent this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to celebrate my best friend’s bachelorette party. One of the activities we did over the weekend was visiting a winery in Virginia – Fox Meadow Winery. Even though California is the most famous wine-producing region (and produces about 90% of all American wines), Virginia is historically the first producer of wines in the US, dating back to the 17th century. Virginia is still the 5th largest producer of grapes in the US.

Fox Meadow Winery sits on a hill in Linden, VA and the scenery is just gorgeous!

fox picture

We did two separate tastings. The first was a mix of their various wines – white and red – in the main reception area. While I wasn’t too impressed with their whites, the reds were quite nice – especially the Reserve Cabernet Franc.

The second tasting took place in the vat/barrel room, focusing only on their Renard Rouge with five different vintages – 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012. I loved the 2007 and the 2010, which incidentally correspond to drought years. Droughts lead to low-yield grape production, which in turns produces a wine that is really concentrated in terms of flavor and aroma.

We ordered a bottle of the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc for our picnic. I bought a second bottle of the Cabernet Franc and a bottle of the 2007 Renard Rouge to take home with me.

2 bottles

Cabernet franc is a grape very commonly found in the wines of Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I really like this grape as it often has aromas of sweet spices as well as some complexity added by some tobacco and coffee nuances. This Reserve Cabernet Franc also has great fruity aromas, such as red and black fruits. It is a lighter wine in color and appearance with a beautiful ruby red color.

Picture of bottle and glass

picture of glass

So now for the food… I brought lots of cheese from Paris for the picnic and some of the highlights are (I was so excited when we sat down for the picnic that I forgot to take pictures of the cheese so these pictures were taken after I got back Paris and replenished my cheese supply 🙂 ):

A perfectly ripe raw cow’s milk Camembert by Isigny Sainte Mère, that is neither too hard nor too soft.

Camembert

One of my favorites! Epoisses cheese made with cow’s milk by Berthaut.

Epoisses

Raw goat’s milk Grataron D’Arèches from Savoy. This cheese has a wonderful thick crust, which gives it a nutty flavor.

savoy

Raw sheep’s milk U Pecurinu, a tangy, salty, and creamy cheese from Corsica.

corsica

I tried the wine with all of the cheese and the best pairing was the Epoisses. Epoisses is a delightfully stinky cow’s milk cheese. As the cheese is made, it is regularly washed with Marc, a pomace brandy from Burgundy. This process gives the cheese a much more complex and stronger flavor. I think the best characteristic of Epoisses is its runniness so it’s best enjoyed after it’s been out of the fridge for an hour or two. It fact, a spoon is a much better utensil for this cheese than a knife.

Since Epoisses can be quite pungent, a sweet wine is the best pairing. I absolutely love a late harvest gewurztraminer with this cheese! However, I think that the cabernet franc was another great choice.

The Epoisses has bold flavors so you want a wine to match the cheese’s boldness. Being a stinky cheese, it has, for lack of a better word, “funky” characteristics. I think the cabernet franc is bold enough to match the cheese and the coffee and the tobacco hints in the wine also give it the funk that goes well with the Epoisses. Yet, Epoisses is also really smooth and refined so you don’t want a wine that is too robust either. Amongst red wines, I think a Syrah or a Cabernet Sauvignon would be too strong for this cheese. The cabernet franc is softer and more feminine to match the cheese and just complex enough to match the strength of its flavors and aromas. I think this is a great match with neither the wine or the food overpowering the other. This cabernet franc also has some soft and silky tannins balanced by a bit of acidity. The richness and creaminess of the Epoisses – it just melts in your mouth – seeks just that to compliment it. A wine with stronger tannins would be an undesirable match with such creamy cheeses, leading instead to a metallic aftertaste.

Amongst the rest of the cheeses, the Camembert was good too. Camembert is another super creamy cheese that has more complexity of flavors than the brie. Though I’d prefer to eat Camembert with a lighter and fruitier red wine or preferably with a cider from Normandy.

The rest of the cheeses did not work so well and that’s no surprise. If there is one thing I learned in my wine classes, it’s that lumping together a bunch of cheeses – such as in a cheese platter one orders at the end of dinner – with a single wine is a big mistake. My wine instructor, in fact, emphatically exclaimed that “c’est une catastrophe!” and cringed at the thought. Generally, it is one wine with one cheese and that is what I do if I have a dinner party. At the end of dinner, I bring out one cheese at a time, each paired with its own wine.

So I ate the Epoisses like there is no tomorrow. I even skipped the baguette and spooned it directly in to my mouth. It was so amazingly good!

Overall, I have say that Fox Meadow is a beautiful winery and they make great reds. It is so nice to sit outside and have a picnic with that beautiful scenery to enjoy. There was even live music.

Kate Juli Jeewon

Kate and Juli

All four of us really enjoyed our picnic and all three of us – 4 minus 1 pregnant friend, Kate, who is not drinking during pregnancy 🙂 – really enjoyed the wine. I will be coming back to this winery next time I’m in the region.

The mandatory jumping picture with the bachelorette 🙂 :

jumping pic

Jeewon, Juli, Kate and me loving the scenery:

picture of all 4