11 March 2012

Not Too Chablis

One of the joys of blogging has been the random e mails I receive because of this on / off (admittedly more the latter) bit of fun. One of the more exciting messages recently came from the wonderfully named Stephanie Labourdique wondering if I'd like to get involved in a challenge. 

With a name like that, it won't come as much of a surprise to discover the challenge was French wine-related, specifically Chablis.  The deal? They'll send me a couple of bottles of Chablis, I have to find something interesting to pair it with. As well as potentially winning a trip to Chablis as a result (look, I'm shameless, we've long established that), it also gave me an opportunity to write a post I've often thought about doing: the joys of white wine and cheese. 


The common wisdom seems to dictate big heavy red or port when you break out the cheeseboard. The thing is, while the light fruitiness of port works against a lot of cheeses, soft and hard, a tannin-heavy red with a slice of Brie is a mistake you only make once. In my chequered / portfolio career (delete depending on how charitable you're feeling), I've worked with a couple of wine companies: one Chinese (and yes, it is quite a story) and one importing boutique New Zealand whites to the UK. I've also been a cheese monger at Neal's Yard Dairy (a job I'd go back to tomorrow if I could). With ready access to some delicious Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Gris, etc., and some of the finest cheeses to come from these shores, Saturday nights often ended with a bit of impromptu pairing.  

The finest of these involved an incredible, passion-fruit oozing Sauvignon Blanc called Terrace Road and our first Tunworth. I was working at Neal's Yard the morning after Tunworth won the top prize at the British Cheese Awards. It was the first time I'd had access to the cheese and that morning we had something like 47 whole Tunworths to sell. For me and Mike, a colleague, it was love at first nibble and we became Tunworth evangelists that morning, so much so that we tasted it out to every possible customer. As a result, we sold all of the cheese before 11am, the last two to ourselves. That night, I told my wife we should have a little of the Tunworth, it's a thing of cheesy beauty. As it happened, we had opened a Terrace Road as well and... well, the result was fireworks, one of those unexpected matches that escalates and escalates, to the extent that the plan for a single glass and a little cheese saw us demolish both in a heady few minutes of moderate debauchery. 

Since that day, I've been a huge advocate of white wine with cheese and Chablis, with  its crisp fruit flavours, vanilla notes, slight mineral edge and bright acidity, seemed like a good wine to cut through and complement a range of cheeses. 

Hence, after a hefty lunch at Roast yesterday afternoon, I hit Neal's Yard with a vengeance. Parmigiano Reggiano. Appleby's Cheshire. Coolea, Innes Brick. Devon Blue. Tunworth (but of course). And, from the stand in Borough Market, a large block of Comte. 

 

















To be frank, the Chablis went with pretty much everything, although I found it overpowered the Cheshire somewhat, and clashed a little with the Coolea's sweet nuttiness. The Comte worked well - I might go out on a limb and say it's the best cheese at Borough Market most days - but Parmigiano left it behind. I'm a big fan of Parmesan as an eating cheese and the bite, umami hit and saltiness worked danced happily all over my palate. 

We thought we had a winner and then the soft cheeses came out. The Tunworth - it can falter sometimes but is currently a creamy, cabbagey joy - was extremely pleasant, although it does scream out for something that packs more fruit per sip. Then came the Innes Brick. If you've had the Innes Log, you'll know what to expect here in terms of flavour, but the brick is an altogether softer, fresher, brighter experience. There's something very French to it and, unsurprisingly, it sang alongside the Chablis. 

 


But, you know what? The Devon Blue was even better. If you've had the Beenleigh Blue (ewe's milk) or the Harbourne Blue (goat's milk), then the Devon Blue (cow's milk) sits somewhere between the two. There's a hint of apricots and a light nuttiness, with a good salty finish. If the Innes Brick sang, then the Devon Blue and Chablis was a choral masterpiece.