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Palatal Pilates

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Teutonic Riesling displays beautiful color Teutonic Riesling displays beautiful color

By Rachael Lucas, The Cheese Lady

I am currently studying for the Society of Wine Educator’s CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) exam.  The main thing I have extrapolated is I have much more to learn. 

A person with a job and dogs can only do so much wine research at a given time, so I have committed to putting in at least an hour every day for a year until the exam.   Said hour does not include tastings.  And jeez have I been tasting!  I have developed a routine that I repeat two or three times a week:  I open three or four bottles of wine, taste them, take notes, and then pour myself a glass of the wine I liked the best (and then maybe a glass of the wine I liked second best).  The next day, I pull out the same bottles to taste how they have developed since I opened them, and then I pair them with a plateful of fromage.  It is a two-pronged education that exercises my palate—to the point of exhaustion--and aids in my work.  In fact, I consider my tastings to be just that—work.

Wine Cheese platter Rachael Sept 29 Picmonkey

Two days ago, I was in the mood for Pacific Northwest wines.  They were tasted in order as follows: 

Teutonic Wine Co. Riesling, 2013, Willamette Valley--A goldenrod/amber hued thing of sensorial beauty.  It has obvious notes of pears, honey, and petrol with a gentle waft of gardenia and green tea upon opening-up.  Riesling has a natural, bright acidity, and this one is no exception. 

Airfield Estates Chardonnay, 2018, Yakima Valley--A well-balanced sipper laden with white flowers, green apple, and pear.  There is a subtle oiliness, good acid and a lengthy finish.

Two Vintners Syrah, 2017, Columbia Valley--This is incredibly fragrant with implications of pink peppercorns, perfume of violets and lilacs, and ripe plums.  It has a nice balance but a not-so-lengthy finish.

Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017, Washington—A typical Washington Cab. Style, there are notes of dark fruit, like blackberries, and herbs like thyme and anise.  This wine does not have gob-filling body, and the tannins are soft.  But the finish lasts ongoingly.

After I inhaled and played around with the wine selections, I moved on to tasting the cheeses by themselves before coupling each of them with the assortment of nectar.  The tasting order went like this:

Boxcarr Handmade Cheese’s Cottonseed from North Carolina—A cow and goat’s mixed-milk bloomy rind.  It has a fungal rind and a salty, rich, savory, oozy paté.

Buche de Chèvre Cendré Frais from France—A fresh, acidic goat’s milk log that is dusted in vegetable ash.  This is a typical tangy, lactic, mouth-coating chevre with a hint of sweetness from the ash.

Nettle Meadow’s Kunik Mini from New York—A bloomy goat’s milk button with added cow’s cream.  This cheese has a velveteen texture, nice salinity, and it tastes like sunflower seeds!

Massipou from France—A natural-rinded French Basque tomme made with ewe’s milk.  It is sweet, floral, grassy, nutty, and sometimes a little wooly.  This cheese even pleases persnickety palates.

Boxcarr Handmade Cheese’s Nimble from North Carolina—A goat and cow’s milk washed-rind aged cheese.  This cheese reminds me of an alpine style with its closed texture and warm notes of sulfides (they present themselves in aromas like cooked cauliflower and roasted brussels sprouts), buttery, toasted nuts and flowers.

Piave Vecchio from Italy—A Venetian grana wannabe that is typically quite fruity with an excellent chewy texture.  However, I snatched this cheese from a few that I had pulled from my case because they looked like they were starting to oxidize.  This cheese was indeed oxidized (tasting more like crayon than formaggio), so I did not bother to include it in my actual tasting.

A Neal’s Yard export, Pitchfork from England—An award-winning cow’s milk Cheddar from Somerset, England.  This British champion has a bizarrely creamy texture and a thick chew that puts forth notes of melted butter, grass, and sweet cream.

Tieton Farm and Creamery’s Ember from Washington—A washed goat and sheep softie with a layer of vegetable ash through the center.  This cheese is a little stink bomb with its farmy-ness and wild, perspirey funk from the wash on the rind.  Lots of people like their cheese with some stank, and this is an excellent choice.

Bridgman Blue from Vermont—A goat and cow’s mixed milk blue cheese.  Goat’s milk blues have a dog belly, corn chip odor.  I believe it is due to a certain yeast, but I cannot expertly speak of it at this time.  This cheese (aroma aside) is a little tangy, a tinge sweet, a lot salty, and a skosh pastoral.

When I was selecting my ambrosia, our wine steward attempted to deter me from selecting a Cabernet Sauvignon on account of how difficult it is to pair with cheese.  She and I have different views on what constitutes a great pairing as it is, so I explained to her that I do not need or want every cheese to be a harmonious pairing with every wine.  I am not going to learn that way (I tend to remember the negative—my opaque, inky colored glasses and all), and one cannot reasonably expect eight or nine cheeses to bode well with all four wines.  I have mentioned before that I get as much enjoyment out of the fire-breathing, lip-pursing, gaggy pairings as I do the harmonious ones.  And so it went.

The wines with the most concordance with the variety of fromage were the two most balanced ones:  Chardonnay and Syrah.  Some highlights with the Chardonnay were the Kunik Mini, Nimble, and Pitchfork.  The Kunik Mini coupling was a garden of herbaceousness, especially with notes of hyssop and thyme and toasted pepitas (an offshoot from the sunflower seediness that I get sans wine).  Nimble and the Airfield were scrumptious with warm notes of umami bisque and browned butter.  Pitchfork also brought forth an herbal breath of thyme and fennel, and the wine sort of melted the cheese into a gulp of butter.  It was a sensorial masterpiece.

The Syrah had a playful interaction with most of the cheeses, as well, though there were some that really stood out.  The Buche de Chèvre Cendré washed into a slick, clean, coating mouthful that felt like I drank a glass of cream.  I love these unexpected textures that come about from chemical reactions between wine and cheese!  I knew the Massipou would be agreeable with this aromatic Syrah.  They have a similar floral aspect, and aged sheep cheeses tend to enjoy a stand-off with a wine that has a lot of character.  There was a waft of astringency that carried intense aromatics of violets, lavender, and fennel.  The Pitchfork again was cavalierly sympatico with the Syrah.  It is the type of coupling about which our wine steward waxes poetic.  The two melded into one another, so I could not tell what volatile compounds were coming from the wine or the cheese.  All that remained was an exhalation of a buttery bouquet. 

Pitchfork is an anomaly in that its texture is much creamier than what one would expect from a British Cheddar, and its acid levels are a bit lower, which brings forth the butter compounds (look up diacetyl if you are interested in further examining cheese chemistry—it also exists in wine), making it super easy to couple with lots of different wines.    It was congenial with each elixir, regardless of their phenolics, which makes it the champion of the tasting (and literally the world, as far as cheddars go!).  It intermingled with the Riesling in a way that made the two indistinguishable (again, just one kind of tasting combo that screams successful pairing (!)) and created an acidic waterworks under the tongue that went on for long after the bite was swallowed.  The Cab wantonly smooched the Cheddar, which fizzled out its tannins and blasted a retro-nasal torpedo of fennel fried in browned butter.

While Pitchfork is just one cheese that created a (not-so-socially-distant) mouth party, there were many other couplings that will go on my list of successes.  Of course, there were some aversive pairings, too, and I have taken copious notes, in order to not steer my loyal customers in the wrong direction.  At any rate, this wine and cheese tasting is a common occurrence in my house, and another exemplification of the palatal pilates that I undergo to make sure I am the best cheesemonger I can be, and that my wine education proceeds as it should.  My advice is to find yourself a cheesemonger who drinks, for we tend to be better able to accommodate your pairing quandries.  And if you cannot find a wine-enthusiast cheesemonger in your area, do not hesitate to email me with any inquiries that you might have.


Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation.  You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area.  When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it.  She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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