Friday, November 18, 2011
These are a Few of My Favorite Things: Cheese
And when I say favorite, I mean it's right up there with hummus and bacon for me. I LOVE CHEESE. I could be very happy living the rest of my days with a good brie, a nice creamy goat cheese and a beautiful salty parmesan. Cheese is the perfect food in so many ways. You can eat it straight up, you can cook with it, you can even use it for dessert. And what pairs better with wine?? Recently Jeff, myself and our friend Cathy took a little respite in Chicago and one of the stops on the trip was Bin 36. Bin 36 is a restaurant that specializes in wine and cheese flights. We were determined to experience as many cheeses as possible so we each picked a flight and then we decided on a 4th flight mutually. All told we sampled 19 different cheeses. It was AMAZING. First we did their No Need To Sing The Blues flight, which, as the name suggests, is a selection of 4 blue cheeses. First was a Cambozola from Germany which was like a cross between a brie and a blue cheese. Next, a domestic blue from Wisconson called Blue Paradise which is a double creme blue. Then, the Blue Di Bufalo from Italy which is a harder more crumbly blue. Finally, the Blue Mediterraneo from Sardinia, Italy, which was a sheeps milk blue. All of them were delightful although I must confess that the first one, the blue brie combo, was to die for and my favorite cheese of the night. I could easily polish off an entire truckful of it myself in one sitting. It is really best for a wine pairing but could certainly be used for cooking. A nice cheese and egg souffle comes to mind with a hint of truffle oil. Generally speaking I would say blues pair well with a crisp, acidic white that isn't too oaky but isn't too sweet either. A sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio would be ideal. For our second flight we went with So You Think You Know Cheddar, which was Jeff's pick as he is a sucker for a good sharp cheddar. None disappointed but for my money it was the most mainstream of the flights. All the cheeses were great but there wasn't anything particularly exotic about any of them. The flight included: Chevre Noir from Canada, which is a goats milk cheddar, perhaps the most unique of the bunch; Mt. Sterling cheddar from Wisconson which was also a goats milk cheddar but not quite as pronounced in terms of its goat flavor; Keen's from the UK which was a classic British cheddar; and the 10 year Hook's cheddar from Wisconson which again was a traditional sharp cheddar akin to what you expect from Wisconson. Cheddars are also good for an appetizer tray but for my money I like them for cooking as they tend to melt well, particularly in a good beer and cheese soup. As far as wines go, I'd say cheddars can go with almost anything. A good oaky chardonnay would probably be my first choice but really the cheddar is quite forgiving in terms of wine pairings. Our third flight was my first choice and a top favorite of our friend Cathy as well. It was called Fat Cats. Again, as the name suggests, these were some of the richer, more fatty cheeses that are definitely more traditionally used on a cheese tray and not for cooking. The Burratta from Puglia, Italy was both our favorites of this flight although it was a close tie between this and the second cheese, the Pierre Robert triple creme from France. Talk about a decadent cheese that practically oozed it was so gooey and rich. Third was the Kunik from NY which was another triple creme but not quite as delicate a flavor as the Pierre Robert. And finally, the Gorgonzola Dolce from Lombardy, Italy, which, like all good gorgonzolas, was perhaps just a little more delicate than a blue cheese and certainly had a more unctuous rich texture. These cheeses in my estimation pair best with a sparkling wine or champagne. The high fat content almost begs for a little bubbly to chase it down. I happened to do a sparkling wine flight that evening to go along with the cheese flights and this was the perfect compliment to all four of the sparkling wines I had on the flight. The final flight of the evening was the Bin 36 Globetrotters, which they consider to be their top of the class cheeses. This flight included an Abbaye de Belloc from the Pyrenees of France, a cheese that is made of sheeps milk and is still made by Benedictine monks. Delightful and delicate, this one topped the list of the globetrotters for me. Barely Buzzed was the second cheese. It hails from Utah and is crusted with coffee grinds and lavendar. Certainly unique but not quite my favorite. It almost masked the flavors of the other cheeses for me. Although I suspect it would be delightful on a salad with some arugula and a blood orange vinaigrette. Next came the Ardrehan from Ireland which was kind of like a soft cheddar. Nice but nothing spectacular. Finally, the classic British Stilton, a legendary blue that is always a pleasure to have. Very strong in the blue category but really a marvelous cheese. All of these seemed to pair with different wines so I can't really offer a good suggestion that works for them all except to say that a mellow white always works, maybe even a dry riesling. The last three cheeses we had weren't actually on the menu. We asked our waiter what he perceived to be the strongest, most aggressive cheeses they had. He explained to us that in his estimation, the strongest smelling cheeses weren't necessarily the strongest tasting cheeses and vice versa. So he brought us 3 he thought illustrated this fact. I wish I had written them down but by this time we had eaten so many it was all kind of a blur. But suffice it to say that all three were delicious and I didn't think any of them were particularly strong smelling or strong tasting. Then again, I have eaten limburger and have spent some time in the fromageries in Paris where you almost have to plug your nose to even walk into the store. All in all, a great experience and for true cheese afficionados. I highly recommend you pay the place a visit. Or, you can simply create your own tasting by purchasing some of these cheeses and hosting your own wine and cheese night. A great resource for cheeses from all over the world is www.igourmet.com. I have often ordered from them and they ship in dry ice packets overnight so you don't have to worry about spoilage.