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Pairing Series #1 – Goat Cheese

April 13, 2010

I was very excited this past weekend, as it began my first entry into this new series about exploring cheese pairings.  With spring in the air, I decided that the best place to start is fresh chèvre.  At every cheese shop across the country, fresh and local goat cheese is just waiting to be savored.  Rather than limiting it to one particular style of goat cheese and a variety of beverages, I decided to expand it and incorporate aged cheese as well.  With the only control being that of goat’s milk, I wanted to see how the pairings translated across style, age, etc…  With the help of my friend Lenn, we each selected a couple of different cheeses, and brought them together with a variety of beers and wines to compare.  Because this is a general exploration, I am not going to get too scientific here.  I will stick with general observations and point out the highs (and lows) of what we had.  I apologize for the lack of photos.  The camera was right by the door before I left…and there it stayed…

Capricho De Cabra – This is an incredibly lush and soft cheese that made everyone take a second glance.  The nose is all milk with a touch of freshly mowed grass.  The creamy texture really allows the buttery finish to shine through at the end.  All in all, this Spanish gem is a fabulous fresh chèvre that allows for a multitude of pairings.

What worked?– We ate this cheese with a variety of  beers and wines to get a perspective.  Of the beers, Hennepin from Brewery Ommegang was the best pairing.  The citrus notes of this Saison, coupled with the carbonation, cut through the creaminess and marked a nice balance.  We tried a couple of additional Saisons in addition to this, but the Hennepin was our preferred choice. Of the wines, the 2009 “Coalescence” from Shinn Estate Vineyards was an absolute dream pairing.  This stainless steel blend gave just the right blend of citrus acidity that struck a perfect balance.  This was a combination that we all returned to time and time again.

What didn’t? – Anything with more than a hint of sweetness clashed with the milky flavor.  In particular, we tried a Hefeweissen for contrast that had a bit too much spice and sweetness to where there was a definite clash.  We also tried a few apple wines that were completely lost within the cheese.  The lack of acidity in all of the apple wines we tried (4 to be exact) was rather disappointing.

Cana De Cabra The dry (not too dry), chalky interior coupled with the creamy exterior immediately made me think of a Boucheron.  The nose didn’t offer up any observation to me one way or another. As soon as I took a bite the acidic “tang” hit me in the back of the tongue.  Couple this with some mineral overtones and salty finish, and this would prove to be a difficult cheese to pair.

What worked? – Interestingly enough, the beers did not match very well with this.  I thought that the carbonation would be enough to cut through, but there wasn’t enough acidity to counter.  The Hennepin was probably the best of the bunch, but it was still not enough to balance.  Of the wines, there was an ice wine that was quite a surprising match.  The Johnson Estate Chambourcin Ice Wine had a nice sweetness that was able to cut through the salt and acidity of the cheese, and create a nice balance.

What didn’t?To be honest, the majority of what we had did not match up with this cheese very well.  We had a couple of dry whites that lost quite a bit when paired.  Not to say that everything clashed, per se, but I don’t know that our selections “elevated” one or the other after bringing them together.

Tomme Chevre Aydius – This was the cheese of the day.  This raw goat milk cheese from the Pyrenees was such a departure from everything we had up till this point, that it was a real standout.  This pale yellow cheese had a great barnyard funk on the nose that immediately speaks of hay with just a hint of must.  The paste is sweet and creamy with a slight smokiness in the long and really nice finish.  A great cheese…

What worked? – Every beer that we drank was a nice complement to this cheese in my opinion.  Personally, I really enjoyed the spiciness of the Southampton Saison Deluxe coupled with the smoky finish from the cheese.  My wife, Chris, liked how the sweetness from a German Hefeweissen elevated the sweet milky tones of the cheese.    Overall, pretty much everything worked on some level with this cheese to where I didn’t record any standout clashes.

What didn’t? – Uhhh…please see above…

Cayuga Blue – This goat milk blue from Lively Run Goat Dairy is quite a deceptive cheese.  Upon first tasting, this appeared to be a nice and clean blue.  The paste is dry and crumbly, and I could definitely taste the milk with slight “barnyard” behind the tongue.  There was quite an acidic and spicy finish that was nice in the beginning, but started to “numb the tongue” as Lenn put it, after a minute or two.  I am not sure if this is common of Cayuga Blue, but we all noticed it as the finish lingered.   Because of this interesting development in the finish, finding a standout pairing would be difficult.

What worked – Thinking of classic blue pairings with port or barley wine, I thought that a dessert wine might be our best bet.   Eve’s Cidery Essence, labeled as an “ice cider”, was a pretty good pairing.  The intense sweetness from this hard cider was able to cut through the finish with relative ease.  It provided a nice relief to our palates and brought out the nicer points of this blue.  I think this was a perfect example of 2 separate elements, elevating the other to another level.

What didn’t? – All of the beers were a rather mediocre pairing with this cheese as the acidic and salty finish dominated the palate, even with the carbonation.  The white wines were no match (as I expected) for this as they were too subtle to compare.  Not to be deterred, we tried the Apple wines thinking that maybe a hint of sweetness would cut through.  All of these immediately caused a “metallic” taste…yeah not so good…  We were on the right track, but we needed to take the sweetness all the way to 11.

So what can we take from this?   I think the key to success was acidity.  All of the successful beverage pairings had a component that was able to cut through the fat that coated our tongues and bring out the individual nuances of each cheese.  The flavors changed from one pair to the next that it was almost as if we sampled 20 different cheeses as opposed to the 4 that sat on our board.  I don’t mean to over use the term “balance” in this post, but that is the best way to describe a harmonious pairing.  It is sometimes difficult to describe, but you know immediately when something “works”.  It was great to find this on more than one occasion during this get together.  I hope that you have an opportunity to try these or similar pairings as it was definitely an interesting and informative experience.  Not to mention an excuse to get together with good friends…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 9:46 pm

    Aaron: Definitely a great kick-off to this sure-to-be-fun series. Next time, if we have a little more lead time, we can make sure we really nail the beverages and the cheeses… but heck, we did one hell of a job with the somewhat impromptu edition.

    The most interesting thing for me was just how different the saisons were. Yes, I know that as a category, I love saison. But, as this little tasting shows, it’s not an easily defined or singular style.

    The Hennepin is clean, citrusy and just a little spicy. The Southampton on the other hand was a bit richer, bringing some faintly applely flavors, more spice and decided more body. Then we got into the brett-affected ones — but even those were insanely different.

    The apple wines disappointed overall, for sure, but the Eve’s and the Sheldrake Ice Apple Splash showed well I thought.

    Keep up the great work…and write more often 🙂

    • April 14, 2010 6:52 am

      Thanks! I think this was a great foray into this series as well. Moving forward, I can see a bit more specificity in the pursuit of the “perfect pairing”, but I am very happy with what we discovered.
      Definitely agree with you about the different Saison characteristics. Was not expecting such a broad difference between the couple that we tried.

  2. April 13, 2010 10:37 pm

    Awesome! I have been waiting for these to begin since I read about them a few weeks back. I also look forward to this series for the education and the results. And like I tweeted before, I have a thirst for Sasson now.

  3. April 26, 2010 1:08 am

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂


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