Field Trip :: A Cheese Tasting Party

By Chanel Dror

Remember back in September when we rounded up our 10 favorite cheese plates? Well our love for cheese is still going strong, and our commitment to our all-time favorite dish unfaltering. So when the owners of one of our favorite dining spots in town came knocking on our door with the idea to host a cheese-and-wine pairing class, we nearly flipped. It was only a couple months ago that Épicerie Café & Grocery opened here in Austin, but you’d be amazed at how often we find an excuse to make it our destination for lunch, dinner or drinks — it’s just that perfect neighborhood spot. A few weeks ago, a few gals from our team stopped by the local treasure for an afternoon of tasting some of the best cheeses I’ve ever had. Hosted by owner Sarah and her all-knowing cheese expert Portia (who grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand… awesome), we left the party licking our lips and feeling inspired to host similar get-togethers of our own. Click through to see shots from the day captured brilliantly by Kate LeSueur, and learn a few new tips about perfectly pairing cheese and wine…

Inspired by French and Louisiana cuisines, épicerie is a reflection of owner/chef Sarah’s upbringing in Shreveport and her time spent in Europe.

A lover of interior design, Sarah turned to Michael Hsu to create a space that’s open and light-filled, as well as a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere that feels like home.

The site of an abundant cheese board always has me instantly delighted and drooling, so you can imagine the elation I felt when walking up to our gorgeous table, fully set with a 5-cheese tasting platter and sliced french bread at each seat. Without a doubt, my idea of heaven.

The cheeses:
1. Brillat Savarin (cow’s milk, France): A beautifully silky triple cream, with a soft, edible snowy rind with delicate mushroomy notes. Paired with Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux rose
2. Petit Munster (raw cow’s milk, France): Pungent and sticky washed-rind cheese with a complex flavor, beefy barnyard notes, with a subtle sweet and spiciness. Paired with the St. Bernardus Abt 12 beer.
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3. Chabrin Onetik (goat’s milk, France): A natural rind, semi-firm cheese. Has mellow, nutty flavors with a delicate sweetness that doesn’t overpower. Paired with Chenin Blanc HMS Victorious.
4. Fiore Sardo (raw sheep’s milk, Sardinia): Firm, with subtle smokiness and slight caramel sweetness, and a nutty finish. Paired with Chenin Blanc HMS Victorious.
5. Bleu des Basques (sheep’s milk, France): Blue with a medium-strong flavor. Semi firm and deliciously creamy, delicately sweet, nutty and buttery from the high fat content of sheeps milk. Paired with Cristo di Campobello Rosso.

So, how to know which wine pairs well with which cheese? According to  Portia, this is an essay-worthy topic, but there are a few basic rules of thumb…

Silky triple cream cheeses pair well with bubbles, as they don’t overpower the palate, and the bubbles help cut through the butterfat and lift the flavors.

Chenin Blanc pairs well with goats cheese, as it brings out the minerally undertones in both.

The sweetness of the Chenin Blanc also highlights the salty, tangy and sweet notes in the Fiore Sardo.

The assertive flavors of a bold, washed-rind like the Petit Munster can hold up to a bolder beer.

The firm creaminess and butteriness of the Bleu des Basques can hold up to a heavier, yet smooth red wine like the Cristo di Campobello Rosso.

Generally, don’t pair cheeses and wines that will overpower each other one way or another.

Things that grow in the same regions will often (but not always) compliment each other.

… and all that learning made us very, very hungry.

We each went home with a container of épicerie’s house-made pear butter spread — amazing with cheese or on toast, and just as good by the spoonful.

Cheers! And many thanks to the épicerie team for hosting such a memorable and delicious afternoon!

photography by Kate Lesueur