Saturday 20 July 2019

The Real Deal: US Artisanal Cheese Paired with Californian Wine

18 July 2019:


It may surprise the cheese connoisseurs amongst you that the USA is the world’s largest producer of cheese. With a production of 5.8 million metric tons in 2018, the USA is top of the world’s cheesey chart, ahead of Germany and France, each producing around 2 million metric tons. (1) American cheesemaking has come a long way since the Puritans started dairy farming and cheesemaking in New England in the early 17th Century. The first cheese factory was built in 1851 in New York, years ahead of the first cheese factory in England. By second half of the 19th Century, American cheese was recognised for its consistent quality and stable production, as far ashore as England, the spiritual home of Cheddar at a time when it struggled to feed its own people and had to import foodstuff, including cheese. American farmstead population dwindled as a result of economic downturn and the two world wars. Rural migration to urban centres, expansion of railroad networks and development of refrigeration all compounded the reasons behind the growth of mass-produced food, including cheese. You may remember peeling away the translucent wrapper for that Kraft single which made its debut in 1965? Nutritious and consumer-convenient….yet tastes of mass-produced food were getting a little too standardised and flavours were lacking. The last 2 decades of the 20th Century saw a revival of US farmstead cheese production, thanks to the development of irrigation, enhanced cheese science knowledge, and increased cross-Atlantic travels for inspiration and knowhow. Remarkable figures like Mary Keehn (Cypress Grove Chevre), Allison Hooper (Vermont Creamery) and Judy Schad (Capriole Goat Cheese) were amongst the first to popularise artisan cheese and inspired the wider American farmhouse cheese revival.

Cheddar continued for a long time as America’s highest production cheese, its No.1 position only to be toppled by mozzarella in 2001, thanks to the popularity and convenience of pizza!

Where are things now? US artisanal and specialty cheese industry has never been this exciting. Over 1,000 artisan and specialty cheese producers were recorded in the USA in 2018, tripling the number 12 years ago. The artisan cheese industry has been winning medals and awards at national and world cheese competitions. The new generation cheesemakers are not just making great cheese, they are also contributing as socially responsible community members. They are involved in energy regeneration, waste recycling, sustainable agriculture, terroir expression, farm-to-table education and charitable foundations.

Artisanal cheese is expensive to produce and it will be of no surprise that US artisanal cheese comes with a premium price tag. (Organic artisanal cheese will edge the pricing further upwards.) The ones that make it out of the country to export markets come with an even heftier price tag, making them as expensive or sometimes more expensive than some of the best from France! In a market like Hong Kong where cheese rarely makes it into the local cuisine and the average consumption per capita is below 5 kg (say 13g a day or one small cheese platter every fortnight, cf 17.5 kg per capita in the USA)(2), artisanal cheese is reserved for the shelves of premium and specialist grocery stores, priced to factor in seasonal demand fluctuations (3) and the low average per capita consumption of cheese.

US artisanal cheese clearly has the quality to speak for itself but consumer education is paramount to its sustainable development, especially in the export markets where the cheese case comprises a mix of French, Italian, Spanish, Swiss and English competitors. Take Hong Kong as an example, there is a vibrant expatriate community, as well as a curious and well-travelled local community here. We are constantly either chasing the latest opening, be it restaurant or coffee shop, or following the latest health trend, be it meat-free or gluten-free. To make US artisanal cheese more visible to a wider connoisseur audience, we need to keep up the education. The month-long promotion of “Delicious USA” was a very good way of promoting cheese alongside other complementary food produce, such as cranberries and pecans, both of great nutritional values.

In celebration of Hong Kong’s first ever California Wine Month which coincided with Delicious USA, Cheese & Wine HK collaborated with the California Wine Institute to present our first US artisanal cheese tasting. The cheese was sourced (via their local wholesale importers) from different US states, including of Wisconsin, California and Vermont, as well as Oregon and Georgia. All the cheeses were paired with Californian wines selected by the California Wine Institute. (4) The Golden State of California stretches along 1,300 km of coastline and is landscaped by two mountain ranges, the Sierra and Coastal Ranges, with side valleys letting in coastal fog and maritime winds to cool more inland sites. California, with 138 AVAs (5), boasts a range of styles, which work well to pair with our selection of cheeses.

 


Below are our pairings and tasting results. What more can I say, except that I cannot wait to host the next US artisanal cheese tasting.


 






Green Hill, Sweet Grass Dairy, Georgia x Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut

Green Hill (Image Courtesy: Sweet Grass Dairy)

Green Hill

Green Hill is a bloomy rind cheese made with pasteurised cow milk from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia. Sustainable agriculture and traditional cheesemaking techniques are the ethos of Sweet Grass Dairy run by Jessica and Jeremy Little. Handmade in the traditional style for Camembert.

We tasted a mature sample of this cheese. The original white bloomy surface is now covered with tan-coloured patches. There is a distinct grey halo under the rind. Pronounced vegetal and field mushroom notes on the rind, with notes of butter and citrus in the soft-textured paste. The aftertaste reveals some layers of complexity. The rich creaminess is delicately offset by a mild acidity and light salt. A well-made Camembert-style cheese.

The creamy mousse of the traditional method sparkling Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut (AVA North Coast) (blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) nicely balances the richness of the cheese; the fine bubbles and bright acidity the perfect antidote to the creamy texture.



Harbison, Jasper Hill Creamery, Vermont x Eleven Chardonnay, Cannonball, 2017

Harbison (Image Courtesy: Jasper Hill Creamery)




Harbison is a Jasper Hill original, named after the late Mrs. Anne Harbison, affectionately known as the “Grandmother of Greensboro”. It was also the happy result of an unfortunate incident – a batch originally destined for a straightforward Brie-style cheese but the high moisture content inspired Matteo Kehler to wrap it with bark in an attempt to salvage it! Voilà, a bark-wrapped bloomy rind cheese, made with pasteurised cow milk. Harbison won the “Best of Show” award at the 2018 American Cheese Society Conference. 

Apart from making its own award-winning cheeses, Jasper Hill has also developed a successful cheese-aging facility, working with other creameries. The most noted example is the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar which was transformed in the Cellars by Jasper Hill to win the title of “Best of Show” at the 2006 American Cheese Society Conference. Jasper Hill also has its own onsite microbiology laboratory and a cropping center to make high-quality feed in the challenging climate.

To enjoy Harbison, the top of the cheese is cut open and lifted off to reveal an unctuous spoonable texture. There is a distinct vegetal and mushroom aroma, as well as a woodsy note from the wrapping of the spruce bark, which also serves to keep the cheese in shape. This is a wonderful party cheese to be shared amongst friends. I might even suggest a light baking in the oven to impart a roasted character to the flavours. Beautiful with the Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut but also with the lightly oaked Eleven Chardonnay, Cannonball, 2017 (AVA Sonoma Coast).



Carmody, Bellwether Farms, California x Estate Chardonnay, Eden Rift, 2016

Carmody


Located just 20 km from the coast, Bellwether Farms benefits from a moderated microclimate of coastal winds with the addition of iodic seasprays. Former nurse Cindy Callahan’s second career in sheep herding and cheesemaking has proven to be an admirable success. Now run by son Liam and daughter-in-law Diana, Bellwether Farms is going from strength to strength. On the occasion of the creamery’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Liam and Diana started the Bellwether Farms Foundation by pledging 1% of their sales to support organisations which provide hunger relief or food-related education to local communities.

Carmody is a beautiful looking cheese with a bright golden natural rind. The pronounced buttery aroma that oozes from paste through to the rind highlights the rich character of Jersey cow milk. The supple and mildly salted paste has an almost fudge-like texture (almost Edam like), combining fruity, buttermilk, grassy characters with a slight butterscotch note. It refreshingly leaves the palate with a hint of citrus tanginess and just a light touch of bitterness adding to the complexity. The minerality and fruit-driven richness of the Estate Chardonnay, Eden Rift, 2016 (AVA Cienega Valley) gives a lovely lift to the cheese. Thank you, Goedhuis & Co.



San Andreas, Bellwether Farms, California x Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Hess Family Wine Estates 2016






San Andreas


Made in the style of Pecorino, San Andreas is a sheep milk cheese, made with unpasteurised milk. It exudes earthy, grassy, floral and nutty notes, with a lovely creamy richness that is unique to the California. The rind is a tan-brown colour, showing grey spots. Tyrosine crystals are prevalent, adding a lovely crunchiness to the creamy texture. The easy-to-like Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 (AVA North Coast) (blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, and others) did the perfect trick to balance the rich proteins, and the fruitiness of the wine a perfect accompaniment to the earthy sweetness of the cheese.



Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese, Wisconsin x Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, Lake Sonoma Winery, 2014



Pleasant Ridge Reserve

From apprentices to owners, Uplands Cheese is a beautiful story of the continuation of traditions when Andy Hatch and Scott Mericka took over from Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude in 2014. Mike and Dan were two neighbours who decided to join their herds together and bought the current farm in 1994. Working with local cheesemakers and the Center for Dairy Research enabled them to finetune their recipe for Alpine-style cheesemaking in 2000.  Andy had joined the farm in 2007 and Scott in 2010. The Pleasant Ridge Reserve won the “Best of Show” award at the 2001, 2005 and 2010 American Cheese Society Conference.

A lovely bouquet reminiscent of wild meadows, pot pourri, honey, caramel, butter cream, and roasted hazelnut, overlaid with a delicious umami note, emanates from the rind and then the paste. The rind is dry with a grey/brown colour, dotted with multi-coloured spots evidencing the presence of microflora. The paste is a golden-yellow colour, with a supple texture. Moderately salted, with fruit tanginess at the finish, and an aftertaste that continues to deliver layers and layers of complexity long after the cheese has disappeared! Although made in an Alpine style using unpasteurised cow milk, the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, aged to perfection for around 10-14 months, shows a true expression of the specific terroir of Uplands Cheese, the biodiversity thanks to rotational grazing, the unique closed breed of cows, and the rich farmlands of Wisconsin. The Lake Sonoma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 (AVA Alexander Valley), with 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, did a great job marrying the rich proteins with its supple tannins and the ripe cassis fruit, with just a hint of cedar and smoke, did well to complement, without overwhelming the complexities of the cheese.



Espresso Bellavitano, Sartori, Wisconsin x The Spur, Murrieta’s Well, Wente Family Estates, 2015

Espresso Bellavitano


Now run by its fourth generation, this company started by an Italian migrant Paolo Sartori in 1939 celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. Sartori’s cheese success includes SarVecchio Parmesan, which was quoted in a 2006 Businessweek article about “products that rival Europe’s best”.

The senses are immediately awakened by the pungent and powerful roasted coffee aroma over the rich nutty and buttery flavours of the Bellavitano cheese, a cheese style unique to Sartori in Wisconsin. The texture of the ground coffee contrasts with the creamy texture in the presence of lovely crunchy crystals interspersed in the full-flavoured paste. An awesome pairing with The Spur, Murrieta’s Well, 2015 by Wente Family Vineyards (AVA Livermore Valley). A blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot and other varieties. The roasted coffee character, with just the fruity tang and buttery note of the cheese, went beautifully with this wine which exuded a black fruit indulgence overlaid with the toasted and smoked character from the oak. The hint of sweet bitterness from the roasted coffee further enhances the enjoyment of both wine and cheese! A fabulous experience for the senses and a successful pairing!



Original Blue, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, California x Cline Cellars ‘Old Vine’ Lodi Zinfandel, Cline Family Cellars, 2016



Original Blue, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company

Original Blue remains the “first love” of the three sisters now running Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, when they converted their parents’ dairy into a creamery in 2000. The original farm at Point Reyes is still the make facility for the Original Blue, made with unpasteurised cow milk. All the other pasteurised milk cheeses are now made at a new facility in Petaluma which was completed in 2018. In 2013, the family won the prestigious National Leopold Conservation Award for its efforts in recycling and on-farm reuse. Earlier, they had installed a methane digester to generate clean energy and to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint.

The ivory paste has an even pattern of bright blue-green veins. The paste reveals a pronounced blue mould note that dominates the palate, with an almost meaty savoury note, followed by a zesty citrus tang and a light peppery finish. This has a very original taste profile, and works brilliantly with the Cline Old Vine Zinfandel, 2016 (AVA Lodi). The jammy fruitiness of the wine balances the sharp taste of the blue cheese, the ripe sweetness of the wine offsetting the salty character of the cheese.



Rogue Smokey Blue, Rogue Creamery, Oregon x Ironstone Old Vine Zinfandel, Ironstone Vineyards, Kautz Family Vineyards, 2017


Rogue Smokey Blue

The first of its kind, a smoked blue cheese, made with pasteurised cow milk, developed by Rogue Creamery. This creamery boasts a blue cheese aging cellar that was built to replicate the cave-like atmosphere at Combalou Caves in Aveyron. It made headlines when its Rogue River Blue Cheese took home the Best Blue Cheese award at the 2003 World Cheese Awards in London.

The result of the 16-hour cold-smoking over roasted hazelnut shells is an enticing smokey nutty aroma infiltrated in the creamy blue mould note. Aromas of caramelised bacon and creamed sweet corn also greet the nose. The texture is crumbly, but the flavours are a delicious blend of umami, meaty and caramel sweetness. A most intriguing cheese and a perfect pair with the Ironstone Old Vine Zinfandel, 2017 (AVA Lodi), with its notes of blackberry preserve, pepper and vanilla note. A very successful pairing!


 







Notes:
(1) Data according to statista.com. EU-27 together produced more cheese than USA in 2018 – total EU27 production was 10.16 million metric tons.

(2) Based on 2016 data published by the International Dairy Federation.

(3) For example, the summer heat and humidity adding challenges to cheese storage and expatriate communities tend to spend a long time overseas during the summer months.

(4) One of the eight wines was kindly sponsored by Goedhuis & Co.

(5) American Viticultural Area: federally recognized wine growing areas. For a wine to be labelled with an AVA, 85% of the grapes must come from the indicated AVA.

Sunday 23 June 2019

A Memorable Experience in Umami: Sake and Cheese Pairing

20 June 2019:

Japanese sake, with its rounded mouthfeel, subtle richness, delicate acidity and most importantly an abundance of umami, the fifth taste, makes it a very versatile alcoholic beverage. Cheese, a protein-rich food, with umami-charged compounds derived from the amino acids, and its creamy, rich texture, is just the perfect match with Japanese sake, and even better with the pure and clean Junmai sake by Katsuyama Shuzo.


 
Sake & Cheese Pairing



Established in 1688 to brew top-quality sake for the feudal lords of the Sendai Domain, founded by Japan’s most famous and respected samurai, Date Masaume, today this venerable brewery, using a combination of state-of-the-art and time-intense ancient techniques, only produces Junmai-shu (1), that highlights clean umami taste and unique profile that pairs with any cuisine. Amongst its range of Junmai-shu, five representative styles were chosen to deliver the anticipated pairing with a selection of French and Italian cheeses (2).


Five sake styles selected for this tasting
From left, Ken, Den, Akatsuki, En, Lei


Ken, Junmai Ginjo (50% seimaibuai (3) and 16% abv), produced by the fukuro-shibori (4) method, represents a whistle-clean, elegant and dry mineral style, with delicate acidity balancing the supple and rounded texture. The sake leaves the palate with a clean and dry minerality. The flavour profile is citrus, apple and a hint of pineapple. With this sake, we paired with Calisson, a raw goat milk cheese with an ashed rind, inspired by the famous diamond-shaped bonbon from Aix-en-Provence, le calisson d’Aix. The aromatic herbal and nutty character was more pronounced in its demi-affiné condition, leaving the palate with a delicate tangy and mineral note. This cheese tasted like a treat with Ken Junmai Ginjo.


 
Calisson



Den (35% seimaibuai and 16% abv), also produced by the fukuro-shibori method, is a quintessential Junmai Daiginjo, with distinct fruity aromas of banana, grapes and apple, along with a well-balanced rich texture without the weight. It harmoniously delivers the umami taste. This sake paired well with a number of the cheeses presented but it made a particularly decent pair with the washed rind cow milk cheese, Langres from the Grand Est region of France. The Langres at our tasting showed the distinct hollow (“fontaine”) at the top, with a wrinkled orange rind, and an ivory silky mousse-like core at the centre. At the rind, there was a pungent bacon character, with more fruity, creamy note in the core. The intense flavours and rich texture were balanced by the sake's acidity. The sake’s richness complemented the rich texture of the cheese and the fruity character of the sake also matched the pungent notes.

 
Langres


An equally remarkable pairing was with the Brie de Melun. This raw cow-milk bloomy rind cheese with its pronounced barnyard, cep-like aromatics, subtle fruit notes, and rich, creamy texture, went remarkably well with Den. A great example of umami flavours at work.


Brie de Melun


A signature sake by Katsuyama Shuzo, Akatsuki, with 35% Seimaibuai and 16% alcohol, is a Junmai Daiginjo in its own class. This off-dry style sake represents the perfect harmony of minerality, flavour intensity, refreshing acidity and concentration, leaving the palate with a lingering umami finish. Produced in very small quantities using the Enshi-shibori (5) method, this sake reminded me of a delicate and elegant Mosel Riesling. The art of the production of this sake was in preserving flavour intensity while retaining the clean delicate texture. Two pairings stood out in particular.


For a more subtle pairing, we tried it with the Satonnay Aux Fleurs, a fresh raw goat milk cheese coated with floral petals (cornflower, rose, badiane, etc), produced in the Bourgogne region. The sweet floral notes of the cheese, with the fresh mineral note of the goat cheese, delivered a delicate pairing with Akatsuki, neither sake nor cheese overpowering the other. Like a stroll in the spring meadows!

 
Satonnay Aux Fleurs



For an absolute hands-down pairing, it had to be the Persillé de Tignes with the Akatsuki. This unique cheese in a cylindrical shape made by single producer, Paulette Marmottan in the French Savoie region, using raw milk from her herd of around 80 goats and 20 cows, stole the show with its complex flavour profile, tangy lactic, fruity and hazelnut at the core, expanding to damp cellar and mushroom at the rind, tingling the palate with its delicate saltiness and refreshing acidity. When paired with Aktasuki, the intensity of the flavours went up one notch. This was umami in symphony! Absolutely amazing.

 
Persille de Tignes



The previous three sake styles were all made with Yamada Nishiki rice, but the last two sake styles were made using a table rice called Hitomebore.


En, Tokubetsu Junmai, has a distinct hint of sweetness and rice-based umami note. It has a balanced earthy note, with a nashi pear crunch at the finish. With this sake, we paired it with an Italian cheese, Pecorino Toscano Oro. This is a sheep milk cheese, handselected by the cheesemakers to be transformed into the Oro Antico style (referring to the golden hue of the paste of the finished cheese). The aromatics were pineapple, dried fruit, lanolin with a distinct buttery note. The flavours were earthy and citrus, with a lingering pineapple note. This cheese showed a good level of salt and acidity. The pairing with En was superb, sake and cheese complementing each other in the earthy and fruity notes, and contrasting the light saltiness of the cheese with the delicate sweetness of the cheese. A pairing that did not tire the palate.

 
Pecorino Toscano Oro



Lei Sapphire, Junmai Ginjo, with its alcohol level of 12% and 55% seimaibuai, is distinctly sweet and fruity. It reminded us of a Spätlese style Riesling. This style was created to suit the palate of those new to sake, but also as a sweet rich style to go with meat sauces with distinct sweetness. My favourite pairing for this sake was with Mimolette Extra Vieille, that never fails to remind me of soya sauce. Hailing from Nord-Pas-de-Calais of France, the Mimolette Extra Vieille with its 24 months of aging, showed pronounced savoury, earthy and yeasty notes, like marmite, overlaid with a caramelised tone, thanks to the hardwork of the microscopic cheesemites. This cheese was the epitome of umami. The texture was dense, hard, almost dry, with bitter finish. When paired with Lei Sapphire, it was like the sake coating each bite of Mimolette, resulting in an explosion of umami flavours in your palate. Heavenly! Still savouring this!

 
Mimolette Extra Vieille


Finally we paired the Lei Sapphire with a subtle blue cheese, Gorgonzola Dolce, the cow milk blue cheese from Piemonte/Lombardia. This was produced by a family-owned farm Caseificio Tosi. Gorgonzola Dolce is a cheese made for gourmands, creamily indulgent like a dessert, with lively acidity, good dose of salt and mild blue notes just enough to tingle the palate, without being aggressive at all.
Gorgonzola Dolce (courtesy: www.buonissimo.hk)

A beautiful end to this umami-filled experience. An experience to be remembered! (And repeated!!!)


I wish to thank Jacky Cheng, the sake expert of Berry Bros & Rudd HK, for guiding us through this special tasting of Katsuyama sake, and to Enrique Romera of Buonissimo (www.buonissimo.hk) for providing the gorgeous Italian cheeses!


 
Thank you to everyone for sharing this experience with me!
Venue: Metropolitan Workshop




Notes:

1 Sake made with rice, water and koji, with no addition of alcohol

2 All the French cheese were sourced from La Cremerie, Wanchai and all the Italian cheeses from Buonissimo (www.buonissimo.hk)

3 Seimaibuai: Rice polishing rate, expressed as the amount of rice grain that remains after polishing

4 Fukuro-shibori: an ancient drip method that separates the clear sake by hanging in filter bags and allowing gravity to separate the clear sake from the sediments

5 Enshi-shibori: pressing using a centrifugal separator

Friday 5 April 2019

Uncovering the Pairing Possibilities of Cider with Cheese

3 April 2019:


This would go down as one of my most memorable tasting experiences, pairing a range of seven different ciders and perries from England and Wales, with seven different English cheeses. Cheese & Wine HK was so proud to have collaborated with Authentic Cider to make this event happen and to have it featured as the last event of Hong Kong’s first Cider Festival! Pommelier and Founder of Authentic Cider, Jeremy Stunt, captured the attention of our multinational audience with his deep knowledge and passion about these ciders. The suggested pairings were put to the test and…..here are the results in the order we tasted!

 











Tunworth: A bloomy rind cow-milk cheese at optimal ripeness, showing orange and light brown spots through the white bloom. A cream coloured paste, velvety soft and oozing richness. A pronounced vegetal bouquet with intense porcini and Brazil nut notes. The palate seduces with a rich buttery mouth-coating sensation, with balanced salt and acidity. Finishes long.

This beautiful award-winning cheese from Hampshire was paired with Herefordshire’s Once Upon A Tree Chapel Pleck 2013, a sparkling dry perry (7% abv), made in the traditional method. Extended ageing on lees (approx. 3 years) contributed layers of soft pear fruit and toasted autolytic complexity to the mineral dry style. The subtle fruitiness left the palate with just a hint of sweet sensation on the crisp dry finish. The pairing worked particularly well with the faint autolytic character enhancing the vegetal/mushroom note of the cheese, the soft but present acidity offering a good buffer for the creaminess of the cheese, and the fine bubbles cleansing the palate after each mouthful.

Absolute consensus on this pairing!

 



Riseley: A joint collaboration between Ann Wigmore and the Neal’s Yard Dairy maturation team, responsible for transforming the freshly made cheese into a deliciously pungent washed rind cheese. There is a sticky golden orange rind with an ivory-coloured paste (with small openings), creamy and soft under the rind and chalky and firm in the core. Under the familiar pungency of washed rind cheese, there is a sweet lanolin and caramel butter cream nuance to balance the savoury and meaty characters. Slightly gritty on the rind, which contrasts so interestingly with the unctuous creaminess of the paste.

This was a hit with the Ross on Wye Raison d'Etre 2016, a sparkling dry cider from Herefordshire. This was made with Dabinett and Michelin apples grown at Broome Farm. Fermented in oak barrels, using wild yeasts and matured for two years. This was bone dry. The wild funkiness of this cider worked so well with the pungent and savoury Riseley, with the acidity of the cider balancing the creaminess of the cheese. There was no question that this was a very good pair!

 


Appleby’s Cheshire: A great classic handmade since 1952 by the Appleby family, using unpasteurised milk from their herd of Friesian cows. Under the dry natural rind, there was a golden orange firm but slightly granular paste that crumbles. The palate reveals a distinct mineral character, overlaid with fruity, delicately tangy lactic notes and a meat brothy umami nuance that is very appealing. The rich flavours coat the palate, and the tangy and juicy acidity keeps it refreshed. A bittersweet crisp finish. There is a very endearing sense of warmth, which is quite different from the other cheeses.

A bit of an all-rounder with most of the ciders tried, I must admit, but the best pairing was with Little Pomona’s Hazy Ways Part One, 2017 (7.4% abv) from Herefordshire, using 91% Dabinett apples and 9% Ellis Bitter apples. This off-dry lightly petillant cider was made using the cold racking method to retain some of the natural sweetness from the fruit. Fermentation gradually came to a halt by regularly removing the fermenting liquid off the lees, until the natural yeast was exhausted in its job. It was bottled unfiltered. This off-dry cider was juicy, with a hint of apple sweetness, and the remaining lees gave this a rustic yeasty character which paired rather well with the earthy mineral style of Appleby's Cheshire.


 



Gorwydd Caerphilly: A lovely dual-texture cow-milk cheese now hailing from Somerset, instead of its Welsh origin when Todd Trethowan (former Neal’s Yard Dairy cheesemonger) and his brother Maugan started making this on their Gorwydd farm in South Wales. Made with unpasteurised cow milk, the cheese has a grey/brown natural rind, felt-like and dry to the touch, showing a grey halo under the rind, with an ivory-coloured firm but granular paste that slightly crumbles. Rich lactic and citrus aromas from the paste, moving to pronounced earthy and mushroom notes on the rind. Medium+ acidity and medium salt. As the Appleby Cheshire had a warmth about it, I find that this cheese has a ‘cool character’.

Although this cheese is not from Wales, it did a fabulous job pairing with Hallets Real Cider by Andy Hallett, in Monmouthshire, South Wales. It is a blended cider, made with cider from current year’s fruit and oak-aged vintage cider from the previous year, giving it a unique taste. Almost dry upon entry, this sparkling medium cider (6% abv) then developed a delicate sweetness on the palate, and leaving the palate with a wine-like astringency. This cider showed great craftsmanship and a very classy sophistication, and was the perfect drink with Gorwydd Caerphilly. The semi-dryness and the astringency of the cider complemented so well the rich lactic flavours of the cheese. A marriage made in heaven!

 



Berkswell: A sheep milk cheese hailing from 16th Century Ram Hall in the West Midlands, made by cheesemaker Julie Hay and the Fletcher family. Shaped in the form of a flattened sphere (or a flyer saucer), the natural brown/grey rind of this cheese shows a fascinating display of multiple coloured moulds, ranging from white to yellow to orange and copper red. Rich buttery aromas, complemented with pineapple, macadamia nuts, savoury, cocoa and caramel notes, and finishing with a mild tangy finish. Beautifully complex, flavourful, and lingers on the palate.

This fabulous cheese was paired with Perry’s Somerset Redstreak (6% abv)……a sparkling medium cider (not perry!!!). The Perry family has been making cider for four generations, and all their ciders are made using natural fermentation with apples within 10 miles of their farm in Somerset. A single varietal cider using Redstreak apples. This cider was lightly sparkling, with a rich apple flavour, and the astringency to complement the natural sweetness. There was a particular depth to this cider, and the finish was very long. We loved the way this cider hit it off with the fruity note of the Berkswell, while not overpowering it. The astringency of the cider was balanced by the caramel sweetness of the cheese, making it a very memorable pairing.





Ticklemore: A goat milk cheese shaped like a flying saucer, with a dry natural rind showing brown/orange colouring through the white chalky coloured surface. Dual texture paste. Soft and yielding ivory-coloured surface-ripened paste under the rind showing more evolved protein breakdown, with the texture of marshmallow-mousse. The core is white chalky that crumbles to the touch. Lemon citrus, fresh almonds, grass and vegetal notes adorn the bouquet. Fresh tanginess and a medium+ salt level help refresh the palate. A cheese with great character, thanks to the complexity of the milk sourced from a herd of mixed breed goats, including Anglo-Nubian, Toggenburg and Saanen goats, raised free-range on Button Farm on Dartmoor.

Originally created by Robin Congdon of Ticklemore Dairy, Ticklemore is now made on the Sharpham Estate in Devon.

This was paired with Oliver’s Classic Perry (5.8% abv), a premium sparkling perry made by Tom Oliver in Herefordshire. Underneath the floral and citrus notes, there was a somewhat ‘wild’ character, with just a touch of uplifting and aromatic acetic acid resulting from the slow fermentation with wild yeasts. Tasty and juicy. The acidity of this sparkling perry was a good match with the tanginess of the cheese and the complexity of the cheese was equally complemented by the perry’s own nuances. I loved the way this perry left a mouthwatering sensation on the palate, quite unique.


 



Beenleigh Blue: Originally created to mimic Roquefort, the terroir of Devon has since shaped this sheep milk cheese from Ticklemore Dairy into an awesome blue cheese with its distinct personality. Rindless, blue veins are evenly distributed in the soft ivory-coloured paste. The paste is rich, moist and crumbly with a creamy and opulent texture. Redolent of cocoa butter, caramel, vanilla yoghurt, white chocolate and a hint of pineapple notes, seasoned with spicy blue mould ketones. The cheese melts on the palate and finishes long.

This cheese was simply marvellous with the Blenheim Superb Ice Cider 2015 by Herefordshire’s Once Upon A Tree, made from late harvested Blenheim Orange and Laxton Supeb dessert apples, cryo-concentrated to produce this lusciously sweet cider (7% abv). Balanced by a good dose of acidity, this reminds one of ripe bruised apples, with just a hint of cider funkiness. This was a perfect match.

 



A truly memorable evening and a first for Hong Kong! I believe we may even have awakened the dormant interest in real ciders amongst the audience. I hope so because these are great artisanal beverages, crafted by talented and passionate people, in small to very small quantities! And they just work so well with cheese!



Thank you to Jeremy for his support in making this happen and thank you to the staff at Metropolitan Workshop (Central)! Great venue!

Author's note: All cheeses sourced from Neal's Yard Diary.

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Tuesday 12 March 2019

English Artisanal Cheeses Delighting Hong Kong Gourmets' Palates

21 February 2019


It did come as a bit of surprise to some in the room that such great cheeses were made in England. At Cheese & Wine HK’s first tasting event, I had prepared a selection of eight different cheeses from different counties in England, served with two lovely sparkling wines from Coates & Seely hailing from Hampshire. While preparing for this, I was captivated by the story behind each cheese, such as the long distance Mary Holbrook would drive weekly to nurture her Old Ford cheeses maturing at Neal’s Yard Dairy, or a cheese (Stichelton) born from the revival of use of raw milk in the making of Stilton; or indeed the elements that made each cheese so authentic, such as the milk from the adorable Anglo Nubian goats in the making of Sinodun Hill, or the meadows feeding the Montbéliarde cows that would give such richness and complexity to Baron Bigod.


Our flight of eight cheeses included:

Sinodun Hill (Oxfordshire)


Though a relatively new cheese, only in production since 2016, Sinodun Hill has already been winning awards. Sinodun Hill is the proper name for the Wittenham Clumps, just above the Earth Trust Farm, where the goats graze.

A raw goat-milk bloomy rind cheese, with a wrinkled cream-coloured rind, that feels dry and downy to the touch. Runny ivory-coloured paste under the rind, velvety and mousse-like in the centre.

Delicate lactic and sweet aromas and flavours dominate, reminding one of fresh hay and spring meadow flowers, very delicate caprine notes blending with citrus, pineapple and honey notes. A well-balanced cheese, with medium+ salt and medium acidity. The paste is almost like thickly whipped cream.

A delicately flavoured cheese that symbolises springtime freshness.


Baron Bigod (Suffolk)

Made to a French recipe, Baron Bigod is the only farmstead Brie-de-Meaux style cheese made with raw milk in the UK. The richness of this cheese owes much to the diverse grasses and herbs that grow on the grazing land of Stow Fen, where the Montbéliarde cows graze.

A raw cow-milk bloomy rind cheese, with brown spots showing through the downy rind, and a lemon-cream coloured soft paste, which flows out at room temperature. High salt, medium+ acidity, with a slightly bitter finish, characteristic of this cheese style. Mushroom, straw and buttery cream complete the aromas and flavours. A rich, unctuous and luxuriant cheese that oozes out and covers your palate. Long finish.

This cheese is the pinnacle of bloomy rinds!


Winslade (Hampshire)

Winslade was developed as a sibling to Tunworth (Camembert-style cheese). It is somewhere between a Camembert style and Vacherin Mont d'or style cheese.

A cow-milk washed rind cheese, with the characteristic tan-orange rind, and an ivory-coloured soft to runny paste, depending on the room temperature. The spruce band gives it a typical pine woody note. It has light mushroom note, with butter and hazelnut nuances. The richness is balanced by a lovely tangy finish.

A cheese that appeals to gourmets.


St Cera (Suffolk)

St Cera is a collaboration between cheesemaker Julie Cheyney and the maturation team at Neal's Yard Dairy. Using milk provided by Jonny Crickmore at Fen Farm, Julie has perfected this small, spoonable washed rind cow's milk cheese.

A raw cow-milk washed rind cheese, with a light golden coloured sticky rind, over a runny cream-coloured paste. It is a richly flavoured cheese, that exudes intense farmyard and fermented aromas, complemented by floral (chamomile) and nutty (hazelnut) notes. A rich and unctuous cheese that is packed with flavours and has a chewy texture to the rind but melting texture underneath.

Small and punchy!


Spenwood (Berkshire)
Cheesemaker Anne Wigmore was inspired by a piece of pecorino while visiting Sardinia. Named after the Berkshire village where it originated, Spencers Wood.

A sheep-milk pressed uncooked cheese, with a light brown/orange rind occasionally with some white spots, and a cream coloured supple paste. Floral, caramel and nutty notes. Almost claggy in the mouth. Medium salt and medium acidity, with a very long finish. Nutty and sweet.


Sparkenhoe Red Leicester (Warwickshire, bordering with Leicestershire)

After a half century absence, David and Jo Clarke brought farmhouse Red Leicester back to England. Handmade since 2005, Sparkenhoe is a farmhouse Red Leicester and the only unpasteurised version presently available.

A raw cow-milk pressed uncooked cheese. The rind is dry, with a grey/brown colour, over an orange supple and slightly crumbly paste. The wet earthy notes remind one of rain-drenched earth. Buttery, butterscotch, fruity aromas and flavours complete the spectrum. The paste is supple and has an elastic/chewy texture. Medium salt level, finishing with a tangy acidity, and a persistent finish.

A marvellously crafted cheese with a strong heritage.


Old Ford (Somerset)

Old Ford is made by Mary Holbrook on Sleight Farm. It is made when the seasonal milk production peaks, usually between May and July.

A raw goat-milk pressed uncooked cheese that has a dry grey rind, over a granular dry crumbly ivory coloured paste. There is a dominant savoury and nutty character, over a caprine flavour, together with a grassy, pineapple and citrus tangy note. Medium acidity, medium salt.

A well-balanced aged goat milk cheese that is so complex and original.


Stichelton (Nottinghamshire)

Raw milk, Stilton-recipe blue cheese had disappeared from the UK for 18 years when Joe Schneider with the help of Randolph Hodgson began making it at Stichelton Dairy in 2006. A PDO Stilton can only be made in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or Leicestershire – and only to a specific recipe using pasteurised milk. The Stilton Cheesemakers Association refused Joe’s request to allow raw milk Stilton to be produced. Thus was born Stichelton!

A raw cow-milk blue cheese, with a dry natural rind that is brown/orange, and an ivory coloured paste with a crumbly texture evenly dispersed with blue veins. Prominent notes of caramel and butter, with harmonious blue flavours, nuts, toast and some umami (like Bovril). There is a faint bitterness at the finish. A creamy texture that coats your palate, but tastes drier towards the rind. High acidity, with a medium+ salt level.

A very harmonious blue cheese experience.



As for the wine pairing, the sparklings did a very versatile job in pairing with most of the cheeses, except perhaps for the blue cheese, when a bottle of 1963 Colheita Port was opened to the rescue!





I loved the space at Metropolitan Workshop



These are all great stories and interesting details that keep our passion for artisanal cheeses alive. When you next taste a piece of cheese, think about how and why it tastes so delicious! You may find yourself rolling in daffodils and buttercups!