This one is for all you cheese lovers out there.
Spoiler Alert: This article may trigger impulsive behavior. It may induce intense cheese board fantasies–forcing you to go buy large chunks of cheese, then gather all your friends to eat said cheese while enjoying the best day of your adult lives. Because what’s up with being an adult if you can’t eat as much cheese as you want, whenever you want to?
Maybe that’s why I like to create moments that make me feel as if I’m living a life of leisure: lounging in a farmhouse…on a vineyard…in the south of France (where they supposedly have 452 official kinds of different cheese). My favorite thing in the world is sitting down with friends at sunset over a cheese board and a glass of Rosé. Because really, cheese just makes everything better.
I want to take your taste buds on an adventure. In solidarity over our mutual cheese obsession, we’ll learn the nitty-gritty about what makes a good cheese pairing. And what could be better than enticing your friends into the fold with a Cheese Pairing Tasting Party?
Cheese has subtle nuances in flavor and texture and, just like wine, it is enhanced by what accompanies it. There’s a reason you always see chefs pair steak with blue cheese, that mozzarella and tomatoes are a staple of pizza and that smoked salmon and cream cheese has been around since the dawn of time. As the resident Sirens & Scoundrels foodie, I did the dirty work of fleshing out some hot tips to make your CHEESE experience even better. It’s all about the cheese pairings!
I immediately thought of “Say Cheese” Gourmet Food Market, a hidden gem deep in the heart of Silverlake (right next to the Trader Joes on Hyperion Avenue), to answer all of my cheese curiosities. Say Cheese is a little gourmet heaven stocked with everything from wine to chocolates, accompaniments and, of course, those gorgeous cheese wheels. A café is attached with regulars popping in and out for a smooth, hot cup of coffee and oven-toasted, cheesy, decadent sandwiches. It’s been a blessing in the neighborhood since 1972. They are really known in the neighborhood for having rare products and seasonal cheeses.
They have a Briat Savion Pineapple Brie Cheese that people line around the block for when it comes to the store in the springtime. They carry Maison de la Truffle, a truffle brie that is exclusively available for sale from Thanksgiving through the New Year (if they don’t sell out before that) from The House of Truffles in France…and the list goes on.
Every time I’ve wandered in, I am delighted by the gorgeous array of high quality cheeses. But what really makes this place so special is having your own personal fromage expert to guide you along the way. Meet Glenn Harrell, the owner of 17 years, who makes you feel so well taken care of. You always learn something new, before being sent skipping on your way with a basket full of crowd-pleasers that will take you on a magical mini-trip to Europe, right in your own back yard.
With the expertise of Glenn Harrell, our local cheese monger from SAY CHEESE and sommelier of all things decadent, we are going to break down a few of the mysteries of this addictive and euphoric food.
GLENN’S TOP TIPS
TIP: When you pair things together that are seasonal, organic and regional, it enhances the flavors of the cheese AND your accompaniment. That’s why in restaurants you usually see Manchego (my FAVORITE–a Spanish aged sheep’s-milk cheese from La Mancha) paired with quince paste. Quince fruit is originally grown from the same region of Spain. French Brie (a creamy, buttery soft cow’s-milk cheese) and French wine are a no-brainer. The grapes from the soil in regions of France bring out notes in the creamy brie, and vice versa.
So when pairing cheeses, the rule is: “grow together, pair together”.
TIP: Cheese in Europe is always left at room temp. Glenn recommends letting the cheese sit for at least an hour on the countertop before serving, so that the texture and flavors are the most ideal. It’s like fine wine…it needs time to breathe.
I did a taste test in the store of a gorgeous swiss cheese that had been sitting out and then a piece of that same cheese that was cold, newly cut from a refrigerated block. I was shocked that the experience was so different. The cold piece was slightly bitter and the texture was not as creamy. It had a crumbly texture and I could not taste some of the subtle depth of flavor that was very present with the room temperature slice.
TIP: Glenn was adamant that when choosing products for cheese pairings, there really is no “right way” or “wrong way”…it’s all just about taste preference. Because as we cheese lovers already know, cheese makes everything better! But it is fun to take your taste buds on an adventure and try something new. Glenn had some wonderful recommendations depending on flavor preferences, what kind of group you are sharing with and what kind of event. Are you cooking with cheese? Are you pairing the cheese for a romantic picnic? A cheese board for a party? Just GO talk to Glenn…he is now your cheese guru too. You’re welcome!
Using all of my new-found knowledge with the help of Glenn, here’s some pairings that I was inspired to take home to share with friends for my very own Cheese Pairing Tasting Party!
First, I was recommended to go with a plainer gluten-free cracker versus the rosemary crackers, so that the taste of the cracker does not overpower the subtle flavor of the cheeses I chose. I also bought my favorite olives (Castle Vetranos from Sicily). These bright green olives taste so buttery and are not too salty.
TIP: The great thing about adding olives and also smoked meats like prosciutto and salami to your charcuterie board is that they can pair with anything. They are there to accompany the cheese and are used like adding salt to food.
Now without further ado, the main event: These are the 5 cheeses I chose this time…
Gouda is a hard aged cow’s-milk cheese from the Netherlands and it pairs well with cashews, grapes & strawberries. It’s yellow color and texture add a nice contrasting aesthetic to round out any cheese board.
Of course I had to buy my favorite, Manchego, the Spanish aged sheep’s-milk cheese, with quince paste. It pairs well together with a slice of ripe pear or just a plain luscious bite of cheese with a sliver of the subtly sweet quince paste. MMMMmmmm….
P’tit Basque is a semi-hard French Sheep’s-milk cheese, from the French Basque region. In the store, Glenn paired it with a rose petal confit, and the taste was so bright and creamy. It also pairs well with dried apricots, or fresh figs and cherries if they are in season.
Brie, a soft, buttery & creamy French cow’s-milk cheese, is wonderful to spread on apple slices, or on a crispy cracker with a drizzle of honey. It’s great with nuts, pear & figs. I tried the Brillat Savarin Affiné Brie… one word, DELICIOUS. Brie can be spread like butter, or baked whole wrapped in a crispy pastry with tart cherry compote for a party.
The richness of the Le Cousin Swiss cheese with raw cashews is a real winner and I highly recommend it. The lush Swiss cheese pairs well with a Chateau Saint Ahon Bordeaux.
And speaking of wine, no picnic basket would be complete for a lovely afternoon as you dive into your magical European Cheese Tour than a wine accompaniment. I chose a crisp French Rosé and a bottle of Chateau Saint Ahon Bordeaux to accompany the spread, since the majority of the cheese tasting was regionally from France.
The best things about inviting all of your cheese-obsessed friends over to taste test the pairings you’ve chosen are:
- You will be a hero when you send out that invitation because you just brightened everyone’s day, because let’s face it, cheese makes everything better.
- It’s a great edible excuse to share the thing you love most with the people you love the most.
- You are now officially an adult, because you can eat cheese whenever & however you want to.
- You will feel like the smartest cookie in the room with your new-found foodie knowledge.
- You get to share all of this over your own hand-picked CHEESE board!
Say Cheese Gourmet Market: 2800 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027 www.saycheeselosangeles.com
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Words & Photography by Sarah Prikryl
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