Wine and Cheese Tasting: Going HAM Without the Ham

La dégustation du vin et du fromage, wine and cheese tasting, was definitely one of the highlights of my trip thus far.

I was considering writing this when I was still feeling the effects of the wine, but my level of intoxication was taken up another notch when I got home and my host mother fed us cognac. So at that point, I decided instead to sleep and save this post for the next day.

The tasting took place in one of the classrooms of the Institut de Touraine where I’ve been studying these past two weeks with a sommelier named Patrick. Most people, myself included, think that a sommelier is simply one who studies wine. But a sommelier is more of a restauranteur – they understand every aspect of the restaurant and cuisine. They understand the food, the serving, the business, the management, the beverages – every single part of the culinary culture. They have to because by the time they are an official sommelier, they work in usually upscale restaurants, serving and choosing the wine to go with each dish.

Sommeliers go around from region to region, vineyard to winery, trying from 25-50 wines a day. But they taste wine in a very different manner: they swish it around in the mouth, do something quite intricate with it along the lines of sucking in air with the wine in their mouth, and spit it back out in a bucket. One of the main reasons they do this is because of the quantity of wine they have to taste – if they swallowed everytime, they would probably have liver failure and be the hottest of hot messes all the time.

Patrick gave us five wines and five cheeses to taste. The way I list the name is the name of the wine, the grapes it is made from, and then the cheese.

1. Bourgogne Blanc – Cépages + Chèvre Sainte-Maure de Touraine (Goat Cheese)

This was the first wine we had, so he gave us the most important tips:

  • Hold the glass by the neck because otherwise, you can’t see the color of the wine and the wine will become warm. This is especially important for white wine because white wine is generally served chilled.
  • When servers or sommeliers pour you wine in restaurants, they usually pour just a little bit. It is not so you can check if you like the taste, but it is so you can check for any faults, such as too much vinegar.
  • If white wine has a pale yellow color, you can guess that it is “dry.”
  • Swish the glass around and if you see lots of “jambes,” or you can see that the wine is sticking to the glass more, it is a sweet wine.
  • Always start with a dry white wine or else it becomes harder to taste the following wines.

He told us that you know goat cheese is genuine if there is a straw-like form in the middle made of “blé” or wheat.

2. Beaujolais – Chardonnay + Comté

I normally dislike hard cheeses, but oh my goodness – this one was fantastic.  It smelled a lot like Swiss cheese so I was expecting it to taste like that but it wasn’t too strong at all and it reminded me a little bit of ham…? It was room temperature, so it was the perfect texture – firm but malleable (a lot of this post is probably going to sound a little risqué).

If you want a more mild cheese, you can ask for a “fromage jeune/frais” or a “young or fresh” cheese. If you want a stronger cheese, ask for a “fromage affiné.”

3. Chinon – Gamay + Saint-Nectaire

This was my favorite wine in this set, although it was hard to tell because the red wines in this set were quite similar. I attributed it to Patrick, the sommelier’s, personal taste.

This was one of of the stronger red wines. Stronger red wines are generally paired with red meats, so that one taste doesn’t mute out the other.

4. Bergerac – Merlot Cabernet et Sauvignon+ Ossau Iraty

The only piece of information I absorbed was that the cheese was from the Pyrenées/Pays-Basques region, but honestly, I blanked out on this one. I don’t even know if I spelled the name of the cheese correctly. I think this is when I started getting a little tipsy. In my defense, we weren’t tasting the wine like a traditional wine tasting with the spitting out – we were drinking the wine glass by glass, and he would come by and fill it up if we drank quickly. Also, some of the other people were already hammered. TAKE THAT.

But the cheese was amazing because Patrick paired it with cherry confitures!!

5. Bordeaux – Merlot Cabernet Franc + Camembert de Normandie

Last but not least we had this Bordeaux (one of my parents’ favorite wine regions) and camembert. Often when you think of France, you think of a man on a bicycle with a very sleek mustache, wearing a beret, in a striped shirt, holding a bottle of wine and a baquette, and a wheel of cheese under his arm. Most people classify that as camembert – the cheese of France. I used to always associate brie with France, but nope – it’s camembert. If you want the real stuff, you should get Camembert de Normandie. It is absolutely pungent and as Patrick put it, “smells like flower,” but it is actually quite delicious. But this very strong cheese was paired with a strong red wine – rightfully so.

If you didn’t think I was pretentious before, THINK AGAIN.


4 thoughts on “Wine and Cheese Tasting: Going HAM Without the Ham

  1. This was a fantastic post. I absolutely disagree with your final sentence, though. You shared a lot of information about wine and cheese, which had a lot of potential for pretension, but you avoided that trap. Most of the other study abroad/food blogs I’ve read are dreadfully boring and ugly–like seriously why are these people writing blogs?! But you have an amazing writing style that is engaging and conversational, and your blog is a true pleasure to read. Thank you for the fabulous posts and pictures!

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