Spirited Cheeses

We look into how a soak in strong liquor not only helps preserve a trio of French cheeses, but adds a distinctive taste that begs for a wine pairing.
Photo by Aaron Graubart

Époisses

If you cut Époisses (pictured above) with a knife, you’re doing it wrong. Époisses, a cows’ cheese, should be served at room temperature, so oozy that it threatens to run all over the table if you dare take it out of its box.

In the early 1500s, monks discovered that rubbing cheese with Marc de Bourgogne during the aging process  not only did what salt brine had—promote good molds and discourage bad bacteria—but it also infused complex flavors into the cheese. Époisses has graced the tables of Louis XIV’s nobles, Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte and cheese connoisseurs since.

Époisses is so pungent, it’s notorious for its difficulty to pair with wines. If there’s anybody up to the challenge, it’s Vincent Bertheau, a sommelier at Michelin-starred La Truffière. The restaurant has the second-largest wine cellar in Paris and one of the city’s greatest cheese carts. Bertheau suggests staying regional and pairing Époisses with red Burgundy. He recommends the Domaine Trapet Père et Fils 2008 or ’09 Premier Cru Clos Prieur Gevrey-Chambertin.

Camembert au Calvados

When something smells strong, the French say it “stinks like a Camembert.”

Napoléon III (nephew of No. 1) popularized Camembert, enjoying one at the Paris-Normandy railway inauguration in 1863. The cheese became more portable in 1890 with the invention of the round wooden container, and it was later given as rations to soliders during World War I.

More recently, cheesemakers expanded upon the classic pairing of apples and cheese—both Normandy specialties.  A half-ripened Camembert is soaked in Calvados (regional apple brandy) then usually coated with bread or walnut crumbs to help seal in the spirits. The result, Camembert au Calvados, is a sweet, salty treat with an alcoholic kick.

“For a wine to pair with Camembert au Calvados, it’s simply not possible to go regional,” says Bertheau. For this creamy cheese, he suggests something with more finesse and freshness: an oak-aged white Bordeaux. “In Pessac-Leognan, I have a real fondness for the Château Pape Clément.”

Timanoix

Timanoix is a  semisoft cow cheese from Bretagne, rubbed with walnut liqueur by monks at L’abbaye Notre-Dame de Timadeuc during its three- to four-week aging process in a humid cellar. This trick was learned from the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Bonne Espérone in 2003, when the nuns there could no longer keep up with demand for the cheese they’d re-created in 1999 based on a mid-19th century recipe. Since Timanoix is pasteurized, unlike the Trappe d’Échourgnac cheese upon which it’s modeled, it’s easily exportable. That’s good news for cheese lovers outside of France, because Timanoix has a gorgeous auburn crust and a flavor reminiscent of walnut cake.

For a wine pairing, Bertheau suggests turning to a selection from Mas Jullien, such as the Méjanne, which is “well-suited to the dessert-like Timanoix. Made in Languedoc, the grapes are dried in the sun. Just like with making raisins, this concentrates the sugars and makes for a wonderful dessert wine like a Sauternes. This cuvée has lovely almond notes that would complement the cheese’s walnut liqueur crust.”

Published on August 2, 2016
Topics: Pairing Tips


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