Tales from Cheesegiving
This year, my brother André quit his job to become a wine writer. I’m very proud of him for plunging into the juicy void — the decision was inspired by a scholarship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. Before the scholarship, he was part of a secret coalition of studious drinkers that met to share knowledge and bottles — call it the Distance MFA for Sommeliers.
All this to say: his zeal for wine and my obsession with cheese conspired to turn our family Thanksgiving into a 3-day tasting that involved spreadsheets, carefully selected wines, a suitcase full of cheese, and bathrobes. Why bathrobes? One must sweat out the toxins. (Conveniently, our newly retired dad installed a “therapeutic” Jacuzzi — it’s supposed to be good for arthritis.)
From last Thursday until this Sunday, we ran our parents through unparalleled pairing experiments. Here was the set-up:
I brought 9 cheeses.
My brother brought 9 wines.
We had Cheesegiving for 3 days.
Here was our plan: I wanted to find wines to pair with two of my favorite winter cheeses, Epoisses and Marcel Petit Comté, and André wanted to find the perfect wedge to pair with Cru Beaujolais, which comes into season in November.
We tasked each other with ferreting out the best pairings. First, we emailed ideas back and forth, then we ended up grab-bagging a few extra wines and wedges to experiment with. My brother tracked down the best white Burgundy to pair with Epoisses, and he uncovered a mysterious recommendation for something called “Vin Jaune” (yellow wine) — a rare bottle from the Jura that was supposed to make us ache with joy when eaten with Comté and walnuts.
The Epoisses Challenge: I picked up a feral Epoisses from The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, not far from our father’s house. It tasted like steamed cauliflower and liverwurst, like unctuous pâté. André nailed it with a beautiful Meursault — a glowing white Burgundy characterized by oak and lime. The results were magnificent.
The Beaujolais Challenge: A lone wedge of Cantal from Di Bruno Bros. in Philly proved to be a stellar match for the bottle of Jean-Paul Brun Fleurie that made all of us see stars — big rubyfruit stars. In fact, Cantal was the showgirl who could kick over any glass we put before her — I’d never been all that fond of this rustic Frenchie, but I was mesmerized by how this workhorse can-canned with every bottle.
If you ever need to grab a wedge on the fly to pair with unknown substances, make it Cantal.
The Vin Jaune and Comté Stumper: The only puzzle we couldn’t solve was this pairing. We saved it for last because we were so enamored of this rare “yellow wine” once described as “one of the few wines that can stand up properly to cheese” by The New York Times.
Alas, Vin Jaune did not work with any of our cheeses at all. Not the Comté. Not the Bleu de Gex — also from the Jura — that I’d picked up as a back-up wedge.
Vin Jaune was an oddball swing dancer, more sour than sweet — like an exotic vinegar mixed with a splash of sherry. It was intriguing, in the way that sour beers are intriguing. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Comté I purchased was too young, too mild — not aged or wild enough?
If you have tried Vin Jaune with Comté and walnuts, let me know.
We are still scratching our heads as we reminisce about Cheesegiving 2013 from 900 miles apart.
My brother lives in Wisconsin; I live in Philadelphia. In December, we’ll meet again for Cheesemas.