Friday, June 19, 2015

Tasting: Tea & Cheese Pairings at The French Cheese Board

All the tea and cheese. Mmmm.

Tea and French cheese have quite a bit in common. Both start with simple ingredients, and the flavors can change based on various factors. Processing, aging, temperature, seasonality, and terroir are influencing factors in both. I learned all about this and had the opportunity to taste fantastic tea and cheese pairings at a unique opportunity at The French Cheese Board. Cheese is one of my most favorite foods, so with the tea pairings I was in absolute heaven.

Walking in the space I was tempted by the cheese in the small 'shop' up front. Two cases filled with various cheeses. Past the shop was the gallery space, with plenty of room for exhibits. The current show features French female sports professionals expressing their feelings for cheese. These portraits ranged from cheeky to stoic. It was fun to gaze at each painting and wonder what the models' creative process was to express her feelings for cheese.

The cheeses were waiting for us on a plate when we were seated, singing their siren song of lactose-filled goodness. Each tea was presented separately, brewed fresh for each pairing. In order to select the pairings for the event, they started off with the cheeses and sampled many different teas to see what worked well together.

Heidi Johannsen Stewart and Charles Duque
During the tasting, Bellocq co-founder Heidi Johannsen Stewart and Managing Director of the French Dairy Board Charles Duque discussed tea, cheese, and how the flavors worked together. There was serious magic happening with each nibble and sip. The teas enhanced the cheese, bringing out flavors, and muting aggressive ones. Here are the clever pairings we enjoyed:

2004 Aged White Peony tea with a Raclette: The cheese brought out the spice and sweetness of this tea. The woodsy flavor paired perfectly with the raclette. A nice way to wake up the palate.

Kikyua blended tea with Brillat Savarin: Oh the aroma of this tea! It was soft, floral, vegetal, gentle and romantic. The tea accentuated the buttery gorgeous cheese. It was a sensual, sweet, and savory experience. This was one of my favorite combinations. I'm not usually a fan of rose flavor in tea and I was surprised at how much I liked it, especially with this cheese.  We all decided this was a sexy pairing!

Shui Xian Oolong with Comté: This was a dynamic flavor combination. The medium roasted 'rock' tea was mineraly and roasty which brought out the sweetness in the cheese. The cheese was meaty with a little bit of funk, which was calmed by the tea.

Gypsy Caravan with Camembert: The tea was surprisingly soothing and mellow. It felt like a warm hug. The slightly smoky, mushroom-y tea dissolved a bit of the creaminess of the cheese and enhanced the earthiness. It was a smart pairing, giving fuller flavor to such a rich cheese.

Darjeeling Second Flush with Bleu d'Auvergne: Up to this point I found that the teas would bring out certain flavors in the cheese, but in this pairing the pungent cheese brought out the sweetness in the tea. The muscatel of the Darjeeling came through after a nibble of cheese. The cheese was grassy and very salty which was also mellowed a little by the tea. I'm not terribly fond of bleu cheese, but this one was much quieter than most that I've had. It was very enjoyable.

Golden Puerh with Epoisses: I was hesitant to try this combination! Pungent puerh and a funkalicious cheese together? Could that really work? My first few tastes were a bit overwhelming, but after my palate adapted to what it was tasting, I started to enjoy it. The 'bold on bold' combination ended up blending and calming each other, instead of battling. The chocolaty, leathery tea stood up to the stinky cheese. It was an interesting choice, and a fun way to end the tasting session.

The discussion got into specifics of taste and even how your perception of flavors change based on time of day and what you've eaten previously. I was left floating in a haze of harmonious flavors, my belly happy with all of the tea and cheese.

Each pairing was carefully thought out, and worked very well. This was an educational and enjoyable evening. I often find myself near the French Cheese Board, and the cheese will be singing my name until I go back for more. To learn more about their events, you can visit their website here. For more on Bellocq teas, you can also visit their website.

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