Should you try a cheese-only cheese course? Why are cheese and bread not necessarily great matches for cheese? Which underappreciated wine and cheese pairing should you try today? How does sparkling wine stack up with your favourite cheeses? Have you been serving cheeses the wrong way? Should you eat the rinds on cheeses?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with award-winning journalist and author, Janet Fletcher.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
- What shift can you see in the restaurant industry’s approach to serving cheese?
- Which mindset shift did Janet want you to make when writing her first book about cheese?
- How did writing a weekly column create a space for Janet to deep dive into the culture, science and history of cheese?
- Why should you try a cheese-only cheese course?
- What extra consideration do you need to make when pairing wine and cheese?
- Is it a good idea to pair wine and cheese with grapes?
- Which problem might you encounter when pairing cheese with crackers?
- What creative bread and cheese pairing should you try?
- Which type of underappreciated wine does Janet recommend as a great pairing with cheese?
- Why is Gouda the perfect cheese to pair with your brandy?
- Why is sparkling wine Janet’s “desert island wine”?
- What characteristics and flavours will you pick up on with Tomales Teleeka cheese?
- What do you need to know about double and triple cream cheeses?
- How are wine and cheese very similar?
- Which little-known, connoisseur-approved wine and cheese pairing should you try?
- What’s the right way to serve Parmigiano-Reggiano?
- Why does Parmigiano-Reggiano make a great table cheese?
- Why do contrasting textures work so well with wine and cheese pairings?
- How can you tell which cheeses aren’t meant to be sliced?
- What basic tips can you use when choosing a cheese knife?
- Should you eat the rinds on cheeses?
- Can you pair blue cheese with sparkling wine?
- How many cheeses should you serve at a dinner party?
- Can you use the horizontal tasting concept with cheese?
- What’s the best way you can pair sparkling wine with goat cheese?
- I love Janet’s advice that simplicity is often the key to a great cheese board — let the cheese be the star both visually and flavour-wise rather than a lot of condiments.
- When it comes to condiments, many can clash with your wine whether they’re sweet, vinegary or pickled. The same goes with bread and crackers, best to stick to fairly neutral flavours.
- I can’t wait to experiment more with sherry and cheeses, especially an aged Gouda that has those nutty, butterscotch flavours.
- I found it interesting that triple cream cheeses are about 75% butterfat — that’s the dry matter without any water versus 62% for double cream cheeses and 45% for average cheeses.
- It’s interesting how our perception of the salt in cheese increases as it ages and loses moisture.
- Janet has great advice for chipping rather than cutting hard cheeses to maintain their crunchy crystalize structure — you can see the special knife she recommends in the video version of our conversation
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Natalie MacLean 0:55
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast.
Natalie MacLean 1:12
I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 105. What are the best wine and cheese pairings you’ve never heard of; but should try? How can you make this holiday season more festive with cheese boards? Why are crackers and bread not necessarily great matches for cheese? Have you been serving cheeses the wrong way?
Natalie MacLean 2:04
And should you eat rinds on cheeses? That’s exactly what you’ll discover in this episode of the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m chatting with Janet Fletcher, a multiple award winning author about wine, food and especially cheese. We’re talking about wine and cheese pairings for your holidays. This conversation took place on my Facebook Live video show several years ago. So please keep that in mind as the context for Janet’s comments. You can find links to the wines and cheeses we tasted, the video version of this chat, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm, including this evening if you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s published, and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/105.
Now on a personal note before we dive into the show, Miles and I put up the Christmas tree yesterday, without our annual spat about the elegant blue and white lights versus the Las Vegas looking multicolor blinkers. Can you guess which ones I like? Anyhoo we settled that last year, blue and white on the tree, outside its Las Vegas baby. I felt festive, but also a little sad. My mother who lives in Halifax won’t be able to join us this year. It’s just too risky for her to travel to Ottawa even though she is in good health. We’re going to open our gifts on Zoom. But you know, it’s just not the same. But we have developed a closer relationship during the lockdown. We talk more frequently and openly about our feelings and what’s going on in our lives. And for that, I am grateful. Okay, on with the show.
Holidays are right around the corner. And I think one of the easiest ways to entertain is with wine and cheese being the easiest and most delicious. But which wines with which cheeses. Our guest who joins me live from Napa Valley is going to give us lots of super insider tips and pairings that we can try this holiday. Now, our guest this evening has written almost 30 books on the topic of food and beverage, and she’s won many awards from James Beard to others for her work. She’s written books like Cheese & Beer as well. And many other topics. She also runs the very popular website blog, Planet Cheese, and she joins me live from her home in Napa Valley; Now welcome Janet Fletcher.
Janet Fletcher 4:56
Thanks, Natalie, fun talking with you. Excellent. Perfect.
Natalie MacLean 4:59
Excellent. Perfect. So that was really high level, my intro. Fill in some details that I left out, maybe tell us something that would surprise folks about yourself, whatever you wish.
Janet Fletcher 5:08
Well, wine and food and cheese and gardening are my life. This is what I do for a living and it’s what I do for pleasure. So I’ve just had the good fortune of being able to bridge the things I love most with my profession. And it’s been just a really fun way to make a living for the last 30 years. I write a lot about produce as well, about farms and farming, and sustainable agriculture. In recent years at Cheese, I would say over the last 15 years, it’s become kind of a subspecialty. And I think I’m more and more known for my cheese classes, my Planet Cheese blog. Now, I still think of myself as a general food writer, but a lot of people when they hear my name first they think of cheese.
Natalie MacLean 5:51
Excellent. Well, so Janet, when did you first realise that you wanted to write about cheese? What was it that drew you to cheese specifically, among all the other produce, and wine and beer and so on? What was it about cheese?
Janet Fletcher 6:06
Well, what really happened is that, you know, as a food writer, a cookbook writer, cookbook author, I’m always on the lookout for the next trend, you know, what’s the next thing people are talking about that I might want to write about that captures my fancy. And it was maybe 15 or 17 years ago that I started noticing that in the States, more and more restaurants were serving cheese. For so many years they didn’t, and if they did serve cheese, it was really a half hearted effort. Maybe they had a wheel of Brie in the fridge and they would bring it out of somebody asked for cheese. And so consequently, nobody ever did that for cheese. And restaurants just didn’t serve it. I started to see more and more cheese plates, cheese cards coming into restaurants. And more than that, I started to see that chefs were doing interesting things with cheese, they were adding a certain condiment or a special bread or using the cheese creatively in a salad or with a comment. So I started to think about the idea of a little book that I called the Cheese Course, that could help people put cheese in the context of a course with something that kind of showed it off and merchandised it a little more so that people would want it. So that was my first book about cheese, it’s still in print. And it led to my being asked to write a column for the San Francisco Chronicle where I already was writing food pieces, but they said why don’t you do a cheese column? So that ran for about 10 years, and I just learned by writing. So that was really my deep dive in the culture and science and history of cheese and the people behind cheese, which as an adult, I’ve always enjoyed, its always been part of our table.
Natalie MacLean 7:43
And so going back to that first book, what suggestions did you have in there with pairing cheese with other foods to make it more of a course so to speak ? What were you suggesting that people do with cheese?
Janet Fletcher 7:55
Well,I would say you know, these days I probably back off of that a little bit, more than I did back then. Then I was looking at trying to persuade people to have some cheese, you know at the end of the meal and if it took having an apple chutney on the plate with it or serving it with a homemade walnut bread to make them want to have it, then that’s what I was going to suggest to people.
These days I love just cheese by itself.
Janet Fletcher 8:28
At my house a cheese course is just whatever’s in the fridge, brought out ahead of time so its at room temperature and served very simply, often just with bread/no bread.
Janet Fletcher 8:33
I might like a bit of honey with blue cheese
Janet Fletcher 8:37
But honestly Natalie, I’m also very happy just having the cheese all by itself. So I’d like for people to think that it’s perfectly okay to make a cheese course out of just the cheese.
Natalie MacLean 8:50
Well, yeah, it sort of parallels the return to “Hey, it’s all about the good ingredients and they don’t need to be dressed up.” You know, they don’t need to be over sauced, dressed, garnished, whatever. When you have great cheese, and I would say great wine, that’s all you need.
Janet Fletcher 9:06
The other issue for me with some of these condiments, which are beautiful on a plate; it’s lovely to see the honeys and the pickles and chutneys and all that but then they create a wine issue. Once you bring it something that’s really sweet, or really picklely/vinegary, you create a little more of a challenge for wine. If I’m also trying to show off a special wine then I am probably going to avoid anything that’s really sweet. So I’m going to serve a dessert wine but otherwise I’m going to lean towards a more savoury complement for my cheese like some roasted nuts. These days, being November we have a lot of new crop nuts around so like maybe just bring out some walnuts in the shell to have with the cheese and those are good partners for dry wines.
Natalie MacLean 9:53
Absolutely. And I’ve always thought that even though you see the very cliche stock shot of cheese with grapes, it’s like grapes are probably one of the worst combos you could have with wine because very few wines actually smell and taste like grapes. And then when compared to a grape, they start to taste bitter; the wines
Natalie MacLean 10:10
Anyway,I guess that’s just the old stock shot. But I like your idea of savoury. Would you carry that through to any sort of crackers or bread or like do you tend toward like a rye or deep flavoured bread or cracker.
Janet Fletcher 10:25
I’m actually not a big cracker enthusiast. I know people love crackers. It’s a nice contrast maybe with a softer creamy cheese. But the thing about crackers is they usually have something on them, like seeds or spices and they have fat in them. And you’re already having it with something that’s high in fat. So I don’t want a cracker with cheese for the most part. And frankly, I don’t even usually eat bread with with cheese unless it’s a very soft and creamy gooey thing that needs to be spread on something. I eat my cheese with a knife and fork. And if there’s bread, it’s usually a plain pain au levain type bread. My husband’s an avid Baker. So we have a lot of great homemade breads, sourdough type, and walnut breads that are really fun to have a blue cheese or goat cheese. Sometimes I’ll bring him a walnut bread, or he’ll make one. But I don’t use sweet breads, I will eat sweet bread but it’s not something I would think of with cheese except maybe a blue, like a raisin bread with a blue strikes me like a nice idea. Yeah,
Natalie MacLean 11:30
Yeah,I’m feeling the virtual taste in my mouth already. So Janet, maybe you can talk to us about maybe one of the more unusual cheese and wine pairings that you’ve ever experienced, whether you put it together or somebody else did and presented it to you. Well,
Janet Fletcher 11:47
Well, I’ll tell you about what I think is a real underappreciated wine and cheese pairing. So I think I’m a big fan of sherry. And I think people don’t drink enough Sherry, it has a lot going for it. One thing being that is very reasonably priced. Most sherries are; there are some super fine wines that are pricey but most sherries are very reasonably priced. Because they have elevated alcohol you don’t have to drink the whole bottle, you can cork it back up and put it back in your cellar and drink it over a period of weeks. And they come in a range of styles that all have something to offer cheese. With a lot of cheeses I like the sherries that are just off dry like Amontillado styles, Oloroso styles and some of the drier Olorosos that are quite dry but they’re nutty. Yes and they have a lot of body from the alcohol. They don’t surprise me but I think I surprise other people when I bring out something like an Amontillado or Oloroso cheese course. People are accustomed to having Port with cheese or maybe a Sauternes with a blue but the idea of having an Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry with cheeses is new to a lot of people and I hope I make a lot of converts.
Natalie MacLean 12:57
Yeah, Sherry is a forgotten wine. It’s sort of like Grandma’s wine or the old don at Oxford wine but seriously like the, you know, the nuttiness as you say. And just the more balanced, just a touch of sweetness as opposed to the richness of port which certainly you know is lovely, perhaps with a Stilton or whatever. But still I think Sherry is a greatly underappreciated wine and you can get it for a great price usually.
Janet Fletcher 13:24
And on there,in the same vein, the same kind of family of wines, is Madeira. Who drinks Madeira? Yeah, we associated it with grandma
Natalie MacLean 13:33
or cooking, just for cooking.
Janet Fletcher 13:35
Yeah. Which is not the kind of Madeira you would want to drink but a good rainwater Madeira, or Verdelho Madeira. Those are magnificent with cheeses that have a nutty quality like an Alpine style Comté or Brie or anything in that nutty Alpine style. And blues are just fabulous with Madeira,
Natalie MacLean 13:57
right because naturally a blue would go with walnuts; you were talking about that earlier, so why not have that nutty character in the wine as well. And the extra fortification, the extra alcohol, the extra bit of sweetness, that gives that richness to handle the creaminess I would imagine of the flavours and the stronger flavours of the cheese.
To acknowledge some comments over here: Lise: I drink brandy with cheese, any suggestions? Do you like any pairings between brandy and cheese, Janet?
Janet Fletcher 14:26
you know what comes to mind is something like a really aged Gouda or as Dutch say it phonetically “how-duh” or Dutch. These Buddhists get almost whiskey aromas and they’re really aged, like a couple of years old. They get a butterscotch, caramelly and just a hint of that kind of peaty scotch smell and they have a lot of concentration, because they’re aged, other two and three years old. So they’ve lost a lot of moisture. They’re hard, they’re dry, and they’re very intense and almost candy like and I think a whiskey would be a great thing to have with them.
Natalie MacLean 15:01
Oh that sounds good. You’re making me hungry so I’m sneaking some cheese. Let’s get into the pairings that you have. Now I know you have a sparkler so I’ve poured myself a sparkler; I’ve got Graham Beck from South Africa. Which one do you have?
Janet Fletcher 15:14
Well I brought into my office even though I normally do not do this but why not? Roederer because this is really my go to sparkling wine; California produced, it is not only delicious but it’s amazingly well priced; it’s half the price of a good champagne or less and it’s, I think, a comparable quality. Just the plain Roederer estate, so this of course is the in the same family as French Roederer, owned by the same company and made by the same standards, but with California grapes and I just think it’s a super buy; well priced enough so that it’s not a special occasion beverage at our house; we have it a lot and you know if you invest in a good champagne stopper (cost almost nothing) , you don’t have to drink the whole bottle. “It’s true” Fresh for at least until the next day and sometimes the day after that. So oftentimes, my husband and I will have a glass of sparkling wine over three nights from the same bottle and it’s almost as good the third night as it was the first
Natalie MacLean 16:21
absolutely and there’s the preservative of the natural acidity of the wine and the bubbles and the effervescence. I think it all goes together. Roederer’s one of my favourite, we get it pretty reasonably priced up here in Canada as well. It’s usually just around the $30 mark for us; course there’s a currency difference there, but entry level champagne is still $$60-$65 if you’re lucky for us here. So you’re taking the Roederer, I’m going with the Graham Beck here. And what is the first cheese that you would like to pair with this sparkling wine?
Janet Fletcher 16:55
Well, the thing about sparkling wine, a dry sparkling wine, and there’s room for some of the off dry ones as well but with the dry sparkling wines, I just find that for me that this is a desert island wine if I can only have one for my cheese board. It can really go the distance; it can accompany a lot of different styles of cheese. I think first of all, people tend to think of sparkling wine with triple cream cheeses, which is a slam dunk, because you have that rich fat layer of cream on your tongue and then the bubbles come along and scrub your tongue clean and you’re ready for another bite. So I brought in a cheese, it’s not a triple cream, but it’s a double cream and the fat is elevated. And it is a mixed milk cheese. It’s cow sheep and goat from California from my backyard. Inspired I would say by the Italian cheese that a lot of listeners may know called La Tur from northern Italy. That’s pretty easy to find these days. And this one is modelled after La Tur and it’s called Teleeka. And it’s from Marin County, California, West Marin, a very bucolic landscape and the owners of the creamery have the sheep and goats. They buy the cow’s milk from just down the road. So this is not what we call a farmstead cheese where all the milk comes from your own farm, they do buy the cow’s milk, but it’s a lovely luscious blend. It’s got a soft rind, softer than a Brie rind and it is very fluffy; especially when it’s nicely matured. It has mushroom notes, but it has this fluffy creamy texture.
Natalie MacLean 18:36
That sounds good.
Janet Fletcher 18:38
luscious is the word for it and you want those bubbles to come along behind and cleanse your palate.
Natalie MacLean 18:44
Oh, you are doing a marvellous job of making us thirsty and hungry. Now what’s the difference Janet between a triple and a double cream and maybe I don’t know if there are such things as single,
Janet Fletcher 18:55
single only? Well, in France, there are actual legal definitions. Triple cream has to be 75% fat and double cream has to be, I forget, I think it’s like 62 or 65% fat, okay, and then I would say kind of average cheeses are about 45% fat; 45 to 48. That’s a law in France. Here we don’t have those laws, but I would say that most American cheese makers are going to follow those guidelines. So if you see a triple cream cheese here like Mount Tam from Cowgirl Creamery, one of our country’s most popular triple creams, I’m quite sure that that cheese is a minimum of 72 to 75% fat. Now what you need to know is that that measurement of fat is taken in what’s called the dry matter. So it’s if you took the cheese and took all the water out, okay, then you measure the fat and what’s left. You know a lot of cheeses like a Mount Tam are half water. So by the time you add the water back in, the real cheese is not 75% fat is more like half that. It’s really more like 37% fat because the fat content is just measured in the dry part. I don’t want people to think they’re close to eating a stick of butter, which is 82% fat.
Natalie MacLean 20:09
good comparison. Actually, yeah,
Janet Fletcher 20:11
that’s the convention in the cheese world, to measure the fat in the cup of dry matter. That’s how we do it. And then a double cream is just, you know, under that and then we don’t use the term single cream, but that would be a cheese that has not had cream added. So the only way you can get to a double cream or a triple cream is by adding some cream. In fact, I think I misspoke when I said Teleeka is a double cream because they don’t add cream to that. They don’t add cream to it. It just seems like it is you can’t take milk alone and get to a double cream or triple cream; we have to add the fat.
Natalie MacLean 20:43
Okay, there’s some similarities with the wine world that I’m hearing; like with fortified wines and you can’t get to fortified without adding something grape must, sugar, whatever.
Janet Fletcher 20:54
Yeah, there are lots of similarities. You know, to me, one of the biggest ones is that cheese makers, like winemakers start, with the simplest palette of ingredients, they have milk, and they have cultures and they have rennet or something like rennet, just like wine makers have grapes and yeast
Natalie MacLean 21:13
grape juice, fresh liquids that are going to be fermented.
Janet Fletcher 21:15
What gives us such a range of taste experiences in the cheese world and the wine world are the decisions that the producer makes along the way, that take it in one direction or another. And of course, with wine, there’s a little more that place element that comes into play a little bit less so withmost cheeses but with cheese, it’s more that the cheese maker makes a million little decisions all along the way in that recipe that takes milk and cultures and a little bit of rennet and makes so many different kinds of cheese.
Natalie MacLean 21:47
Well, okay, so this pairing then works. We talked about the sort of scrubbing of the palate with the sparkling wine. The rich fat gets scrubbed away. What other cheeses do you have there? What’s the next cheese Janet?
Janet Fletcher 22:00
Well, this is a pairing that I think connoisseurs are familiar with, but maybe others are a little surprised by it. And that’s a sparkling wine with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Unknown Speaker 22:10
Janet Fletcher 22:12
I can’t remember where I first had that but I think it was someone’s home and they served it before dinner. There was just a chunk of parm on the kitchen counter and a parmesan knife, which is a nice thing to have if you don’t own one. A Parmigiano Reggiano knife is a blunt knife, almost every kitchenware store is going to have it, the blade is short, and it’s got almost a heart shape. And it’s blunt, and you can chip off chunks of the cheese and so you never want to slice a wedge Parmigiano Reggiano because you’re gonna ruin the crystallisation, you’re gonna ruin the structure of it.
Unknown Speaker 22:44
Oh, really? So you don’t saw at it with a knife
Janet Fletcher 22:45
No you don’t saw, you don’t slice it. You take a Parmigiano Reggiano knife and you make chunks.
Natalie MacLean 22:51
Okay, like you wedge it out.
Janet Fletcher 22:52
Okay, yeah, you’re gonna get rocky wedges, then people can experience that craggy and kind of rocky texture to it. But it was wonderful with sparkling wine before dinner or at the end of a meal on a cheese tray. Too many people; well, taught a cheese class yesterday and I asked people how many of you have Parmigiano Reggiano in your fridge and three quarters of the hands in the room went up. Everybody’s got it for pasta, to grate on pasta, but it’s so much more than a grating cheese. It’s an absolutely delicious table cheese just to nibble on. It’s nutty and concentrated and super high in umami. And I like it. It’s very nice with the Roederer. Roederer also makes a fancier cuvée called L’Ermitage. It’s their vintage sparkling wine and it’s a little richer. And that is really sublime with Parmigiano Reggiano. I would say rather than a blanc de blancs, I would go with a sparkling wine that had a little more richness
Natalie MacLean 23:49
more depth, maybe a more of the presence of a red grape for the robustness,
Janet Fletcher 23:53
perhaps some age you know, the little bit of age on a sparkling wine can be a nice thing. And that would be when you start to get some more of those nutty aromas in sparkling wine. They’re just great with Parmigiano Reggiano, which is so nutty
Natalie MacLean 24:07
and what’s different? What’s happening with this pairing of the sparkling wine with the parmesan versus the creamy cheese. This is a different pairing. Why is it working in this case? Same wine, different cheese
Janet Fletcher 24:18
The first one is more about a contrast of textures; the creaminess on your palate versus the crisp brisk bubbles. So you have some very pleasing contrast with the textures. The Parmesan Reggiano, I think it maybe has a little bit to do with the salt. Because parm is aged for two, you know, anywhere from one year on up, but mostly what you’re going to see in stores is probably about two years old, and they get more concentrated and the salt doesn’t come up; the perception of salt comes up because you’re losing moisture, the percentage of salt in the cheese is coming up and you perceive them as salty and highly savoury. There’s almost a saline note too in some sparkling wines I think. it’s the reason we like sparkling wine often with shellfish.
Unknown Speaker 25:04
Janet Fletcher 25:04
there’s just a little bit of that statement echo that I think is very pleasing. And also Parmigiano Reggiano would be a great moment to bring in an off dry or extra dry style of sparkling wine where you get just a touch of sweetness. The Roederer is extra dry, which I had, I think the first time yesterday, just strikes my taste. You don’t really perceive sweetness, you just know that it’s a little more rounded, a little more mellow. No brisk acidity, it is softened up a little bit and we had it yesterday with Parmigiano Reggiano and it was just lovely.
Natalie MacLean 25:39
You’re making my salivary glands activate, which is great
Unknown Speaker 25:45
That’s okay, go ahead.
Natalie MacLean 25:48
All right. Are there other cheeses that you don’t slice as well?
Janet Fletcher 25:51
Yeah, I think anytime you have a cheese that’s really dry and brittle and got that kind of friable texture, it’s not going to slice nicely anyway. Oh, it’s nice to have yourself one of those parm knives so people can just break off chunks, so that when they get to three years, they have that same kind of not quite as dry as a parm but they’re very friable and so they don’t slice all that cleanly. So yeah use a Parm knife for those, or a more blunt knife and break off chunks. And I know most people don’t share this, but I like Pecorino Romano also as a table cheese when it’s not super dry. Sure. It’s sharpened, sheepy and strong. And that too. I’ll just break up little chunks with a parm knife.
Natalie MacLean 26:41
There’s even a wine called Pecorino from northern Italy. Zippy high acid, but I am getting myself a parm knife after this chat. I’m intrigued.
Janet Fletcher 26:50
Yeah, you don’t have to invest a lot. Almost any cookware store will have an inexpensive one. But I’ll show you this one. Yes. I bought myself a little treat. Last look at that one. So this is a parm knife. For one, it’s got a stone handle. I like it. And it’s just elegant and lovely. I had to have it
Natalie MacLean 27:13
Yes, you’re making me covet that. Is it available online or where did you get i?
Janet Fletcher 27:15
I bought it in a small store in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, and I don’t see any kind of brand on it. So I know who the manufacturer was, but they had all sorts of different shapes. And I don’t like people who feel like they have to fuss with cheese, but there are different knives that you can invest in. If you want to go all out and people have probably seen that knife that has the holes in the blade, right? It’s a longer knife than the parm knife I just showed you and it has like cutouts in the blade. And that’s useful for cutting soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert because then the paste ( the paste is the term for the interior) doesn’t stick to the knife so you can get a nice clean cut. So those are good. And then there’s another classic shape for Stilton. It’s more of a paddle and it’s kind of looks like a shovel. It doesn’t have a curve to it. And it’s you just use it to kind of slice off pieces of Stilton or Stilton like blues. Well, so this is just ceremony. It’s just like the wine you have different decanting and you know people have different glasses for different wines. Yes, there are reasons for all of them. But you can certainly enjoy most wines out of just a standard 12 ounce wine glass.
Natalie MacLean 28:33
Absolutely. Absolutely. And with the rind I know there are certain ones you cannot eat because they’re wax or something but with your Brie say is that where the flavour is: like, I’ve heard lots of people go I just like to chop off the rind. But are we missing something with that as well?
Janet Fletcher 28:50
It depends who you ask. Okay. Yeah, I once went to a seminar that was led by a very well known French affineur, somebody who’s an expert at aging cheeses. He was here in the States doing some workshops all around the country. And that question came up and he said, Oh, no, you never eat the rind. You know, the rind is just the package. Oh, and oh, I often eat the rind. And I’ve seen other people eat the rind and Italians eat the rind. It depends. You know, sometimes the rind is a very tasty part of the cheese. I think often with like washed rinds like a Muenster, Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery these cheeses that are moist and usually kind of fleshy coloured on the outside. They’ve been washed with brine, and they have a lot of bacteria growing on the outside: good bacteria. And the rind then is a wonderful part of the cheese; a Robiola, or Taleggio, are examples of this category of washed rind cheeses that have these wet kind of salty rinds. And I love that crunch that you get when you eat that rind. I would never cut it away. A Brie, Camembert style cheese, I might cut it away if it seems strong, but I’m gonna try it. See if it’s enhancing the cheese or if it’s maybe getting kind of ammoniated in which case I’ll cut it away. Some of the really hard rinds they won’t hurt you to eat them. There’s nothing on them that’s harmful, but they, they’re just not that pleasant. They’re hard and they don’t add to the cheeses, you know, aesthetic appeal. So in that case, I’m going to kind of cut the rind away. Bottom line, Natalie is that you should do what tastes good to you. Yeah. And if the rind is adding to your pleasure in the cheese. It’s perfectly okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat the rind. And if you find that it’s detracting from your pleasure in the cheese, it’s perfectly okay to cut it away.
Natalie MacLean 30:41
Oh, that’s good advice for wine as well. Cut it away if you don’t like it. And I don’t know if this is just fanciful, but I’ve heard like the cheese that’s close to the rind. I don’t know if it’s just in creamy cheeses, is like the meat that’s close to the bone, it’s the most flavorful, it’s developed all these flavour is it at all, in comparison to the juicy meat, the tender meat, that’s close to the bone.
Janet Fletcher 31:05
That’s a great analogy. And I’ve never heard that; I’m going to use it. It’s a really good analogy because yes, typically, pastes, the inside of the cheese that’s right up by the rind, is the most flavorful, the most developed. Also, maybe the most salty, because that’s where everything is leaving from, all that moisture is evaporating out and refined, and all the changes are happening or with most styles of cheese, the changes are happening from the outside in. So the centre is going to be a little different taste experience, then the cheese just under the rind, which is why when I cut cheese for people, if I am say, making a serving a cheese course to guests, and I want to play that up first so that everybody gets their own plate, (I do this in my classes as well) I try to make sure that everybody has a piece of the rind and a piece of the heart because they’re different experiences. So when you’re going to cut a piece of cheese for yourself or for others think about how can I cut this cheese so that I and everybody else gets an equivalent experience and experiences all the parts of the cheese, the centre, towards and then towards the rind. I don’t cut rinds away before I serve to my guests. I try to leave a piece of the rind intact for everybody. It’s part of the beauty of the cheese.
Unknown Speaker 32:25
Yes it is. Janet, what’s your third cheese there that you have with this sparkling wine?
Janet Fletcher 32:29
Well, I brought in a blue. You know I think that kind of surprises people. They don’t often go in that direction. They think of blue cheese and sweet wine. But I brought in a mellow blue that I think a sparkling wine can handle. Blues too seem to have a little bit of elevated salt like that Parmigiano Reggiano and I think that sparkling wine speaks to that salt. This is a blue from Oregon, one of the country’s finest blue producers, Rogue Creamery in Oregon, they are known for their blues. And this one is, I think it’s the only mixed milk blue they make and it is cow and goat. And it’s called Echo Mountain blue from Rogue. And I like it with sparkling wine because it’s not too robust. It’s got a kind of a buttermilky note to it, but it’s buttery. It’s not really sharp or peppery or pecan. Those are the blues that I might stay away from unless I was having a sweet sparkling wine. But you want a blue, thats buttery, buttery creamy. Yeah, like a Stilton. In Vermont, we have the Baby Hazel blue from Jasper Hill, that’s also in that same buttery, nutty category. Oh, let’s see what else wouldn’t. There’s some from northern Italy that are quite buttery. From France Fourme d’Ambert, a very mellow blue, Bleu d’Auvergne that’s a pretty mellow blue. And these they’re just a nice taste experience with sparkling wine. Now most people don’t serve just one cheese. And if they have a cheese course, they serve an assortment of cheeses. And it’s nice to have a range of cheeses on your board. So many people like to end with the blue. So I think if you’re going to have a sparkling wine with your cheese course, you want to have a blue. Look for that nutty, mellow flavour profile, not a really spicy Roquefort. Love Roquefort but it’s not going to work. It’s too peppery and spicy and just attention grabbing on its own. It needs a dessert wine. Not a Roquefort not a Gorgonzola; again, that’s just too big and pungent and it needs a dessert wine.
Natalie MacLean 34:38
Absolutely. And we have some great cheeses here in both Ontario and Quebec that are creamy and blue and made in different monasteries that have a long tradition of making cheese and I just find that creaminess in conjunction with the tanginess and saltiness of the blue element is just wonderful.
Question from Jim Clark: How many cheese selections would be best? I guess it’s depends on the size of your party. But let’s just say you’re having a dinner party, Janet, for 10 people, how many cheeses would you set out,
Janet Fletcher 35:10
I’m probably going to serve three, I always like to serve an odd number, it’s just kind of a aesthetic choice to have an odd number, and five just seems to be a little too much, it kind of brings the dinner party to a halt. Before it comes out, nobody can remember what’s what. So I usually either do three, sometimes I actually do just serve a single beautiful piece of cheese, just if I find it special at my cheese market, and I might just say, give me a big beautiful piece of that. And we’ll just have one cheese. And that’s the focus of the dessert course. So especially with the blue, I might make a dessert out of it, I’ve taken some nuts, I’d love to do this at this time of year. In the winter, I’ll take several different kinds of nuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, toast them separately, because they take different times to get done. And then I put them together and fold them into honey, honey that is spoonable, that I’ve warmed a little bit, so it’s spoonable. And I’ll stir those nuts into the honey. And then use that as a condiment for the blue cheese, nice piece of bread, a dessert wine, and that is dessert. And it took five minutes to make. And people really enjoy that as a dessert course. If you’re going to do three cheeses, I have two pieces of advice and they’re different. One is kind of a standard practice to aim for variety on your cheeseboard. So if you’re going to have three, you want to make sure you have some range in age from young to old range and textures. You want to have something that’s creamy and something that’s hard, something that’s mild and something that’s strong, so that there’s a little bit of something for everybody. And different kinds of milks can help you with that variety; cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo. I even tried sometimes to think about visual variety. They have different colours and shapes on my cheese board. Now, having said that, I think it’s really fun sometimes to do what the wine people do when they have horizontal tasting. And then taste Pinots from California and Oregon, and France and you know, compare them horizontally. You can do that with cheese too. Why not have a cheddar tasting? Have an English cheddar with a Vermont cheddar with a California cheddar and a Canadian cheddar. And you will be amazed at the differences of side by side. Yeah, that’s a I think another fun experiences to think about that horizontal tasting as a cheese possibility for your guests.
Natalie MacLean 37:46
Great idea. Let me go to Laurie first. Laurie: I love truffle cheese. I’ve had truffle we call it Truffaut up here or it’s a brand name. I’m addicted to it. I need an intervention to get off this stuff, actually. But what’s your feeling on truffle or truffle inflected cheeses?
Janet Fletcher 38:04
Yeah, I don’t know that specific one you mean. We do see number of truffle cheeses here in the States, usually at holiday time. You see more of them? Yeah, I like some more than others. I’m thinking I like that truffle character to be muted, to be more subtle. I tend to prefer it with cow’s milk cheeses, as opposed to goat’s milk cheeses. I just think those mushroomy flavours are more compatible with the buttery notes you get out of cow’s milk. So if I’m going to have a truffle cheese, I’m probably going to look for a cow’s milk one. The one that comes to mind that I think is just reliable and well made and widely available is Sottocenere al Tartufo, from Italy from northern Italy. It’s a cow’s milk, truffle cheese. I’ve actually visited the Creamery and I know they use real truffles. I saw them go into the bath. So I know they’re not using truffle oil, which, to me is just so easy to overuse. There’s another one from Italy that’s very appealing, even though I just said I don’t normally like it with goat’s milk. It’s a little a little goat’s milk cheese called Caprino Cremoso. Oh, it’s just a couple of weeks old probably when it gets here and they just put like a little truffle on top. And so it’s very subtle. And that’s a pretty little cheese.
Natalie MacLean 39:17
That’s nice, real truffles like using real oak barrels as opposed to chips
Janet Fletcher 39:21
so many parallels. Yeah, and you are a wine authority and you tell when they’ve used oak chips and I can usually tell when they use truffle oil; it takes it over the top. The vast majority of truffle oil is made with real truffles.
Natalie MacLean 39:40
Oh, I didn’t know that. From Emery Chivers: what about goats cheese with sparkling. I would think that would work a fresh cheese with sparkling.
Janet Fletcher 39:49
Yeah, actually I even like the more mature goat cheeses with sparkling wines. The simple one yesterday in my class; it was like a six month aged goat cheese and when those cheeses are aged that long, they get more caramel notes; they get nutty. They turn from white to ivory, they get hard, of course, and they develop these nutty notes. Like they’ll sit in a tray if you’ve ever had that when you take goat’s milk and you cook it down and down and down and down, it gets caramel like, and that’s what happens to these cheeses. Goat Goudas have that caramel note that can be really nice with sparkling wine. Sure a fresh creamy goat cheese with sparkling wine can be very, very pleasant way to start a meal. What I like to do with those really simple goat cheeses that don’t have a rind on them, I’ll put them in a little ramekin and put some good olive oil on them. crack some black pepper on top, maybe lay a pine sprig on top and then put them in an oven just until they warm up and they’ll start to quiver. I’m not trying to melt them, and then they become even more spreadable and just compelling. You just have to have a crostini to spread that one goat cheese on and that is a great appetizer
Natalie MacLean 41:07
very compelling. And Anne Marie says I’m so hungry. Oh my gosh, this has flown by so fast, Janet, let’s make sure we’ve covered everything. Is there the best piece of advice you can give or you’ve received when it comes to pairing wine and cheese?
Janet Fletcher 41:24
Well, we’ve touched on this a little bit, you go with your own palate, if it doesn’t taste good to you it’s not a good match. What I’m really trying to do, when I think about wine and cheese pairing, I’m trying to protect the wine. Because in my experience, the wine rarely makes the cheese taste better or worse, but the cheese can make the wine taste better or worse. I’m really trying not to have a pairing with a cheese that makes the wine tastes worse. Presumably I’m serving a wine I like so I want cheese that either leaves the wine kind of neutral, unchanged or brings out some aroma or heightens the aroma. So you just have to be wary. I have one fundamental guideline is to try to match up intensities. You do this with all food and wine pairing. And it’s same with cheese and wine pairing you want light with light and richer or bolder with richer, bolder wines. So lighter, younger, fresher cheeses I tend to put wih lighter, younger fresher wines. And as the cheese moves up in age and intensity and pungency, then I want a wine that’s bigger, stronger, older
Natalie MacLean 42:33
makes total sense. Now Janet, you had mentioned you have a recipe that you are willing to send to people if they email you. Maybe tell us about the recipe and where folks can contact you.
Janet Fletcher 42:45
Sure, well, I thought of it because we were talking about sparkling wine and cheese and one of my favourite things and it’s a holiday time and one of my favourite appetisers year round, but especially now with sparkling wine is gougère which is like a little French cream puff but it doesn’t have a filling, it’s savoury and it’s made with a cream puff batter, but it’s got some cheese in it. I usually use Gruyère and a local Napa chef gave me her recipe; hers are the best I’ve ever had. And she gave me her recipe last year and I put it in my blog Planet Cheese. And I would be delighted to send the recipe to any of your listeners who want to send me an email and sign up for Planet Cheese but they can just contact me; my email address which is Fletcher@food riter.com or if they go to Planet cheese.org they can sign up for my newsletter that way. If they email me I’d be happy them the Boucher recipe.
Unknown Speaker 43:53
I’m going to do that.
Unknown Speaker 43:54
I want that. Well, it’s easy, and it’s failproof
Natalie MacLean 43:57
Oh, and it’s the holidays. I can’t wait to do this for somebody
Janet Fletcher 44:03
you can stick it in the freezer and then just pop them in the oven when guests come over.
Natalie MacLean 44:07
So glad to have. Oh, Janet, this is fantastic. What a great chat we’ve had. I really appreciate you taking the time and some great tips here. Janet, I wish you all the best with your courses, your books and so on and thank yo for joining us.
Janet Fletcher 44:21
Thanks, Natalie. It’s been my pleasure.
Natalie MacLean 44:23
Okay, take care. Okay, bye
Unknown Speaker 44:24
Natalie MacLean 44:30
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Janet Fletcher. Here are my takeaways.
Number one, I love Janet’s advice that simplicity is often the key to a great cheese board. Let the cheese be the star, both visually and flavour wise rather than a lot of condiments,
Two: When it comes to condiments, many can clash with your wine, whether they’re sweet, vinegary, or pickled. The same thing goes with bread and crackers so it’s best to stick to fairly neutral flavours
Three: I can’t wait to experiment more with Sherry and cheeses, especially an aged Gouda with those nutty butterscotch flavours.
Four: I found it interesting that triple cream cheeses are about 75% butterfat, and of course, that’s the dry matter without water, versus 62% for double cream, cheeses and 45% on average for most cheeses
Five: it’s interesting how our perception of the salt and cheese increases as it ages and loses moisture. Although of course, that makes sense.
Six: Janet has great advice for chipping rather than cutting hard cheeses to maintain their crunchy, crystalline structure. You can see the special knife she recommends in the video version of our conversation, which you’ll find in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/105.
You’ll also find links to the wines and cheeses we’ve tasted there, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm including tonight if you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s published, and how you can join me in a free online food and wine pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/105.
You won’t want to miss next week when I’m chatting with Joel Gott who purchased a few tonnes of Zinfandel back in 1996. And with the help of his then girlfriend now wife, and winemaker at Joseph Phelps, Sarah, produced his first vintage of wine. It received wide praise from critics, which was all the encouragement he needed to produce additional varietals. He joins me from his winery and home in Napa Valley next week. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 53 with the Globe and Mail’s Christine Sismondo, go back and take a listen. We chat about festive wine, spirits and mixed drinks for the holidays. She tells some fascinating stories about the drinks too. I’ll share a clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Christine Sismondo 47:12
The flavour of Franciacorta drives me right to it every single time. I think it’s just a really elegant, you know, I don’t want to compare it to champagne because I believe that they should be all judged according to their own standards. But of course it is in that direction and it’s dry, the bubbles are really fine. The flavour is really elegant and perfect. And the Glera grape to me has a little bit of sweetness that I find a little less palatable than the grape mix that’s being used for Franciacorta
Natalie MacLean 47:43
and Glera being the grape used for Prosecco. So why is Franciacorta then more expensive? you’re alluding to it but are there some core things that they do making Franciacorta that do add cost to the process?
Christine Sismondo 47:58
So as I understand that not all Prosecco is Charmat method, but the vast majority of it is, so there are some exceptions to that. Whereas with the Franciacorta there is no Charmat being used whatsoever.
Natalie MacLean 48:17
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wine and cheese tips that Janet Fletcher shaied. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a Sherry that pairs perfectly with the mature Buddha.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie MacLean comm forward slash subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers