Larkmead's Dan Petroski: Loire Cheese & Wine
Larkmead Vineyard's Assistant Winemaker Dan Petroski and I first got to know each other through Snooth connections and formed a further blogging bond when we realized that we both have a fondness for making cheese at home and Jay McInerney's wine writing. That gave me the right, when I heard that he was taking a trip to France, to let him politely know that he had a a homework assignment- to write about a cheese memory on the trip. As I'm very fond of his writitng (and Larkmead's "Firebelle"), I was very happy when he accepted and didn't later claim that a French dog ate his laptop.
What follows is Petroski's guest post for "It's Not You, it's Brie" detailing an experience that he had with Loire Valley goat cheeses and Pinot Noir. This is the first of many posts to come featuring some of my favorite guest writers with cheese stories & memories or recipes, with the next one being Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground.
Thank you Dan!
Cheese & Wine in the Loire
When Kirstin asked me to offer up a cheese story as a result of a recent trip to France, I was a bit hesitant to comply, for various reasons. One was that I love cheese in all its forms – from pre-packaged, pasteurized and preservative-rich blocks of neon orange to cheese made from the raw milk of animals grazing in the small pastures of a village following a strict cheese producing season and expression of ripeness. I am not a cheese snob, nor expert.
But as evidenced by a French friend sharing a meal with me in Sancerre who joked by circling a finger over his head that it appeared that I go to bed at night dreaming of Crottin and Comte, I am fascinated with the aromas, the flavors, the textures and the finishes on the palate – the similar components that excite me about wine. So I complied.
My first two meals of significance (a lunch followed by dinner) in France consisted of five-course affairs that brought my heart to a crescendo and then dropped it into my stomach while I held the table edge tight and tried to catch my breath in amazement. The locals, of course, were picking their teeth and yawning a tune to a commonplace tone. The fourth course of both monumental meals, of course, was cheese.
When sufficient time had passed after the main meal, when you thought you could lift a fork no more, the sound and smell of the wooden cheese cart wafting its way atop creaky old floor planks to your table reminded you of unfinished business.
The cheese cart consumed every sense. Under foot, the wood settled after the trembling movement of its rolling wheels. The sight of cow, goat, and sheep milk categorized in front of you, with soft cheese seeping, demanded full attention. The pungent aromas and delicate dairy smells overwhelm the nose. You wanted to taste them all. But not being the glutton, I knew it was proper to accept three, maybe four, pieces of your choice. Since my first leg of the trip was in Sancerre where they are famous for Crottin de Chevre, I had to taste through a selection of goat cheeses. (Rule number 1 of eating anything; eat local).
Last July, I e-mailed Kirstin about pairing foodstuffs for a Pinot Noir tasting; she listed a couple of cheeses including a Chevre. I thought that was a little rule breaking because goat’s cheese can have an acidic/tart bend that I suspected wouldn’t play well with Pinot; so when I looked around at the empty bottles of wine on the table in France and the only grape juice remaining was a Vacheron Pinot Noir (the 2005 Belle Dame) from the Loire, I had my chance to take the recommendation to task.
Goat’s milk, pungent, “goaty” aromas, said to be an aphrodisiac amongst the herd, produces a very chalky character. The goat cheese of record in the Loire is the Crottin de Chavignol, a cheese that is as equally important a component to the cheese board as it is heated and crumbled on your salad.
Having consumed highly concentrated dishes swimming in butter based sauces reduced to caramelized consistency throughout the meals, the drying character of this cheese reminded me of that welcomed feeling when tannins take over your mouth after you guzzle down a glass of fruit-forward wine. Sometimes, when you are lucky and the wine is right, the tannic finish will carry a bit residual sweetness derived of alcohol to round them out; or it will contain a refreshing, salivating acid that leaves you wanting another sip. The Crottin left me wanting a sip of wine.
In the Vacheron wine, I found an explosive, creamy, bright, spicy cherry character that filled the middle of my palate and painted away the chalky cheese that framed it. The Pinot left behind a singe of acid that kept me wanting more, like dropping to the bottom of an arc on a roller coaster, when it was finished, it wasn’t so bad, it was actually exciting and you wanted to try it all over again.
And, I did.