How did an architecture professor get so into cheese and wine maps, you ask? I did too, and the answer is below! David Gissen and I first met while I managed the wine bar at Solano Cellars and pretty quickly became friends. Not long after, he published the French wine metro map, which is as awesome as it sounds. Just recently, he released a new guide- the Cheeses of France: traditional styles with regional wine pairings with his own beautiful cheese drawings, which I think you’ll like it as much as I do. It rounds up the major wheels of France and matches them to the wine that regionally adore them in a clear and beautiful way (this will shortly be going on my office wall). To celebrate the launch of the guide, I not only interviewed David below, we’re hosting a giveaway!
Leave me a comment telling me your favorite French cheese and wine pairing on my Instagram page and tag a friend. That’s it. Early next week I blindly pick a winner. Good luck.
Enjoy my interview with Professor David Gissen, below, and my answer to his question at the end, what are my favorite French wine and cheese pairings.
1. How the hell did an architecture professor get so into cheese and wine maps?!
I grew up in the center of a city with beautiful old buildings and which nurtured an interest in architecture, cities and history. My mother was an artist and was passionate about exploring food globally, and my aunt and uncle were very passionate about exploring European wines. My mother’s family comes from a wine-growing region in Europe and once owned a business that sold and imported wine and spirits. Though my career is primarily within architecture and education, these other things were always part of my life.
About eight years ago the publisher Steve de Long contacted me about transforming a diagram that I made, that looks a bit like a subway map, and that easily explains French wine geography, into a more formal and commercially available map. Steve is not only an acclaimed publisher of wine maps, but he also studied architecture and with many of my mentors and friends. That initial project that we completed became the Metro Wine Map of France and it had a type of ripple effect in the wine world, French landscape history, and other areas.
I can’t really explain why, but when I wanted to learn about cheese, I not only tasted many different cheeses, and took notes about them, but I began drawing them as well. I choose a more technical style of drawing as it emphasized similarities and differences, and I learned this type of drawing when an architecture student. The Cheeses of France includes most of these cheese drawings and that will enable someone to understand the complexity of French cheese.
To bring this all full-circle, last summer the curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the Metro Wine Map of France for the Museum’s collection. He wrote to me that it would join a group of other works that entailed urbanistic interpretations of culture. That was thrilling, of course, but also made me realize that there must be some intrinsic architecture and design aspect to all of this!
2. What does terrior in cheese and wine mean to you?
I was taught to think of terroir as the taste in a wine or cheese and that is specific to its place of origin. Terroir is the taste of earth, grasses, the microbes in the air, or the dankness of a cave where cheese and wine are aged.
But every time someone explains the terroir evident in some glass of wine or piece of cheese to me we’re almost always often thousands of miles from that place! So, could we more accurately think of terroir as something from somewhere that exists in a highly mobile form? It’s an aspect of a site or landscape that can be dispersed globally in slices of cheese or a glass of wine. I love to think that someone in Hong Kong or Oakland, where I live, can be tasting something similar from some place that is thousands of miles away. Terroir is a sense of something from somewhere that can move.
3. You choose regional pairings for this map. What are 3 of your hands-down, cheese and wine pairings ever, regional or not?
It’s important to note that while I created the drawings and the overall design of The Cheeses of France, the numerous pairings listed under each cheese on the chart were developed in collaboration with Steve de Long. Most of the wine pairings come from the regional cheese producers themselves, but about half of them are derived from our research. Steve, in particular, was interested in the ideas regarding pairing of cheese and wine by Francis Percival and Pierre Androuet. Of those two, I prefer the latter’s more open approach, but both inspired the wines listed under each cheese on on the Chart.
But to answer your questions, my favorite cheese is an aged Valençay and I think it tastes great with either red or white Valençay. Then, I think an Ossau-Iraty with either Jurançon or Irouleguy, and finally, Salers and a Northern Rhone red wine. I think that last one is really cool.
Now, I’m curious, and I hope this makes it into your blog: what are your favorite French cheese and wine pairings?
Kirstin here! David, my favorite wine and cheese pairings are Comté with Vin Jaune or an oozy Selles-sur-Cher or Lingot de Quercy with a Sancerre. Made for each other (maybe even literally?).