Sparkling Wine & Cheese Pairing: A Class Guide
Last night I taught one of my favorite classes ever at the Cheese School of San Francisco- Cremes & Bubblies, and in its honor, I'm creating a guide to pairing sparkling and creamy cheese. Why was it one my favorite classes? Two reasons. One, I love cremes and bubbles. Separate, together, at a dinner table, at a party, on the side of the road, however, wherever. Two, I loved this class because the students were into it.
The first sign of whether students are going to be down with the class is if they laugh at the name of my blog. These guys did- hearty chuckles. If they don't, I know it's going to be a loooooong night, and it's very likely my jokes will fall flat. But these guys didn't just assuage my fragile ego by making me feel funny, they asked questions, they commented on flavors rather than starring at me questioningly when asked "what do you taste?," they contributed fun information to the class, and they ate and drank like pros. As a side note, I also attribute the class's success to listening to Def Leopard while crossing the Bay Bridge to teach- I was inspired, and the students felt it. Do you want to get rocked? Why yes, yes I do (get those cheese class engines revving!).
In short, it's hard to get a bad pairing with bubbles and cremes. Cremes are creamy, soft cheeses that are high in moisture and taste especially rich. If you nibble on them with a sparkling, you've got a win-win situation- the bubbles (like the carbonation in beer) and the acidity in wines like Champagne help cut the fat in the cheese and uplift the pairing experience. I always imagine the bubbles wrapping themselves around the creamy cheese molecules and taking them to a happy place, like cheese heaven. Truth be told, it's hard to fall flat when matching bubbles to creamy cheeses, almost everything tastes at least good. But some pairings are much better then others. Below I divulge the pairings in the class that were the favorites, and why they worked to create a light and easy pairing guide for sparklings.
A 4-Step Guide to Sparkling and Cheese Pairings
1. Light, lively cheeses like light, lively bubbles.
La Tur (cow, sheep and goat) from Piedmont Italy, and Crémont (goat and cow) with Prosecco. When you have goat cheese, think light, low-oak, and unoaked sparklings. Proseccos. Cavas. If you don't know if they're low oak or un-oaked, ask your wine salesperson. You can go fruity, but don't go bold and heavy with your wine. Your spunky little goat cheese or milk blends like to shine without heavy oak getting in the way.
2. Richer cremes like richer wines.
Nettle Meadow Kunik (triple creme cow, sheep and goat) and Brillat-Savarin (triple cow) with cremants or Champagnes. Cremants are sparklings made in the Champagne Method that are not from the Champagne region. They age in barrels, accumulate a light creamy, yeasty flavor. Champagnes generally (but not always) achieve a greater creamy, yeasty flavor and have more acidity than cremants. When I'm pairing creamy triples with sparkling, I either go cremant or Champange. Cremants are less expensive, so I often go there. When triple cremes are still clean-flavored and buttery like Kunik and Cremont, you don't need the richness and earthiness of Champagne.
3. Sultry cheeses like sultry, full-bodied, earthy Champagnes.
Old Chatham Nancy's Camembert (sheep and cow) and Bent River Camembert with Champagne. A full-bodied champagne is yeasty, toasty, creamy, earthy, sometimes mushroomy. They replicate what's going on with these cheeses. Sheep's milk cheese? Earthy, buttery, toasty. Camembert? Earthy, yeasty, mushroomy. These are easy pairing matches made in heaven. It's also possible to get an earthy cremant if you don't feeling like dishing out the dough for a Champagne- ask your winemonger, they should be able to direct your choice.
4. Washed rind creamies with rosés.
Rush Creek Reserve (cow) and Pont L'Eveque (cow) with sparkling rosés. This is a pairing inspired by the regional Époisses and Burgundy pairing. The stinky washed rind Époisses is traditionally matched with a Pinot Noir, so when I think of other creamy washed rinds, I let this guide me. A rosés light red fruit goes with the washed rind funk. Most sparking rosés are going to be heavy on the Pinot, but a rosé need not be Pinot Noir to pair well. But it helps.
Lastly, I'm teaching a class at the Cheese School that I'm super excited about. Southern Cheese & Spirits in March. I'm very excited about it. Think artisan cheese, paired to southern beer and .... moonshine. If you're in the SF area, please come! Geek out and feel the moonshine burn with me.