Thursday evening, after an afternoon of working the check-in desk at an event on Miami Beach to unveil the new Bordeaux vintage, I rushed from the Gansevoort South down to Pinecrest for a class I didn’t want to miss. Phew. “Cheese 101,” taught by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic Jamie Futscher (the wine and cheese buyer for Sunset Corners,) hadn’t yet begun when I arrived a few minutes late. So I grabbed a seat front and center, and took in the scene.
The small classroom of 12 or so attendees were passing around a ripe Rabiola and plates piled high with fresh french baguette rounds. Each of us had a tray with eight different pieces of cheese in front of us.
Before pouring the first bottle, Jamie covered the basics. Like wine, there are different categories of cheese, ways to describe what you are tasting and pairings that further enhance its intrinsic flavors. For someone who’s had her fair share of cheeses, I wasn’t a beginner but knew the universe was vast and, to be quite honest, a little intimidating. Despite varying levels of exposure to gourmet cheese, every person in the room intently participated, sharing their own opinions, asking questions and soaking up every last drop of information Jamie put forward.
I only have time for a summary today, but maybe you’ll find the highlights below helpful the next time you’re standing befuddled in front of the cheese counter, like me. I plan to continue to post about cheese in the future, since these takeaways barely scratch the rind.
THERE ARE 8 GENERAL TYPES OF CHEESES: Fresh Cheese, Bloomy Rind, Semi-Soft Cheese, Surface-Ripened, Semi-Hard, Hard, Blue Cheese and Washed Rind (Stinky.)
THERE ARE 3 GENERAL TYPES OF MILK THAT CHEESE IS MADE FROM: Cow, Sheep and Goat. Jamie had heard of Elk cheese, too, but it’s very rare.
PASTEURIZED VS. UNPASTEURIZED: Did you know that it is 100% legal to bring unpasteurized cheese into the U.S. as long as it’s more than 60 days old? I didn’t! That said, some of the best unpasteurized cheeses are young, so we’re still missing out to some extent.
AFFINEUR: Some cheeses improve with age and ripening. And it doesn’t necessarily happen with the cheesemaker. An affineur is a person who collects cheeses from small, artisnal cheesemakers and carefully ages them to perfection. The “Stanser Schafkase” we tried was aged by an affineur.
LESSONS FROM GOLDILOCKS: Always serve cheeses at room temp, so you can enjoy the nuances of flavor that aren’t present if they’re too cold. Too warm is also not recommended.
YOUR PERFECT DIY CHEESE PLATE: The most versatile wine I tried at the class, one that brought out the best in all eight cheeses, was a Saint M Riesling (Germany.) It’s a drier riesling with just a hint of sweetness. Jamie recommends pairing it with a selection of cheeses of different milks and different textures. Also, her favorite accompaniment is fresh bread (either baguette or raisin walnut can pair well.) She shys from crackers with too much seasoning, especially if you’re eating really good quality cheese, so you can taste how the cheese and wine play together without distraction. She also recommends having three or four cheeses on a plate at a time. With some Marcona almonds and something sweet like a fig spread. Too many cheeses are overwhelming. Too little make for a one-dimensional experience.