I adore cheese.
This is the magnificent 'chariot de fromage' at the excellent L'Ambassade restaurant in Beziers.(picture taken on 23rd Feb 2012)
Cheese has so many different textures and nuances. It has the delicate soft yoghurts and soft cheeses, the mild cheeses, the mature cheeses and then the incredible blues and the stinky mature gooey cheeses. I am certainly no expert on cheese, but I adore a few good ones such as Saint Agur, Brie de Meaux, Roquefort, English Cheddar, Stilton, Parmesan and the delicious Burgundian smelly and gooey Epoisses.
I have no set 'education' with what is right or wrong with cheese. I just taste and enjoy what I like. And so often cheese can be a fantastic accompaniment to wine. The salty blue cheeses often need a bit of sweetness such as a good Sauternes or Barsac or a Saint Jean de Minervois, whilst the harder cheeses such as Comte, Cheddar or Parmesan can be great with dry reds. Otherwise I just enjoy!
The link between pure natural artisanal cheese and pure natural beautiful wine is an elixir of harmony.
There is a wonderful American lady called Jennifer who writes about cheese and she has set out to taste and write about all the cheeses of France. Her blog about life and cheese is here. She has tasted most of the cheese in France and has a good perspective.
Recently I spent a few days in the UK with Eric Mari, the owner of Domaine La Prade Mari wine estate in the Minervois. We were visiting wine shops and wine wholesalers who stock Eric's excellent wines and generally introducing the new wines and new vintages that are available. This was only Eric's second ever trip to England, which is slightly bizarre for a 35 year old French man. The first trip was two years ago when he kept commenting that the 'bricks in England are much smaller than the stones in Minervois'....yes, a bit odd I know.
So, on this trip I thought we would immerse ourselves in England. I picked him up from Stansted airport and we immediately went out to lunch at a lovely local restaurant in Sawbridgeworth called The Goose Fat and Garlic. My treat for Eric was some rare Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding accompanied by a bottle of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Chile(a nice wine but very oaky). The cliche of the English being called 'Les Rosbifs' had to be encountered.
We started our work with a trip to Norfolk to visit a very professional and slick wine merchant who might stock the wines, then we went to Newmarket to visit Waitrose and Majestic to give an overview of 'high street and supermarket' wine retail. Some very well priced wines and an incredibly competitive international market place.
We visited customers in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire over two days. I zoomed through central London one evening to show Eric Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and the City of London. We tasted and presented the fantastic organic wines that Eric is currently producing and we ended up in a characterful and quality wine shop, wine bar, restaurant called No 2 Pound Street in the small town of Wendover.
The final evening was my turn to really turn the screw.
Here you will find a picture of Eric Mari tasting a fine slection of English (Yorkshire and Gloucestershire) and Welsh cheeses.
Yes we should be very proud in the Uk of excellent and interesting cheeses and even more proud of companies such as No 2 Pound Street for educating and offering such delicious platters of cheese. Even French people like them.
It was a hectic and busy couple of days, but great fun. I think Eric is certainly more impressed(and understanding) of English cuisine and the attitude towards quality food and wine that so many independent shops, bars and restaurants purvey.