November 27, 2009

The ceremony of cheese

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Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the "ceremony of cheese" with Jean-François Antony, son of the distinguished cheese affineur Bernard Antony.  J-F is in Hong Kong at the invitation of Jeremy Evrard, the maître d' of the newly-minted Michelin 3-star Caprice.

We kicked off the evening by sipping some Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru.  I loooove NV Champagnes from Egly-Ouriet, and I carried back a few bottles of this from my trip to Reims earlier this year.  Initially a bit acidic and sharp on the nose, but faded to a very vibrant nose with honey, straw, jujube and apricot notes.  A beautiful wine with great acidity balance.

The first group of cheese:

Mothais - this goat cheese showed nutty flavors with slight acidity.  It was a bit viscous and half runny in texture.

Selles-sur-Cher - this is my second serving of this cheese within a month.  The outer section just beneath the rind was interesting and melted in the mouth.  The middle part was a bit more dense, creamy and salty with slightly nutty flavors.  With the wine pairing it brought out the acidity of the wine.

Charolais - this goat cheese from Burgundy had stronger flavors, which was salty with a dense, chewy texture.

Brin d'Amour - this Corsican export was covered with lots of rosemary, thyme and fennel seeds, with relatively high acidity that was neutralized by the wine.

Cabri Ariégeois - made in Vacherin Mont d'Or fashion with goat milk from the Pyrénées, this was something I really enjoyed back in April this year.  Really, really creamy and runny, fairly salty and a bit strong.  Interestingly the tastes were toned down by the wine.

The wine pairing for the first group of goat cheese was the 2008 Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Chatellenie.  This monopole was very nice and refreshing, with notes of sweet pear, minerals that did not overpower, and a bit of green apple characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc.  Ripe on the palate with a tiny bit of acidity on the finish, giving the wine an overall nice acidity balance.

Second group of cheese:

Abbaye de Tamié - made by trappist monks in Savoie, this was a little salty.

St.-Nectaire - made in Auvergne and first introduced by the Marshal of Sennecterre, this smelled pretty musty, was creamy to the taste with a slightly sweet finish.

Tomme au Marc de Raisin - available only in November/December each year, made by covering Tomme de Savoie with a layer of marc (the grape must remaining after the wine pressing).  I thought there was the distinct taste of pork fat like one would get from a prosciutto... It was acidic in mid-palate, and was little bit strong and creamy with a bit of sweetness.

Comté (4-year old) - about 30 wheels of this is made each year by the Antonys, and remains one of my favorites.  Tonight it was sliced fairly thin instead of the usual thickness, and the taste is quite different.  You still get the nutty flavors with the salt crystals, but the finish is much sweeter and you can really taste the sweet grass.  I'm still waiting for my invitation from Jeremy to sample his treasured 5-year old Comté...

Cantal - also introduced by the Marshal of Sennecterre from Auvergne, this was creamy, acidic and salty with pretty strong flavors.

The second group was paired with the 2006 Arlaud Gevrey-Chambertin, which had good amount of sweet fruit with the classic smoky and game meat nose.  Tannins were pretty smooth.

The third group:

Chaource - this cheese from Champagne was really creamy, thick, salty and at the same time acidic, with a slightly bitter finish.

Saint Félicien - I've had this Burgundian cheese numerous times and have never failed to love it.  I still remember the lunch where my colleague decided to clean up by using her finger to wipe the plate clean, then licking the remainder of the cheese off her finger.  It is sooooo creamy and runny, with a salty mid-palate and a slightly bitter finish.  Yum!

Saint-Marcellin - this cheese from Isère was salty, creamy and a bit nutty.

This group of cheese was served with some Ratte potatoes, and we were advised to put some salted butter on the potatoes.  The combination was sooooo good!  Nutty and sweet with a smooth texture, this is what Robuchon uses to make his creamy mashed potatoes...

The third group of cheese was paired with the 2003 Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Serines.  Coming from a blockbuster vintage for northern Rhone wines, this was very fruity, concentrated, with lots of iron and minerals in the nose, as well as eucalyptus and caramel.  Pretty smooth on the palate.

The last group of cheese:

Livarot - this cheese from Normandy is pretty smelly and stinky, but surprisingly mild in terms of taste.

Maroilles - I'm ashamed to say that I don't remember much about the cheese... think it was fairly mild in taste but again with a stronger smell.

Bleu des Causses - this is essentially Roquefort made with cow's milk, and is pretty salty (like most bleus), buttery, creamy with a bit of acidic finish.

The final wine was the 2007 Albert Mann Gewurztraminer Furstentum Vieilles Vignes.  This was absolutely fabulous.  Tell-tale notes of lychee, flowers, orange blossom and some minerals.  A sweet and ripe wine that is such a pleasure to drink.

We were all pretty full, but there was still dessert!  The tarte tatin with green apple sorbet was really wonderful, with crispy puff pastry and a really refreshing sorbet.

There were the usual petits fours...and the highlight was a mini île flottante with a black cherry vanilla cream.  This was just awesome...

Another perfect dinner at Caprice, where I stumbled out of the restaurant carrying my stomach... It was a real pleasure to meet Jean-François, as his family is responsible for most of the wonderful cheese that I've been having at Caprice over the last few years.  One of these days I hope to travel to his hometown, and sample the cheese right there in France!

Oh, and congratulations to Chef Vincent and the entire team at Caprice on their third Michelin star!  Quite an achievement for a restaurant with such a short history!

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