For me, this was the perfect evening (but then, I’m hardly typical) – comparing and contrasting ten cheeses, five Old World classics with five New World cheeses derived from those classics, all under the tutelage of Stephanie Santos, cheesemonger at Central Bottle. The theme of the class had intrigued me; my thoughts concerning European versus American cheeses have been evolving. At one point, I’d felt that European cheeses were the pinnacle and that American cheeses poor imitations. Over time, though,my hard line has softened – while some European cheeses could and should be considered classics, American cheeses should be judged on their own merits. That being said I still feel that some American cheeses fall short; however, the Europeans have been making cheese for thousands of years and the cheese renaissance in the US is barely thirty years old. So how would Stephanie design the class – as a competition or as a comparison? I was intrigued.
We began the class by being offered a choice of beverage – an American Riesling from the Fingers Lake, a red French blend or a Belgian Lambic. Since the temperature had been falling all day, I chose the 2008 “Les Cimels” from Chateau d’Oc et des Gueules in Nîmes, a Syrah-dominant blend which was bright, fruity, spicy and herbal – a hit of French sunshine for a chilly New England evening and with the fruit and acidity, a good companion to cheese.
The class comprised five types of cheeses. First up were the fresh goat cheeses followed by aged goat, sheep, washed rind and finally blue cheeses. Stephanie had stated that she has been thinking about this class for years yet had only hit upon the final presentation recently due to what was available and good at the moment. All her choices were excellent. Stephanie would introduce the cheeses, we would taste and then she would elicit responses from the group. Fortunately, my classmates were not shy but expressive – all had opinions they were willing to share. Interestingly, we were all split whether we liked the European or American expression of each cheese. Throughout, she shared much information about the cheeses we were tasting. For the last two pairings – the washed rind and blue cheeses – we were offered the Lambic, the Lindemans Black Cherry Kriek. The two washed rinds were extremely runny and unctuous; the cherries and the mild carbonation a good foil to their buttery and meaty richness. And the sweetness of the Lambic paired nicely with the blues, as sweetness always does.
Since Vermont has been the locus of much of the current cheese revival, Stephanie included five cheeses from the Green Mountain State – though perhaps it should be renamed the Green Pasture State. She spent time discussing the vital role that the Mateo brothers of Jasper Hill Farm are playing in American cheese making. She included two of their cheeses in the evening’s line-up – Winnimere, perhaps the best cheese of the class and the near iconic Bayley Hazen blue.
Stephanie and Central Bottle will be offering more cheese classes during the coming year. Why not stop in, chat about cheese and sign up for a class?
Central Bottle + Provisions
196 Mass. Ave. Camb. MA