Six exceptional teas, six exceptional cheeses, three passionate experts on the two subjects – the recipe for a fascinating evening. Thank you to In Pursuit of Tea, Saxelby Cheesemongers, and Chef Melanie Franks for sharing your knowledge and skill, and for introducing me to some new favorite flavor pairings.
When pairing any foods and beverages, there are basic principles that apply. Acidity balances acidity, salt and acidity balance each other, salt enhances subtle back notes, salty and sweet love each other, tannins (in tea as in wine) whisk away animal fat (including dairy) leaving a clean palate and enhancing subtle back notes as well.
I am now more convinced than ever that tea is more versatile than wine when enjoying cheese. Tea has the complex aromas and flavors of wine, only more subtle. Many teas also have the tannins and fermented characteristics of wine as well. What tea doesn’t have is the high acid of wine or, of course, the alcohol (which is significant, especially when considering new world wines).
Here are a few favorites from the evening’s pairings:
1. Japanese Sencha with Ardith Mae Chevre: the tea had a seaweed forest aroma and seemed to have a touch of salinity. The cheese was tart/tangy and bright. Together the cheese developed more sweet-cream flavors and the tea’s greenness provided a pleasant accent.
2. Dong Ding (oolong) “Twelve Trees” with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill Farm: The aroma of the tea reminded me of a lilac bush in full bloom – floral and woody, a hint of smokiness from charcoal roasting of the leaves. The forward tannins also probably helped it along. This tea was, hands-down, my favorite and it paired with several cheeses beautifully. First, the cheddar – nutty, salty, yummy crystals of flavor (pure umami). Together, the lilac aromas popped and my mouth watered from the fruitiness of the cheese. The touch of smokiness accentuated a bacon-like aroma (the cheese is rubbed with lard as it ages). Other cheeses that went well with this tea: Goat Tomme (an earthy-foresty natural rind raw milk cheese from Twig Farm in VT) and Humble Pie (washed rind oozy-soft cheese from Woodcock Farm in VT).
3. Pu’erh (5 year aged black leaves-not pressed) with Vaquero Blue: Pu’erhs are a tough sell, even with some tea enthusiasts. Their very distinct barnyard aromas can be off-putting. I prefer to think of them as the old world Pinot Noirs of the tea world. This one was horse-y with the smell of rich hay and campfire smoke. The cheese had an equally barnyard-y aroma, firmer texture than I expected, and a savory saltiness. Together they were heavenly – hay, roasted nuts, and a pleasant gaminess. Wine could have never had the same effect with a cheese this full-bodied. The Pu’erh was also lovely with the Goat Tomme.
I’ll definitely be playing with this new knowledge through out the holidays!