Tea and Cheese Tasting, Part II

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.

Cheese plate

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!

Chef’s Night Off: Tea and Cheese Tasting

I’m headed to a new tea shop, In Pursuit of Tea (33 Crosby Street between Grand and Broome in SoHo, NYC), this evening to indulge in a bit of delicious education.

Tea eggs
From a different tea tasting

My friend Melanie, a tea specialist and chef, is working with Sebastian Beckwith from Pursuit of Tea and Benoit Breal from Saxelby Cheese to conduct a tea and cheese pairing.
Teas ranging from whites to pu-erhs will be paired with local seasonal cheeses.

I’ve participated in a tea pairing Melanie conducted in the past and was blown away by how beautifully tea and cheese go together – better than wine in some cases (blasphemous, I know!). I’ll let you know how tonight goes.

Coincidentally, Serious Eats just ran a piece  today about the new shop and Melanie’s involvement – she is supplying them with tea-centric baked goods including a Macha Loaf that is exceptionally moist and delicious.

Morning Coffee

Cup o' JoeNo wandering or writing gets done without coffee. If I’m going to get back on track after my technical difficulties on Friday night I need a bit of fuel.

Despite the ongoing trend of specialized lattes, high-tech espresso, and myriad of other complicated (and expensive) coffee drinks, I still prefer the old-school NYC diner coffee – the kind that comes in the blue and white Greek-motif paper cups. Preferably with a glazed donut! Perfect for wandering.

More Wondering than Wandering

Lately I have definitely been doing more wondering that wandering. Though my passport is gathering dust, my mind is always preparing for the next journey. I spin the globe in my mind and plan my someday adventures. Usually I’m influenced by something I read – be it an article, a recipe, or one of the many books stacked by my bedside.

 No matter the destination, my first interest is always in the local food culture. What is my destination known for – exotic fruits, spices, bounties of the sea or land, home cuisine, or haute cuisine? What are the markets like? What are the national dishes? How can I learn more? Then, of course, when can I leave?

Here’s this week’s list of places I plan to explore and what triggered the recent wondering…

Columbia: from reading Márquez (see yesterday’s post), and the recent travels of a Latin Lover

Morocco: because of a discussion with my sister and an article I read in Saveur about Marrakech

Malaysia/Singapore: found an old email from a chef from Kuala Lumpur that I met over the summer; and was telling a friend about the fascinating history of Singapore’s food culture – made me crave real street food

Andalusia: from studying Sherry (see last week’s post) 

Portugal: from studying Port

the Caribbean: This past Sunday’s NY Times Travel section

Italy (again and again): because I miss my father and my friends

Australia: inspired by wanting to do some (fun) business there, visit my alma mater, and because it’s about to be summer in the Southern Hemisphere

Southeast Asia: for more reasons than I can possibly list including my long-lost friend Ian and that I keep remembering that I keep forgetting to write back to Lindsay in Korea

the Philippines (again and again, too): because my friends are there, a friend from there is here, and because I’m craving bud bud after seeing “this” on Serious Eats today (have written about it enough that it has its very own category in this blog!)

And to think, this is only scratching the surface! I’m going to need a generous sponsor and a few lifetimes to cover even a fraction of the territory. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to satisfy my inner gypsy with trips to the library, the bookstore, and the local markets.

 What are some of your fantasy wanderings?

Accidental Food Writing

One of the most memorable pieces of food writing is said to be Proust’s description of a madeleine from Remembrance of Things Past – quite possibly the most unintentional pieces of food writing out there. Actually, there’s very little about the madeleine in there, it’s mostly about the tea if anything, but that’s not how it’s remembered. (For more about this subject see my previous post “The Craft of Food Writing: The Madeleine“)

I’m now reading Gabriel García Márquez memoir Living to Tell the Tale. In this book (first chapter) I discovered one of the most vivid  and mesmerizing descriptions of eating I’ve read. And this is definitely not a food book. Good food writing (and wine writing), in my opinion, does not rely on frilly descriptors, it does not require physical description of the food; it evokes a response (good or bad) from the reader. Here’s the quote, hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

From the moment I tasted the soup I had the sensation that an entire sleeping world was waking in my memory. Tastes that had been mine in childhood and that I had lost when I left the town reappeared intact with each spoonful, and they gripped my heart.”

Any fan of Márquez will be enthralled with the beginning of this book and happily follow him through the rest (I’m not finished yet, so can’t vouch for the ending).

What’s your favorite piece of “accidental” food writing?

Sherry

Seems I’m more into writing about beverages these days than wandering. Let’s just call this little tour of the best food pairing wines of the world a wandering of a different sort.

Today I’m doing a bit of research for another article I’m writing… this will also be the basis for a tasting menu for a beverage-centric dinner series I plan to begin in the new year.

Today I’m studying sherry (fortified wine from the south of Spain). As I mentioned a few posts ago, I attended a sherry tasting recently. I’ve long been a fan of sherry and a full believer in its magical affinity for food. I’ve even studied sherry as part of broader wine studies programs. Still, there is so very much to learn.

One of the books I’ve consulted today is “Sherry” by Julian Jeffs, originally published in 1961 (I’m reading the 3rd edition from 1982 (there’s a 2006 edition out, but not in our library at this time); the other is the completely revised 3rd edition of “Exploring Wine”
by the wine faculty of The Culinary Institute of America (it’s a hefty tome, but so very worth it if you are as big a research geek as I am).

Sherry is definitely becoming more mainstream than it has been over the past 25 or so years. Its reputation as a “grandma” drink turned young Americans off, and the fact that most sherry is at its most tasty with food – not as a cocktail replacement. Sommeliers have long known the wonders of sherry and are eager to turn open-minded customers on to its wonders. Kinda like they did with another favorite, Riesling, which also had a dip in its appeal for some time.

A little bit of sherry trivia before I return to my research… according to Julian Jeffs, foot pressing (stomping grapes) was the normal method used in Jerez (where sherry is from) until as recently as the 1960s.

Anyone else love sherry? Any favorite food pairings you’d care to share?

Riesling Goes with Everything

I just submit November’s Eat and Tell column, so you should be seeing it up very soon (see the links section to the right). In it, I discuss some basics about why certain foods and beverages go together.

Like people, some are very particular about the company they keep – personalities clash and nobody’s happy. Then there are those that seem to get along with everyone – anywhere they go, all types of personalities – everyone is happy. Riesling is of the latter sort.

First of all, all Rieslings are not the same – they can range from bone-dry, tart-crisp and simple to some of the most complex, honey-like dessert wines available – and everything in between. Riesling’s typically low alcohol content, high acidity, complex floral, fruit and mineral aromas, and frequent bit of residual sweetness give it the ability to pair with an endless array of foods. Rieslings are happy with their native cuisines of Germany and Alsace, yet they are the wine of choice with the aromatic spicy cuisine of Southeast Asia and India because of their versatility, complexity and that little bit of sweetness I mentioned earlier. Riesling goes with everything from the most simple raw oysters to… well, see below for my most recent blissful encounter with Riesling.

Earlier this week I had lunch at L’Ecole with Chrysta Wilson of Kiss My Bundt while she was on an all-to0-brief visit to NYC. Lunch was outstanding and perfectly paired with this month’s Staff Pick, 2009 Dönnhoff Riesling (Nahe, Germany), an ever-so-slightly off-dry Riesling: tingly-crisp, Asian pear-like, with subtle layers of exotic fruit and mineral aromas. It went with pretty much everything we ate that day – escargot with Asian pear; cavatelli with sundried tomatoes and olives; perfectly cooked pork chop with cider jus and polenta; seared scallops with butternut squash puree, Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate; rabbit with chorizo and bacon; and a not-too-sweet pumpkin soufflé – yes, a huge lunch!

New York Taste – What I Did Last Night

Last night marked my third year working the New York Magazine “New York Taste” event at Skylight in Soho with our restaurant L’Ecole. Of all the tasting events we participate in, this is my favorite. For such a high-profile event, it is intimate and warm – enjoyable for guests and chefs alike.

We were in good company, surrounded by friends – the gang from Fatty ‘Cue (almost all alumni of FCI), Kevin Lasko and crew from Park Avenue Autumn (with their apple treat decked apple tree), Morimoto, The Meatball Shop (more FCI alums), etc… Always a pleasure to spend an evening working alongside some of the best (and oft unsung talent) in the business.

Our dish was curry leeks with raisins, duck breast, & duck egg cream with cucumber cilantro salad. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a beverage pairing so we poured chilled “chasers” of banana-flavored Maker’s Mark (one of our high-tech cocktails that you could learn about in our upcoming “Holiday Cocktails” class). The flavor of the banana was rich and pure and paired perfectly with the curry, and was particularly refreshing without any added sweetness. 

For a slide show of the event including many more (and better!) photos as featured on New York Magazine’s Grub Street, click here…