I took a break from sherry this week to drink Champagne! Thanks to our very own Gary Westby, I got my hands on a very special bottle of Champagne. Earlier this week, with temperatures reaching into the 100’s in LA, I decided there could be nothing better to pass the time than to stay indoors, drink champagne, and eat some artisanal cheese. The plan was to taste this champagne alongside three different styles of cheese and see which interacted best with each other. As I popped my very special bottle of 2005 Launois "Spécial Club" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne $59.99, aromas of crème brûlée and caramel exploded out of the bottle making it evident that this Champagne is rich and decadent. The nose continued with toasty brioche, apple pie crust, figs, freshly roasted chestnuts and some slight chalky minerality. The palate is rich, yet there is more precision and minerality than on the nose. It shows hints of caramelized pears and apples, lemon peel and high acid, coupled with a frothy effervescence and a satisfying length. Launois is one of very few champagne makers that still use old-vine massal-selected plants rather than the more commonly planted clones. This 2005 “Special Club” comes from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay, a very special Champagne at an incredible price.
For my tasting I picked up three cheese from The Cheese Store of Silver Lake; Délice de Bourgogne, St. Agur, and Livarot. With three incredibly different cheeses, I began my delicious breakfast cheese and Champagne tasting.
Délice de Bourgogne is a bloomy rind, triple-creme cheese made in Burgundy, that has been well-known and loved by cheese connoisseurs for years. My only reluctance in this purchase was the fact that I’d enjoyed this cheese countless times before but the cheesemonger informed me that the wheels they’ve been recently getting are more complex; with more mushroom and tertiary notes than usual. A triple creme is at least 75% butter fat by law, so it’s extremely rich, buttery, and creamy. A decadent pairing for a decadent wine. Paired with the Launois, this combination was clean, and citrus driven; the acid in the cheese and the acid and frothy bubbles in the wine worked together to cut through the butter fat in the cheese. The caramel flavors in the wine softened and sweetened the cheese, imparting a sweet mushroom and caramelized onion flavor to the cheese, while the cheese helped bring out the citrus and minerality in the wine. Overall, I would say this was, classically, the best pairing.
Next, I tried the Livarot a stinky, washed-rind cheese made from cow’s milk that hails from Normandy and has been protected under an AOC since 1975. It’s trademark is its orange rind wrapped in 3 or 4 raffia strips. It’s exceptionally pungent, with flavors of onions, crimini mushrooms, and barnyard. I should warn you, eating the rind is not for the faint of heart, its ammonia characteristics could knock you out. While I absolutely adore this cheese, the pair was disastrous. This cheese was just too strong for a soft, rich Champagne. It overpowered the wine and brought out some unwanted astringent flavors in the wine. It might pair better with something like the Caves Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura Brut, which has more meaty, barnyard notes. With that said, pairing is very subjective (which is what makes it so fun), and my boyfriend thought this pairing was awesome. Try it for yourself and decide.
Saint Agur is easily one of my favorite cheeses in the world, hands down. It’s a double-creme blue, requiring at least 60 - 74% butterfat, and is almost as decadent as its triple-creme friend while still retaining a slightly strong and spicy characteristic from its blue veins. Even those who tend to avoid blue cheeses can get down with St. Agur. It’s made in the region of Auvergne, where their economy has long been dependent on dairy farming but may now have some help from winemakers due to their recent gain of AOC status for Cotes d’Auvergne in 2011. St. Agur’s double-creme status went well with the Launois for the same reasons the Délice de Bourgogne did, the butterfat complements the rich wine and the wine’s frothy bubbles cut through the fat nicely. But the flavors that came out in both the wine and the cheese were of a fruity quality. The pairing enhanced the notes of fig and dried fruits in both the wine and the cheese and drew out a chocolatey note from the cheese. This was a superb pairing and easily tied the Délice as my favorite cheese/Champagne pairing. But, at the end of the day, the Délice wins the gold in classical cheese/Champagne pairings.