There was a space in time when I gave up cheese. I willfully practiced this horrible deprivation for nearly two months. I gave up wine for almost as long.
Then I realized that life was too painful and boring without real cheese and great wine.
No great story ever started with, “So, I had a salad…”
I lifted my self-imposed ban. After all Nigella Lawson looks fabulous and she lives on a diet of cheese, wine, meat, and chocolate. I don’t want to look like that other lady. Do you?
A little over two years ago I was traipsing around a delightful French village….er, correction a lovely mock-French village outside of Raleigh, North Carolina with my sister.
We spent the day wine tasting, inhaling crepes, people watching, drinking more wine, and then finally remembered that eight people were coming over for dinner later that evening.
We decided to brave the aisles of Trader Joe’s.
But before we went my sister asked, “Should we serve a cheese plate for dessert?”
“Do you want a million dollars?” I answered.
“Ok, then don’t ask dumb questions.”
What dinner party would be complete without a cheese course? Not ours.
By now you know I’m not going to trot out a sad sack of Cheddar or some weird cheese ball with nuts. I mean really?
Suddenly fate heard our musings. My sister pointed across the parking lot and there was an intriguing cheese shop, just waiting for us.
This wasn’t any ordinary cheese shop Orrman’s Cheese Shop in Raleigh is straight out of Montreal or Paris. The charming southern couple who owned it treated us like the royalty we delusionally imagine we are.
I asked the cheese monger for something like Brie but better. I wanted oozing, pungent, rich, and delicious. Yes, I know I’m as simple as they get.
He stared thoughtfully at me for a moment and then said, “Come with me.” Yes, a man that takes charge. I like it (sometimes).
I looked at a small wheel of Brillat Savarin cheese that was strangely similar to Brie, except taller.
The rind on it was reminiscent of fondant icing gone wrong. It reminded me of the eternal bride Miss Havisham from Great Expectations in her tattered wedding dress and the solid white wheel of cheese was the decrepit wedding cake.
Like her, I feel as if I’m always waiting for my next great cheese.
“This is Brillat Savarin,” he pointed.
“I don’t know, is it like Brie? I want something more.”
“Just wait, you’ll see.”
He cut into the Brillat Savarin cheese and removed a small oozing wedge of it languishing on its stainless pedestal. He placed it on parchment and gave it to me to taste.
Brillat Savarin is named after famed French gastronome and epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who famously said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”
If you eat this cheese, then I’ll tell you, you are the smartest person in the room.
How Does Brillat Savarin Cheese Taste?
It’s creamy with undertones of chanterelle mushrooms, lemon, minerals and chalk. There’s barely any ammonia smell that you sometimes get with other bloomy cheeses.
Brillat Savarin is made in the Ile de France area and was first created in the 1930’s by Henri Androuët. It is a triple crème cave ripened cheese.
It’s full on butterfat at a delicious whopping 75%. Once you taste its bloomy white rind that’s like a frosting made of umami, you will be hooked.
I savored my sample, like a junky going back for more…I asked him for another “taste,” he looked at me and barely nodded.
“You like it don’t you.”
“I think I may have fallen in love.”
He smiled. Evil genius, shame on him. I had to have half a pound of that divine cheese. Suddenly cheese was too simple of a word for it.
Fun fact: Did you know…Brillat-Savarin is often considered as the father of low-carbohydrate diet?
He thought sugar and white flour to be the cause of obesity and he suggested instead protein-rich ingredients.
I’ll get onboard that train any day.
After dinner we decided to serve cheese and champagne for dessert (like the French). If anyone actually pitched a fit there were always triple fudge brownies for the traditionalists.
I usually serve cheese for dessert with bubbles. Cheese + Champagne or sparkling wine = A party in your mouth.
What Sparkling Wines to Pair With Cheese?
- Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut non-vintage Champagne $50 is a treat.
From the Grandeet Petite Montagne de Reims region in Champagne, France comes my special indulgence Piper-Heidsieck. It was the very first Champagne I ever tasted. From that moment on I was hooked. Made from Pinot Noir grapes it’s a composed bubbly with notes of pear, grapefruit, on the finish is a touch of warm candied ginger spice with a luxurious edge.
- La Gioiosa Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $17 Non-Vintage Sparkling Wine from Valdobbiadene, Prosecco, Italy
This intense pale straw prosecco is easy to sip on its own or enjoyed with your favorite cheeses. It has notes of golden apple, acacia, and chalky earth.
- Luc Belair Rare Luxe ($30 a bottle) a non-vintage sparkling wine from France is fabulous and with Rick Ross (Hustlin’) as the brand ambassador…I’m down for a sparkler that won’t break my purse. It’s lip smacking good with notes of juicy apricot, melon, vanilla, white flowers, and a toasty buttery brioche finish.Technically it cannot be called a Champagne because Luc Belair Luxe isn’t made in that protected region. It is produced in true Champagne style using 100% Chardonnay grapes and aged for six months in Burgundy oak casks with a dosage of 100% oaked Chablis. The Maison was established back in 1898 in southeastern France’s region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur near Cannes which is the originating place for fine sparkling wine.
- Segura Viudas Cava Brut $10 Non-Vintage Sparkling Wine from Penedes, Spain
My cousin gave me this delightful bubbly as a Christmas gift, and don’t let the $10 price tag fool you. This is an excellent brut made from Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes grown in the renowned Penedès region of Spain. It’s made in the traditional Champagne method. On the nose there’s a little pineapple, starfruit, lime, and lots of delicate bubbles with just the right acidity. Buy this by the case.
- Argyle Brut 2016 $27 Vintage Sparkling Wine from Willamette Valley, Oregon
I remember tasting this Brut at the Argyle tasting room in Oregon. This sparkler is fresh like the Pacific seashore that lines Oregon’s beaches, with notes of fresh baked croissant, apricot, and white flowers with a long mineral finish. It rivals any Champagne.
- Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut (750ml) $60 Sparkling from Champagne, France
When you think of Champagne I’m sure the Grand Dame with her flashy yellow label comes to mind. Veuve is like a Ferrari in the suburbs. It stands out and it gives you the ultimate posh high. Made of mainly Pinot Noir, it’s well structured and classy (like moi 😛). The notes of golden pear, white flowers, vanilla, and almonds with a hint of brioche give you everything you want and expect out of Champagne.
Last up is Grandi Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $10 (not pictured) imported exclusively for ALDI’s and Oh.My.God. this is delicious stuff. (If you can still find it at your local Aldi’s) It’s an Extra Dry Prosecco with the highest Italian wine quality level designation (DOCG).
It’s packed with green apples, lime, perfectly ripe pears, orange zest, and a bit of sourdough bread on the nose. The flavors are well balanced and it has a mineral edge to it which I quite like.
These bubbly’s are crisp enough to cut through the creamy fat of your cheeses and sparkling wine is always a fantastic way to end any evening.
How to Make a Simple and Elegant Cheese Course
First off, don’t get cray. This is not the time to try six different cheeses. Keep it simple Simone.
When you serve cheese after dinner it mixes up your guests expectations.
Suddenly everyone is a little surprised, intrigued, and ready to get the party ramped up.
3 Tips to Serving a Smashing Cheese Course
1) Make sure you choose what you like and mix it up. There aren’t any hard and fast rules. Keep it to four cheeses maximum. Always taste the cheeses you’re serving. Pretend you’re the late great Alex Trebeck and your cheese monger is on Jeopardy – don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
When creating a delicious cheese course choose cheeses that range in flavor from mild to intense. And serve a mix of different textures from runny to hard.
If you want to bring home the barnyard and serve a cows milk, sheep milk, and a goats milk cheese, I recommend:
- Brillat-Savarin (cow) – Ile de France (obviously).
- Humboldt Fog (goat) – California, USA, Goat’s cheese can be controversial. This cheese is clean, milky, and delicious. Plus the line of vegetable ash running through it adds intensity.
- Manchego (sheep) – Manchego, Spain, the texture has butterscotch notes, a little grainy and creamy, with an almond finish.
- Wildcard cheese: Cheddar with black truffles – sweet and buttery with solid milk crystals and the perfume of truffle make this cheese a decadent pleasure.
Another great addition to your cheese course is blue cheese. Take your pick of these two great blue cheeses:
- Dolcelatte blue cheese (cow) from Lombardi, Italy is a sweet almost candy like blue cheese that has soft pepper finish.
- Roquefort (sheep) from Les Causses; France, the granddaddy and king of all the cheeses. Legend has it Charlemagne feasted on this ancient delight. The strong salty, sharp, moldy, which melts into sweet slick goodness on your tongue once you taste it you’ll be hooked.
2) Make sure your cheeses are served at room temperature, since cold subdues the flavor profile. Arrange your cheeses in a line from mild to pungent (there’s a reason for this…I’ll get to that in a minute). You can prepare your cheese course in advance and wrap it with a clean loose cotton cloth or parchment paper.
Take your course out of the fridge at least an hour before serving. Write down the names and where each cheese is from for your guests.
3) No crackers. Are you serving toddlers? Always serve your cheese course with a good loaf of crusty baguette, sourdough, or boule.
You’ll want to let your guests know that there’s a correct order to eat cheese (yes, we have rules Berenice).
Just let them know to start with the mildest cheese and then work their way up to the strongest and stinkiest. Save the blue-veined cheeses for last.
The reason for this is the stronger the cheese the more it will overpower your taste buds. If you reverse the order you’re not gonna be able to taste the milder cheese
If you want to serve your cheese course with accompaniments, limit it to fresh honey, fruit preserves, nuts, olives, or fruits.
Walnuts, pistachios, green, French or Kalamata olives, apples, dried cherries, dried apricots, or pears are perfect supporting cast members for your star performers.
Don’t worry about special knives, just serve the cheeses on a hard surface that you don’t mind your guests cutting on.
And always buy extra Brillat Savarin for yourself. The hostess must have a special after party treat.
You’re going to love this cheese. If Brie grew up and became a queen she would be Brillat Savarin. All hail Brillat!