French Lesson: A Study of Wine & Cheese in Paris
I love cheese. I also love wine. I particularly love cheese with wine. Preferably in France…with a baguette…sitting at a café…inhaling second-hand smoke. The mere thought of creamy, full-fat, non-pasteurized cheese makes this turophile’s mouth water. And the wine, oh the wine! I’m convinced that everything just tastes better in France.
In planning my January trip to Paris and Bordeaux, I enlisted the help of my favorite private tour company, Kensington Tours. In 2013, their experts customized itineraries for me in Budapest, Vienna, Hong Kong, and The Philippines, each of which was perfection. Really, who can complain about private guides, exclusive experiences, and chauffeured fancy cars? Not I. Essentially, I gave carte blanche to Kensington for planning my two weeks in France. And as I combed through my nineteen-page tentative itinerary, I began to salivate.
Wine and Cheese Tasting
I read on. Enjoy a two-hour cheese and wine tasting. TWO hours of eating cheese? TWO hours of drinking wine? There weren’t any other specifics I needed to know. Sign me up, Kensington. Sign me up!
My tasting wasn’t private, thank goodness. I know there would be no restraint shown had it just been me. At least with five other people I wouldn’t make a complete glutton of myself.
The tasting was led by Preston, an evangelist who would preach the virtues of my vices. An American sommelier living in Paris, Preston wasn’t there just to pour the wine and serve the cheese. This wasn’t a tasting per se. It was a class, which was a good thing. I certainly don’t need anyone teaching me how to taste wine or cheese. I’ve had plenty of practice. Though, any illusions of my swilling wine and polishing off a wheel of brie were quickly dashed.
When I walked into the tasting room, my eyes darted back and forth between the platter of cheese, baskets of bread, bottles of wine, and bowl of chocolate. Could it be? Had I have found Utopia? Wine and Champagne glasses filled the long, rectangular table. Empty now, but that would soon change. After introductions and a brief low-down on what the next few hours would entail, Preston popped the first bottle of Champagne, and bubbles rose to the top of our glasses.
God, I love France.
As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to not just capture, but also keep the attentiveness of a class. Preston certainly caught my attention, despite the beguiling bubbles. Four types of wine would be served—two white and two red. The vin would be perfectly paired with four types of cheeses—two cow, one goat, and one sheep. Notoriously impatient, I resisted the urge to pull an Augustus Goop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This was not only a lesson on wine and cheese, but also a lesson in restraint.
I took notes for distraction:
No screw tops for the French. They’re traditionalist and use corks. I can’t say I disagree.
The French regulations on the labeling of their wine are SERIOUS business. I sort of spaced out given all the acronyms and legal mumbo jumbo, but that’s the gist of it.
Champagne goes well with rich and creamy food like cheese and chicken in cream sauce. It also goes well with a glass and nothing else, just so you know.
It’s a huge waste of money buying bottle of Brut Champagne to go with dessert, because it can’t counteract the sweetness. Where has this information been my whole life?
In the USA, always go to the cheese counter. Buying pre-sliced cheese wrapped in plastic changes the flavor. Once the cheese is home, wrap it in parchment paper. This is just one of the reasons why cheese in America isn’t as good as it is in France. It tastes like plastic!
Always cut the foil under the bottom lip of a wine bottle. It’s just prettier. I’m convinced that we first taste with our eyes.
What grows together usually goes together. Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese? Makes total sense now.
Soft cheeses are cut in wedges, while a blue cheese wedge is sliced from the center of the thin edge to points along the thick edge. This allows everyone to get an equal amount of moldy goodness. Apologies go out to my friends who have been shortchanged with their share of mold.
The two-hour class actually went to three, and I was one student who didn’t mind staying late. Extra credit included polishing off the open bottles of booze and the rest of the chocolate and cheese. If all graduate level classes were like Preston’s, I’d easily have my Ph.D. At the very least, I’d like to think I got a gold star for my efforts, if not the right to be called Dr. Walker.
I was a guest of Kensington Tours. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the intoxicating aroma of bleu d’ Auvergne cheese, the 2012 Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône Blanc, or the passion Preston showed for both. As always, opinions are mine.