Cheese and Brandy? Fine and Dandy, Mike gives his palate a treat online.
Port and cheese? Lovely. Dessert wine or fortified wine and cheese? Pass the Madeira. But brandy and cheese? Well yes, why on earth not?
The key to any pairing is balance, so if you have a rich and complex brandy, as long as you have a strong and flavourful cheese you won’t unbalance and fall off the see-saw of taste.
I settle down for an online tasting with my iconic black bottle of St RÃƒÂ©my XO brandy sent over to me, along with my three cheese pairing samples from Mons cheesemongers of London, all now at room temperature as per my mission instructions.
I expect to be told that there has always been a local tradition or practice of pairing brandy with cheese.
Turns out not, they only recently thought of it, much like my daughter who made me try peanut butter with sliced pickles (Yes, it was good).
We meet Dan Belmont, a New Yorker with a passion for cheese and he takes us through the tasting.
Firstly, the brandy on its own, presumably to sear the palate at half two in the afternoon. I’m slightly ashamed of my small glass as others on the call seem to be more expert, with brandy bowls a family of goldfish would be happy to call home.
We sip and of course it’s delicious. It has a long and pleasurable finish which is persistent but not in the least bitter. Online, CÃƒÂ©cile Roudaut St-RÃƒÂ©my’s Master Blender, takes us through the flavours: Ginger bread, candied apricots, walnuts, figs, dates, cinnamon, vanilla all seem to magically appear when wines are distilled into this amber delight via small French oak barrels.
Small barrels so that more booze touches wood: 70cm per litre vs 16cm per litre in big barrels, so it gets all that flavour right there, end of.
Cheese number one is Mistralou a pretty looking raw goats milk cheese wrapped in a Chestnut leaf.
It’s very young – only 4 to 5 weeks old and so has a soft thin rind, an oozy cream line beneath and a paste of delight in the centre.
It’s woodsy, creamy and mild but still a match for the brandy sipped after the cheese has coated the mouth. The two do something a bit special together.
Cheese number two is Sparkenhoe, a vivid orange red Leicester, if that makes sense. Perhaps it’s not called orange Leicester because orange didn’t exist (as with Robin Red Breasts) when it was invented, purely as a marketing device to catch the eye in amongst the other cheeses.
It’s essentially a cheddar coloured with Annato, derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Combined with another swig it’s lovely, the XO reducing the cheeses’ saltiness and bringing out the fruitiness in the brandy.
Our final cheese is the 1924 from the Auvergne. It’s a fairly soft blue made with a mix of cow and sheep milks which apparently is a thing, because the sheep adds richness so you can control the blend.
I had no idea they cross bred cheeses in this way. It’s spicy, peppery and nice and strong. Close to Roquefort but perhaps a little more subtle with white, grey and blue mould. This is the majority favourite pairing according to a show of hands.
Perhaps the more robust cheese was needed in this fight after all. After dinner I introduce the experience to the family and enjoy it all over again.
My daughter (18) tells me one cheese’tastes like soil’ and pulls a face like she stuck her finger in a socket rather than quaffed a quality brandy.
She’ll get it one day, she still doesn’t like mushrooms for heaven’s sake.
St RÃƒÂ©my XO is at Waitrose
Mons Cheesemongers can fulfil all your cheesy dreams