Cheese and wine in your suitcase
Unpacking my suitcase after travelling back from the UK involves delving into the middle of all the clothes for a big plastic bag full of knobbly packages. Two week’s worth of English cheeses softens the sadness of leaving friends, family and rolling green hills behind. It’s my essential going home present to myself. Getting good cheese in Dubai is no longer a difficulty but I want favourites that are unobtainable like Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddar, and several friends now anticipate my haul and come round to share the spoils.
I understand, therefore, why Patricia Michelson packed a wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage into her suitcase when she was on a skiing holiday, lugged it back from the French Alps and urged everyone to taste it. This was the start of a business that has grown, over 20 years, from a shed in her garden, via a market stall, to include two shops, one in Highbury and one off Marylebone High Street, London. And this Queen of cheese was here in Dubai to help launch the new Jones The Grocer Cheese Club. Forget all the stuff that Groucho Marx said about not caring “to belong to any club that will have me as a member” – as soon as the email announcing it landed I hit the return button. There was a cheese tasting event or a cheese and wine tasting event. No prizes for guessing that I arrived, albeit slightly out of breath and without a camera, at the offices of A+E for the latter, keen to taste under the guidance of the cheese maestro (or should it be mistress?).
And right from the off the cheeses (wine and beer) came thick and fast. There were almost too many to savour and contemplate, although I’m not complaining.
Some delicate little sablés biscuits made with Comté went very nicely with some chilled rosé from a small producer in Provence (Chateau L’Aumerade, Henri Fabre). Comté is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese made in the Franche-Comté region of France. It is made in the summer months when milk is abundant, whereas Vacherin Mont D’Or is traditionally made in the same region during the winter months when there is not enough milk to make Comté. We entered the tasting room and sat at long tables while Patricia took centre stage and guided us through this little lot:
- Port-Salut – a cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, this is a semi-soft, creamy yellow cheese with a washed rind of violent orange. My tasting note just says ‘gorgeous’.
- Camembert Royal (also cow’s milk from Normandy)
- Mimolette (a beautiful orange coloured cheese from Holland) – fruity
Paired with: Leffe Blond beer from Belgium which was very hoppy and fruity (best with Mimolette).
- Rovethym (a goats cheese from Provence) The high acidity of this cheese with the wine was a great match
- Tetilla (made in Galicia, Spain from cow’s milk)
- Mahon (a cow’s milk cheese made in the Balearic Islands) – this was fantastic; salty, with a lactose sweetness but deeply savoury
Paired with: Alberino, Pazo Senorans, Rias Baixus, Spain – unoaked to give pure expression of the fruit which was crisp green apple and unripe peach.
- Beaufort (the cheese that started it all, made of cow’s milk in the Savoie region of France) – a pure, sweet, floral slightly nutty flavour. Patricia had washed the rind with some white wine before serving.
- Epoisses (cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy). My tasting notes read; stinky taste, clotted cream. This is a good thing.
Paired with: A well-made Pouilly-Fuisse, Louis Latour 2011 also from the Maconnais, Burgundy, France.
- Brie de Meaux (soft cow’s milk cheese from Ile de France) – this was really ripe and delicious
- Ossau Iraty (ewe’s milk from Pyrenees)
Paired with: Chateau Teyssier 2010, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France – dark plum and chocolate, marvellous.
- Pecorino Romano (ewe’s milk hard cheese from Southern Italy)
- Botticella Di Cacio Faenum (ewe’s milk cheese from Emilia Romagna, Italy) – a perfect match with the wine
- Gorgonzola Piccante (cow’s milk blue cheese from Lombardy, Italy)
Paired with: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso, Mastroberardino Campania, Italy – brambles and earth.
- Perl Las (cow’s milk West Wales)
- Bleu des causses (cow’s milk, Aveyron, France)
Paired with: Domaine de Coyeaux, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise – sweet, dessert wines go well with salty, blue cheeses
- Gorgonzola Dolce Creme (cow Lombardy, Italy)
- Cabrales (cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese, Asturias, Spain) – this cheese divided the room. It tasted like it was a living thing, which given the intensity of the flavour, it probably was. Only a PX could have stood up to this. I loved it. The Gorgonzola was creamily divine too.
Paired with: 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva, Montilla-Moriles, Spain
Early on in the tasting there were some sharing plates of Burrata en Foglia (cow’s milk, Puglia, Italy) with roasted red peppers and grilled eggplant and some beef bresaola with Pecorino Romano (a ewe’s milk cheese from Southern Italy) with rocket – paired with Gabbiano Pinot Grigio. Sadly the rocket was dressing contained the abomination ‘truffle’ oil which I am growing to detest and should be banned from all wine tastings in my opinion. It doesn’t contain real truffle but a laboratory made essence which tastes and smells like truffle. It confuses the senses, overpowers everything and, if it touches something else, it lingers FOR EVER. Giorgio Locatelli is not a fan and neither am I (you might have guessed).
This was a small blip however. For a cheese and wine lover it really was the most spectacular event. The cheese choices were a revelation and matching cheese and wines from the same region demonstrated how perfectly many of them go together.
I met Patricia but was very preoccupied and didn’t talk for long (my iphone battery ran out of juice. I was trying to find my Smart Drive pick up and get in touch with a house guest who was somewhere in Dubai without my address!). She was delighted that Jones was embracing the seasonality of cheese. I bought her book on Cheese later at Jones – and what a beautiful cheesy tome it is too. I received an email with printable cheese notes to put into my little Cheese Club folder this month too. Very well done indeed.
As for bringing wine in a suitcase, it’s less easy these days. Before the liquid ban on planes I’d tuck a couple of bottles into a back pack, but now I’m most likely to order from Le Clos and have them deliver it to me before I reach passport control. A very good tip if you are travelling into Dubai.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club UAE membership benefits and fee:
- fromager’s choice of monthly cheese hampers with detailed tasting notes prepared and priced exclusively for cheese club members
- 10% discount on all cheese, cheese accessories and accompaniments
- 50% discount on 2 cheese events per year
- on joining receive an African + Eastern voucher to the value of AED 200; restricted to licensed cheese club
- yearly membership fee of AED200
To join the Jones Cheese Club visit the cheese room at any Jones the Grocer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 800JONES (56637). There’s a Facebook page with more info too.
All of the images shown here were taken on my iphone 4S or supplied by my kind friend Seza.
NB: Some of the wines were from different producers than mentioned in our folder – if you were there and wondering why they don’t match.
Disclosure: I replied to the email to join the Cheese Club and event and then they invited me along as a guest. I’m confident I’d have written the same without such treatment and am more than happy to renew my membership in a year. In fact I was the first person to use my Cheese Club membership card in the Umm Suqeim shop.
Would you join a cheese club? Wine club? Any kind of food club?
- Tips for pairing wine and cheese plus where to taste in Dubai (mycustardpie.com)
- Your Cheesemonger: Washed Rind Cheeses (arlnow.com)