After work, I trekked into the City by BART, then jumped on a classic trolley car (F Line) stuffed with tourists, and headed toward the The Cheese School of San Francisco. The class was called Cheeses of France and it felt like I was walking toward the gates of heaven.
Once I arrived, I received a warm welcome and a glass of French white wine (2011 La Cadette de Fiere Côtes de Gascogne). Participants were invited to sit around a large table, which was nicely appointed with gorgeous plates of cheese at every setting, as well as elegant wine glasses, baskets filled with sliced baguette, a ramekin of chutney, and a dish of sweet, ripe strawberries.
The instructor began to walk us through each cheese, placed clockwise on our plate. With such joie de vivre, she described the cheese and what region in France it originated from, had us touch it, smell it, observe the color and texture, and then slowly place a piece in our mouths. We were challenged to slowly savor each sample and observe the reaction on our palates. Was the cheese buttery, salty, sweet, nutty? Did it have a lasting aftertaste? Was it elegant, surprising, reminiscent, palatable? Yes! Yes! Yes!
I slowly devoured each piece, interspersing sips of French wine (we were also served a 2009 Delas, “St. Espirit,” Côtes du Rhône), nibbles of bread, dried fruit, and ripe strawberries. I swear I was levitating above the ground in a transcendent state of cheese bliss.
A few things I learned: you cannot make good cheese with bad milk, it’s not a ‘Brie’ if it’s not made in the Normandy region, raw milk has more flavor, the cheese maker’s style of ladling the curds affects the flavor of the cheese, sourdough bread doesn’t pair well with cheese, and American wines contain too much alcohol to pair effectively with cheese…best to enjoy with French and other wines that contain a lower percentage of alcohol.
I will leave you with a list of the cheeses I sampled and encourage you to visit your local cheese purveyor to explore some of these on your own:
Brillat-Savarin – Triple crème, pairs well with champagne, buttery, grassy, and slightly peppery.
Valençay – One of my favorites! Stinky, creamy, delicious. Pyramid shape – creamy on side, compact in middle. Don’t serve before dinner.
Tomme Crayeuse – Butter scented, creamy, barn-yardy, chalky in middle. Pairs well with Syrah wine, best enjoyed when funkier looking (riper).
Trois Lait – Nutty, high in butterfat, rubbery texture, melts well.
Comté – Equivalent to Switzerland’s Gruyere, nutty, firm, and perfect for fondue.
Époisses – Ooh la la! Salty, ripe, drippy, grassy, wash-rind cheese. Elegant, pungent, and pairs well with a Pinot.
Tomme Brûlée – A Basque shepherd’s cheese – delicious, nutty, rich, and truly tastes like it was made high up in the Pyrenees.
Fourme au Moelleux – The show-stopper! A blue-veined cheese that could be a meal to itself. Rich, salty, and covers your palate completely, leaving your taste-buds absolutely enchanted!
The Cheese School of San Francisco is located at 2155 Powell Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94133