I prepared my cheese and whisky seminar at Groningen Whisky Festival Noord Nederland in the best way : on the very spot. On Friday morning, my five whisky samples in my rucksack, I went to Peter van de Velde’s stunning cheese shop, Kaashandel van der Ley.
I poured each sample in a glass. Quick nose, a wee taste, a few words to describe the whisky and the style of the cheese I am looking for and Peter reacted immediately.
A soft creamy cheese for Christmas cake-like Aberlour 18 Year Old ? Ricotta is a bit too soft but what about the “Crémeux de Bourgogne”, a triple cream slightly salty French cheese ? A wee taste, I already imagine the dried fruit (nuts, raisins, apricots, cranberries) and the drop of honey I will serve it with… Sold ! A fusion match.
Glen Garioch 1994 (Vintage range) has charmed me with its floral grassy style and the nutty touch in the finish. But it is cask strength (53,9%). So we need a strong flavoured cheese with a sweet note to tame that vibrant whisky which reveals a tendency to dominate… The “pride of the farmer” will stand the challenge. The Boer n’trot, a farm gouda regularly washed during its fairly short maturation has a rustic character with a sweet chore. That immediately tones the alcohol down and converses with the whisky creamy vanilla notes. A complementing match.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask, sweet and smoky is rather easy to marry. A blue cheese but a rather mild one. Peter does not hesitate. The French Bleu de Gex (produced in the mountainous Jura region) will tease the peat. The easiest pairing but not the least delicious. A solid friendly match.
Talisker Storm, the new release of the unique Isle of Skye distillery has encapsulated the essence of the sea : the nose is briny, underlined by seaweeds and soft shellfish notes, with salty fudge and sweet vanilla to follow and a whiff of smoke. The simple solution would have been to look for another blue cheese. Too easy. I thought I could challenge myself a little more (I love it!). So we looked for a fruity, flavorsome smooth raw cow’s milk cheese. It took a few tastings before we found the winner: the “tête de moine” (monk’s head) from Switzerland. It has to be cut with the “girolle” which makes thin curly strips so as to capture that buttery and salty full flavours. And there, the magic operated! An unexpected and incredible matching. When two strong characters combine, they deliver an aromatic firework.
Asama 12 Year Old (a special vatting of 77 sherry casks from Karuizawa distillery) has that muscular yet elegant sherry profile that is challenging when it comes to pairings. It took the whole sample before we could find its perfect partner. A mountain farm cheese from Austria. A long maturation gave it a deep and pungent taste. Crumbly, salty, with an intense fruity and astringent taste, the mountain cheese played a loud and complex duo with the Japanese whisky.
A rich symphony for our gobsmacked nose and palate!