Wine & Cheese, the Heart & Soul of France (#Winophiles)

I love wine. I love cheese. And I love France. So when I saw that the French #Winophiles topic for June was French wine and cheese I couldn’t resist participating. Taking all things gastronomique seriously, France is synonymous with fine wine and haute cuisine. Wine and cheese are a daily staple of the French diet, truly a representation of the culture.

Cheese is serious business in France. If you want to start a passionate conversation with a Frenchman, bring up the topic of raw versus pasteurized milk in the cheese making process. Politicians have gained office by defending the continued use of raw milk against pressure from the European Union to use pasteurized.

In traditional French dining, cheese is its own course – served after the main course and before dessert. American culture does not afford cheese this sort of reverence, having conceptualized the likes of cheese puffs, aerosol cheese and perhaps the worst example …… American cheese. That’s not to say we do not have quality craft cheese producers in the U.S., we certainly do, but you will not find cheese shops readily available and a grocery with a good selection of fine cheese has to be sought out. If you ever have the feeling that the French look down their noses on our lack of refinement, you need only look at a slice of  those rubbery orange slices of nonfood product called American cheese to realize they might have a point.

France ensures the quality of their agricultural products with governmental oversight through AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllee) designations. AOC designation requires strict rules and regulations  must be followed for production of any product carrying this seal of quality. The regulations vary from region to region and are unique to each designation. In addition to wine and cheese, there are a number of other agriculture products that also have AOC quality guidelines – lavender, honey and butter to name a few. France currently has more than 300 AOC designations for wine and more than 40 AOC designations for cheese, resulting in literally thousands of options.

For this article, I chose Roquefort and Camembert which I paired with several wines – read on to get some great, and not so great wine and cheese pairing ideas!

Roquefort

img_1014-1The very first cheese AOC designation was awarded to Roquefort in southern France in 1925, a mere 500+ years after King Charles VI awarded the village of Roquefort de Soulzon a monopoly on producing this cheese.

Legend has it that the cheese was discovered by young shepherd who was eating his lunch in the one of the Cambalou caves when he was distracted by beautiful young lady whom he followed – leaving behind his cheese and rye bread. Upon his return some time later, he discovered his cheese covered in blue-green mold and thus Roquefort cheese was born.

Roquefort requires mold containing a very specific bacteria – Penicillum Roquefort – which can only be found in the Cambalou caves in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The raw sheep’s milk must come from specific sheep, pastured in a specific place and fed a specific diet. See all of the AOC requirements here.

img_1013.jpgI bought this Papillon Roquefort and I realized immediately that I might not have had actual Roquefort cheese before. Papillon’s website says this is a less intense Roquefort, but it is pretty intense.  It was a warm day when I purchased it and it smelled up my car on the way home. Then, it smelled up my fridge to the point that I had to put it in a glass container with a lid. Very pungent, it is creamier than most blue cheeses, has intense flavor and noticeable saltiness. Absolutely addictive.

Paired with 2016 Chateau Miselle Sauternes, Retail $12.99 (375 ml)

img_1118Sauternes is perhaps the most famous dessert wine in the world, hailing from the Bordeaux region, it requires noble rot to be produced. Whether Mother Nature cooperates and to what degree means that production of this wine varies greatly from year to year. It can be quite pricey, but I opted for an incredibly affordable option with very little age and found it to be very enjoyable.

If you research Roquefort pairings, there is a strong consensus that Sauternes is the best option. I decided on baked pears that incorporated walnuts and the Roquefort. There is no denying it is a beautiful pairing. Sauternes has the intense, raisin-y flavors to stand up to this cheese and the sweet acidity is an excellent balance to the creamy texture.

Paired with 2014 Chateau du Ballandreau Bordeaux Superior AOC, Retail <$10.00 at Costco

img_1019Bordeaux wines can be confusing, but the price point on this once makes it quite simple. At less then $10 at Costco, this wine is the equivalent of finding a perfect seashell on a crowded beach. The grapes for this wine are 40% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Cabernet Franc and the Bordeaux Superior AOC designation means that the grapes can come from anywhere in the region. Notes of black fruit, vanilla and a savory note. It drinks way above its price point.

I just put the Roquefort on crackers for this pairing – some with a fig jam. This is my kind of nosh right here. Big, bold red is recommended for Roquefort and this was a great choice. I would love to try the Roquefort with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a big Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paired with 2016 Domaine LaFage Bastide Miraflors, Cotes du Roussillon, Retail $18.99

img_1016-1The village of Roquefort-del-Soulzon lies right next to the Languedoc-Roussillon region and I just had to test the what grows together, goes together philosophy. This wine was beautiful until I took a bite of the cheese – it completely and totally overpowered this wine. The tannic structure is just not there to stand up to the robust flavors of the Roquefort. This wine is one I thoroughly enjoyed, but it is far too gentle for this cheese.

Camembert

img_1038-1The Camembert AOC belongs to the region of Normandy. True Camembert de Normandie is made with raw cow’s milk – so you will not find a Camemert de Normandie here in the U.S. I wanted Camembert because I was writing this during the week of the 75th Anniversary of D Day and the invasion of Normandy. Thinking I would have to choose something else for authenticity’s sake, I came across Janet Fletcher’s article recommending this Harve Mons Camembert made exclusively for Whole Foods. In my opinion, Janet Fletcher is to cheese what Jancis Robinson is to wine so of course I bought it.

img_1042Camembert is similar to Brie in creamy texture and bloomy rind, but that flavor profile is much  more intense with flavors of mushroom and earth. It is also more creamy – like soft butter -with a rind that for me added a beautiful contrast  in texture.

Camembert was first made in 1791 by a farmer from Normany named Marie Harel. A fun fact is that this cheese was part of the issued lunch of every soldier during WWI. It wasn’t granted AOC status until 1983. AOC rules dictate that  raw cow’s milk must come from Norman cows, pastured  within the region and fed with grass or grain grown within the region.

It is so ironic that we can get cheese made with raw sheep’s milk, but not raw cow’s milk in the U.S. This Camembert is of course made with pasteurized milk but I think is as authentic as we are going to find in the U.S.

Paired with Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose, Retail $22.00

img_1040-2Cremant is the name given to any traditionally made sparkling wine that is made outside of Champagne. It is always a great value and this one hails from the Burgundy region. Made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay grapes it has yeasty aromas and notes of raspberry and citrus. A fantastic pairing, the bubbles were a great complement to the creaminess and the earthy flavors of the Camembert.

Paired with 2014 Chateau du Ballandreau Bordeaux Superior AOC, Retail <$10.00 at Costco

This is the same wine as above and while lighter wines are recommended for this cheese, Camembert has a short life cycle and the flavors of the cheese become stronger the older it gets. I have a feeling my Camembert might have a little age on it as the flavors were quite pronounced and I thought they stood up just fine to this Bordeaux.

Paired with 2016 Domaine LaFage Bastide Miraflors, Cotes du Roussillon, Retail $18.99

As noted above, this wine is has more gentle tannic structure and was not overpowered by the Camembert at all. The blend is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache. Notes of black fruit, herbs and cocoa, it is a velvety beauty that is a great sipper all by itself. It was also also a great pairing with the Camembert.

BONUS — I paired this Camembert with an Oregon Pinot Noir produced by French Burgundy producer Drouhin for a different blog post. It was a win, so I am sharing in this post. Earthy Pinot Noir and earthy Camembert are a definite match.

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The #Winophiles are a talented bunch, checkout the following articles on the fast subject of French wine and cheese:

  • Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla offers us “Pretty in Pink: Raclette de Savoie Polenta, Salmon, & Le Cocagne Gris Rosé”
  • Lynn of Savor The Harvest brings us “Cheese and Loire Wine Pairing with Les Vignerons du Vendômois #winophiles”
  • Pinny over Chinese Food And Wine Pairings bids “Je t’aime to a Bordeaux, a Loire Valley Rosé and an assortment of French Cheese #Winophiles”
  • Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles gives us  A Loire rosé, a Bordeaux from Pommerol and…..cheese #winophiles
  • Wendy of A Day In The Life On A Farm shares Life’s Simple Pleasures; Onion Cheese Soup and a Glass of Rosé
  • Jane of Always Ravenous shares Summer Inspired French Cheese and Wine Pairings
  • David  of Cooking  Chat offer tips for  Picking Cheese to Serve with French Wine
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick says we should Do as the French: Serve The Cheese After the Meal”
  • Liz of What’s In That Bottle? says Smile and C’est Fromage
  • Susannah of Avvinare brings us Vin Jaune and Comte-A Perfect Combination
  • Cathie of Side Hustle Wino  presents Wine and Cheese, the Heart and Soul of France
  • Gwendolyn the Wine Predator asks “Did Someone Say French Wine and Cheese?
  • Penny of Adventures of a Carry-on pairs Alsace Riesling and Goat Cheese, A Match Made in Heaven
  • Linda of My Full Wine Glass suggests we “Try White Bordeaux and Goat Cheese Appetizer When Relaxing Outdoors
  • Deanna of Asian Test Kitchen delivers 3 French Cheese & Beverage Pairings
  • Cindy of Grape Experiences serves up Wines from Alsace and Cheeses for Pairing
  • Martin of  ENOFYLZ Wine Blog, I’m pairing  French Grilled Cheese and Drappier Rose de Saignee Champagne #winophiles

We’ll be chatting about French Wine and Cheese on Saturday, June 11th at 8a PT/11a ET.  We love visitors and this promises to be a yummy chat.  Just follow the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter to join the conversation!

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Deanna says:

    These are really well thought out pairing choices, and I have to agree with many of them. Sancerre with the blue cheese and Oregon pinot with the Camembert do sound spot on. Hope too that your fridge has recovered from the Roquefort. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks Deanna! It was fun “research” for sure!

      Like

  2. Pinny Tam says:

    Love the Roquefort a lot! Great wines to pair with your cheeses too!

    Like

  3. I’ll have to see if I can find the Ballandreau at my local Costco.
    It sounds like a winner. I’ve yet to try Sauternes with cheese, I simply must and the Roquefort you recommended sounds like a good place to start (also didn’t know that Roquefort need a specific strain of bacteria – way cool!)

    Like

    1. Thanks Martin! I try to split my time between a small local wine shop and Costco lol! I am going to see if mine still has it too because I need a few bottles of this to keep on hand for everyday!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Roquefort and Sauternes was my first memorable wine and cheese pairing. I remember thinking, so this is how a great pairing tastes.
    Nice pairings and I think I need to make a wine run to Costco😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that Jane! It definitely is a lovely pairing. I used to keep my Costco membership for contact lenses but I definitely keep it for the wine now lol!

    Like

  6. Okay…first, here’s to stinky cheese! I bet your car smells delicious! Next, here’s to picking 2 cheese and then just pulling out a bunch of wines to pair with them! Is that arugula on top of the roquefort and fig jam! Great color and I bet the bit of pepperiness was great with that. And…baked pear recipe please!? All these pairings left my mouth watering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really had trouble narrowing it down Robin! LOL! I loosely followed a recipe I saw online – I just scooped out the pear, chopped that pear flesh up and mixed it with walnuts, Roquefort, creme fraiche, and splash of the Sauternes – easy peasy!! And yes arugula! You know what’s missing though? Cherry jam!! 😉

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  7. Lynn says:

    No kidding about that raw vs. pasturization conversation! OK, confession here, I don’t like Camembert so I’m sticking with Roquefort. And your pairing- this proves you can have a fabulous, savory-like dish with Sauternes! A rendition of you baked pear with Roquefort is a great small plate that happens often at my house.

    Like

    1. I almost skipped the Sauternes altogether but am so glad I didn’t! I didn’t realize the whole raw v. pasteurized until I was researching this article – J’adore the French ♥️

      Like

  8. I sometimes forget that the French have AOCs for more than wine! Good info. And I’m very curious about the Sauternes with Roquefort pairing. I haven’t done much Sauternes with savory in general.

    Like

    1. It was really delicious! I don’t do much dessert wine at all so it was a hard sell for me, if I hadn’t found such an affordable Sauternes I probably would have skipped this pairing but I’m glad I didn’t!

      Like

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