A couple of months back, upon returning from his latest trip to France, Daniel came into the office with a particularly fiendish grin on his face. What had him so excited?
“Smell this,” he said, pulling a small circular package out of a bag.
It was a camembert, that beloved soft-ripened cheese from Normandy, with its unmistakable aromas reminiscent of ammonia and sweaty gym socks. But this camembert was special — it was made from raw, unpasteurized milk, which meant that the smell coming off this one was particularly pungent.
All of us at Daniel Johnnes Wines are suckers for ripe, stinky cheeses, and we couldn’t wait to taste it (nor did we want to contaminate the inside of our refrigerator for the next thousand years) so we decided to get some good bread and open the camembert at the end of the day, along with some bottles to see what wine would pair best with such strong flavors and aromas.
By three o’clock, the office had gotten very stinky from the cheese that had slowly been softening to the right consistency to eat. An upturned spit bucket was doing little to block the waves of camembert odor streaming from the little wheel.
There were even people from neighboring offices walking by our door and peeking their heads in to see what was causing the smell that had by then permeated the hallway.
Able to wait no longer, we grabbed several bottles from the office Eurocave and finally took the camembert out of its wrapper.
We were eager to taste a variety of wines with the cheese and opened:
- Champagne Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Brut Grand Cru
- Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” 2008
- Domaine Alain Gras Saint Romain Blanc 2010
- Domaine Sérol Côte Roannaise “Les Originelles” 2012
- Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru 2010
- Château Saint-Dominique Puisseguin Saint-Emilion 2010
- Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba 2008
We slathered the raw-milk camembert on a nice miche from Le Pain Quotidien and devoured a good half of the wheel, alternating with tastes of the various wines.
The Paillard “Cuvée Daniel” Champagne made a wonderful pairing — its powerful acidity and high toned, bright fruit were very effective in cutting the fat and pungency of the cheese.
The Sérol “Les Originelles” was also great with the camembert. This wine is 100% Gamay from the Côte Roannaise region that is actually just west of Beaujolais and shares the same granite-laced soil as that more well-known appellation. Domaine Sérol has been championing the terroir of the Côte Roannaise for generations and supplies the house wine to the Troisgros family of chefs, whose restaurant Maison Troisgros in Roanne recently celebrated its 45th consecutive year of three Michelin stars.
An incredibly fresh and vibrant example of Gamay, “Les Originelles” managed to stand up to the cheese in large part to its exuberant and bountiful fruit.
The Domaine FL Savennières “Chamboureau” gets an honorable mention. While the wine (a 2008) was a little too mature and rich to mesh as well with the cheese like the previous two wines, its vibrant acidity still allowed it to hold its own (none of Domaine FL’s wines go through malolactic fermentation, converting the sharper malic acid to the softer lactic acid).
While the other bottles we opened are all great wines in their own right, none of them stood much of a chance in the face of the camembert’s odoriferous onslaught and their own complexities were lost on the palate. Older, more complex wines in particular will find themselves completely overwhelmed by strong flavors. The lesson we learned is that with such a powerful cheese, a perfect pairing can be made with a wine that has enough freshness and bright acidity to counterbalance strong flavors and aromas. Our favorite way to enjoy the raw-milk camembert was with wines that refreshed our palates, allowing us to savor the complexities innate to the cheese.
What wines or beverage pairings would you suggest with strong cheeses? Let us know in the comments section.