Pop The Bottle & Cut The Cheese!

Fizz & Fromage

Presented by WSET School of Wine & Spirits © and the Academy of Cheese ©

For the past few weeks I’d been studying for my Level 1 Award in Wines, at the Headquarters of WSET School (Wine & Spirits Education Trust). I’ve just sat my exam (fingers crossed!) and was eager to try new tastings, in order to prepare for Level 2.

The WSET School host their own tasting events and on the 3rd of December, they paired up with the Academy of Cheese to host: Fizz & Fromage! A tasting of sparkling wine and food pairings, run by Lydia Harrison MW and Patrick McGuigan.

I loved every delicious second! Now you probably might raise a brow at the idea of pairing say – champagne and prosecco with cheese. After all, the sparkling wine is usually served with the Aperitif and the cheese served at the end, with the port, right? Well rules be damned! Sparkling wine is the perfect drink to pair your cheese with. The trick, is finding out which cheese marries which wine.

The event was hosted at the WSET Headquarters on Bermondsey Road, London, in their tasting room so I was already familiar with the place. But for those who hadn’t been before, they probably just followed the smell…

Oh yes. I was briefly transported back to my school’s gym locker rooms. It smelled the same, but without the mushroom cloud of deodorant. All memories quickly evaporated when Lydia offered me a glass of prosecco. Sure, why not? Great service, so far!

Patrick McGuigan is a cheese expert why can’t I have this job and writes reviews on cheese for The Telegraph. Lydia Harrison had just graduated as a Master of Wine! What a qualification! So clearly there was no one better to guide us through the six wines we’d be trying tonight.

Along with the six wines, we had six cheeses, laid out in an elegant platter before us. There was also breadsticks, crackers and bowls of apple/pear slices to ‘cleanse the palette.’ I assume that’s why they give fruit and celery with the cheeseboard in restaurants? See. We’ve all learnt something already.

Also, you’re going to hear the word rennet a lot during the cheese review. For those of you who are about to add a tab and Google ‘What’s a rennet?’ let me save you some time. A rennet is an ingredient used in cheesemaking that makes the milk coagulate by means of a natural chemical reaction. With me so far? Let’s keep going.

There are two types of rennet. Traditional and vegetarian. Now, traditional rennet comes from the stomachs of young animals. Yes, you read that correctly. Stomachs. Of. Animals.

If you’re a veggie and didn’t already know that…

Spit out that cheddar and start checking the labels! Or if you’re like me and really don’t care… keep reading. They call it ‘traditional’ because at one point, all cheese was made with animal rennet. You know, back in the day, when vegetarianism wasn’t a thing? Luckily as we move along with the times, we have a vegetarian rennet. This comes a cardoon thistle (it’s a purple, spiky plant) and can also be found in fig, papaya, pineapple, nettles and other… stuff.

We also had a chart wheel, detailing the exact tastes you can find in cheese. And I kid you not, one of the tastes was… human sweat. Yup. Human. Sweat.

Mmmm. Delish! I suppose cheese is the only food that you can get away with by saying ‘Yum! Tastes like sweat!’ I think maybe they’re alluding to the saltiness of the cheese? When we sweat, we taste it without realising. It’s a gross thought but we all do it! Unless you have an odd medical condition.

This is the funny, interesting part of tasting food and wine. It forces you to unlock tastes you’ve filed in your mind labelled ‘don’t open!’


1.) EDMUND TEW CHEESE ~ (Kent, UK)

The first cheese we tried was an Edmund Tew from the Blackwoods Cheese Company. This cheese, from Kent, is made using raw cow’s milk and traditional animal rennet. What fascinated me the most, was the name. Edmund Tew was the name of a British convict who was sent to Australia in the 1800’s for stealing… you guessed it, cheese! On July 13th 1829, to be precise, Edmund Tew was found guilty of stealing bread, cheese and beer. This young man was sixteen! So not a man, a boy. And he was shipped off down under, for seven years.

Who on earth was the policeman who arrested the poor kid?

So then comes to feeling up touching, smelling and tasting the cheese. I took one sniff and was knocked back. It did have a distinct smell. But according to Patrick, “The whiffier, the better!” (This only applies in cheese, by the way.) It looked squishy (only way to describe it) but actually felt harder. Stop it! Tasting it was… interesting. Usually when we smell something, the last thing we want to do is pop it into our mouths! But this cheese tasted like sour milk. In a good way of course. And… dare I say it… human sweat. Yes, this cheese tasted like sweat! But in a good way!

I’ll eat it. *shrug *

Paired with:

ROEDERER ESTATE QUARTET ANDERSON VALLEY BRUT, NV, 12.5% ~ Mendocino County, California (£18.99 Maison Marques et Domaine)

60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 12g/l

For those who aren’t familiar with the old ‘sip, swish n spit’ routine of wine tasting it’s… quite literally that. You take a spit, swish it round your palette and then spit it out in a conveniently placed spitoon.

All our spitoons were untouched by the end of the evening. It was a very… festive Tuesday night.

I’ve never tasted (to my knowledge) a sparkling Californian wine. All the Cali wines I’ve tasted have been red. And sometimes it ends with a heavy head. Didn’t mean to be a poet there.

This wine reminded me of shortbread. It had a very distinct biscuity note which cut through the sour milkiness of the cheese. I promise I’m not rambling. Personally I found it quite light, which I enjoyed.

This is definitely a champers which you can serve as an apéritif, because your guests won’t be too light headed during dinner!


2.) BARON BIGOD CHEESE ~ (Suffolk, UK)

What a catchy name! The Fen Farm Dairy has won favour within the British Cheese Industry, by making a traditional Brie de Meaux style on their farm in Bungay, Suffolk. Baron Bigod is made each morning by hand, using traditional methods in small batches with fresh milk whilst it is still warm. Fresh cow’s milk and traditional rennet! (There’s that word again!)

Brie is one of my favourite cheeses, so I was excited to try this one!

Baron Bigod cheese when I felt it up, was crumbly at the core but silky at the rind. I thought it was much stickier than the Edmund Tew, Tasting it was even better. The flavours are quite complex. Many people kept shouting “Mushroom, mushroom! I taste mushrooms!”

I couldn’t taste the mushroom.

I assume the earthly tastes come from the cows milk and the grass they’ve been eating? Like in the old days, when they had to throw a load of perfectly good butter out, because it tasted of garlic, that the cows were eating? Even though they could just make garlic bread now.

Paired with:

POL ROGER VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE BRUT, 2012 ~ 12.5% ~ Champagne, France (£70, Pol Roger)

60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 7g/l

Bit of background on the old Rogers family. They were established in 1849 by Pol Rogers and has remained an independently run family house for five generations. 2012 had a piping hot summer from July to September all Brits are remembering the London Olympics at this point which makes the grapes riper and juicier. The wine has been aged in their cellars for 7 years before being distributed to the market.

When I first tasted the champagne, all I could think of was “£70 a bottle. £70 a bottle… gotta finish this!” And that was my first thought out of the way. Then when I sipped it some more, I noticed the very rich, buttery texture on my palette. The bubbles were dancing on my tongue. It cut right through the stickiness of the Brie and personally, this was my favourite. £70 a bottle, come on!


3.) ENGLISH PECORINO CHEESE ~ (Somerset, UK)

This cheese is an award winning cheese from the White Lake Cheese company! It won the British Cheese Award three times in a row! Originally from Italy, the pecorino is made from 100% sheep’s milk. Our cheese was made from raw sheep’s milk and vegetarian rennet. There we go, the first veg rennet of the bunch!

White Lake Cheese is run by Pete Humphries and Roger Longman at Bagborough Farm in Pylle, Somerset. Here, Roger has a herd of 200 goats! Good grief, I don’t envy the shepards. The cheese is made from sheep’s milk from a neighbouring farm, it is a semi-hard cheese. It is matured for five months to give it a nutty flavour.

Now, personally, I couldn’t tase the nuts… but many people could. I had to nod along, munching on the crumbling middle and try to taste the… peanuts. However, I could taste a dash of caramel! I don’t know how and what Roger is feeding those goats but… nuts and caramel in a cheese, Cadburys should lock that down!

Paired with:

GRAMONA LA CUVEE ‘CAVA’ BRUT NATURE, 2015 ~ 12% ~ Spain (£26.50, Berry Bros & Rudd)

55% Xarel-lo, 35% Macabeo, 10% Parellada, 6g/l

So get this. Gramona has been ploughing on and pumping their wine since the middle of the nineteenth century. Obviously the wine we tried was four years old. But the tradition of creating these wines have been going for two centuries. This is one of the things I find fascinating about wine. There is so much history that can be learned… from a drink!

The family, rooted in viticultural tradition, located in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, has produced wine and cava with a salute of respect for the land. Today, the land is overseen by the fifth generation of the family what a family business! has perfected their ability to transform their wines into lovely sparkling wines. All the while, maintaining traditional processes. This wine spends 30 months chilling out ageing on the lees.

Can you imagine? This family are like the Corleone’s of Cava!

While I tasted the wine, there was a definite taste of saffron. Yep, Corleone Cava Gramona tasted quite spicy! It definitely changed my palette after munching the percorino. While I have a lot respect for the whole… family wine thing, it wasn’t the strongest one I tasted tonight.


4.) Parmigiano Reggiano PDO ~ (Italy)

You’re probably wondering ‘where have I heard that name?’ Well, it’s parmesan! The ideal hard cheese to be sprinkled over pasta!

I’m a pasta lover, I’m a parmesan lover so naturally I gobbled this up. The cheese we tried was six years old! Which is pretty old in cheeseland. And given the fact that I have about half a dozen packets of parmesan shavings in my fridge at home, that could go off any day now, it tasted pretty good! The one flavour that parmesan is associated with is umami. Umami is a flavouring which you can usually taste in Chinese food. It’s hard to find a wine to pair with an umami palette so let’s see what we were given.

Paired with:

MEDICI ERMETE LAMBRUSCO REGGIANO DOC, 2018 ~ Emilia-Romagna, Italy (£14.49 Vinumterra)

Lambrusco Salamino, 9g/l

Named after the most ancient, richest, powerful dynasty in the world history, the lambrusco is made sparkling by the tank method, like prosecco, in order to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. Ideally it should be drunk whilst still ‘young’ (1-2 years). Oh those Medicis!

Lambrusco pairs well with foods such as cured pork meats, salami, raw ham, tortellini and cappelletti. It also pairs well with meat pasta dishes. Cue the parmesan!

The colour, much like its namesake, is a rich, blood red colour. I’ve never tasted a sparkling red wine before, so this was a first for me. Personally, I didn’t enjoy it, but perhaps it’s an acquired taste.

However, pairing this rich sparkling wine with the parmesan cheese is just *chef’s kiss! *


5.) GOLDEN CROSS CHEESE ~ (East Sussex, UK)

Now we come to an all round favourite – goat’s cheese! This particular cheese has been made in East Sussex since 1989, by a husband and wife team, Kevin and Alison Blunt . The cheese is log shaped and can be eaten either mature or fresh. So it looked like a small, cheesy yule log.

Upon tasting it, I got a very creamy texture on the palette. (Eating this with crackers is so moorish!)

Paired with:

RIDEGVIEW FITZROVIA SPARKLING ROSÉ ~ Sussex, England (£35 Ridgeview)

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier

Time for some Rosé! This wine won a trophy for ‘Best Sparkling Wine in the World, Decanter 2010.’ Their story began in 1995 when two lads (whom I assume are brothers) had a vision and ran with it. Now, it’s expanded and their production has increased to more than a quarter of a million bottles.

Not bad eh.

The wine had a floral, sherbet taste with some biscuity notes. Yes, I said sherbet. And it went very well with the goats cheese, thank you very much!


6.) BEAUVALE CHEESE ~ (Nottinghamshire, UK)

Now comes to the finale and my personal favourite cheese in the world… drum roll…. Stilton blue cheese!

The Skailes family are famous for making blue stilton cheese in the village of Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire for three generations. They buy all their milk from a collective of thirteen, small, family run farms in the region. They all work together closely to ensure top quality milk for the cheeses. Their cows chill out upon the lush green pastures of the Peak District National Park.

Beauvale is a far cry away from the traditional stilton recipes. They used hand ladling methods and a different strain Penicillium (no not penicillin, two different things) Roqueforti to create this delicious cheese. It’s made with traditional rennet and moulded in a large circumference wheel!

I didn’t even wait. I just munched on it straight away!

Paired with:

COLLE DEL PRINCIPIE PROSECCO SUPERIORE DOCG BRUT, NV, 11% ~ Valdobbiadene, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy (£14 Marks & Spencer)

85% Glera, 15% Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero

And we round off with a prosecco. By this time, I should probably point out that most of us were about to fall under the table. It was just as well that we were rewarded with a lighter wine.

This sparkling wine is made from the best quality grapes grown on the best hillside vineyards just a short distance north of Venice in the Veneto region of North East Italy.

Glera is the main grape used for prosecco. So take note! It has an aromatic notes of blossom, pear and peach which are preserved by fermenting the wine at a cool temperature in stainless steel tanks. It is bottled with the intention to drink while it is still young, so the fresh fruit aromas are at their most prominent.

Smelling and tasting the prosecco, you’d probably not get the peachy note first time… but after a few glugs you’re all good!

We also received a splash of mead, which wasn’t paired with anything but we drank it anyway. It was my first time tasting mead. It tasted like honey!

The wines in all their glory!
The Magnificent Seven!

I had a wonderful evening tonight, learning about cheese and sparkling wine. You can bet I’ll be popping a bottle and cutting a slice over the festive period!



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