Usually it’s red wine. Red wine with cheese. If you’re really lucky it’s cheese and port. If you’re quite unlucky it’s cheese and a really ropey, £7 port – the kind of port that, come the morning, makes you feel like a camel has shat in your mouth. It seems to make sense – cheese is rich, red wine is rich, why not sling them together?
Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, and last night I was invited to Hix Soho to be tutored in the ways of pairing drink with cheese.
Cheddar, to be precise – tangy, pale, creamy cheddar. It’s probably the first cheese most Brits ever taste – though I do remember ralfing a particularly gnarly gobbet of Wensleydale into the bin at primary school, possibly only minutes before the school bully (I’d write his name if I could remember it) threw me over the fence – and so holds a special place in our hearts.
And down in Cornwall they take their cheddar seriously. Mark Pitts-Tucker, the ‘nose’ from Davidstow, is a man who eats about 700 samples a week. “Cornwall has fantastic raw materials for cheese makers. We’ve got fat Friesian cows and lush green hills. We’re really trying to put into a piece of cheese what Cornwall is all about.”
The two cheeses we tasted were the Classic (aged 13 months), and the Crackler (aged 20 months). We started with a couple of ales – a light, soapy Doom Bar and a more assertive Tribute. MiMi told me Tribute was supposedly “the best beer in Cornwall” as she hoiked it into the spitoon. It certainly went well with the cheese – the mellow Classic bringing out floral notes while the punchier Crackler somehow tasted of toast.
I won’t take you through my entire tasting notes. Not only am I not in the least bit qualified, but they are full of comments like “Bonjela on the nose”, “marriage of convenience”, and “rub along nicely enough but hardly dry humping on the floor” (all the Tempranillo). The great revelations of the evening were a softly oaked Chardonnay, and a nutty Amontillado sherry. They stood out as expertly paired wines (and with Fiona Beckett at the helm you’d expect nothing less) and, along with the beers, effectively made the point of the evening, which was that pairing cheese with grog isn’t quite as simple as yonking the nearest bottle of Jacob’s Crack from the cupboard. That and that Davidstow Cheddar rocks.
Many thanks to Mark for cheese guidance, Nathan Outlaw for some benchmark cheese straws and stunning recipes, Fiona for great wines and a good catch-up, Hix for delicious food, and the lovely gals at Wild Card for looking after us so well.