When I saw "Bourbon and Cheese" on Murray's Cheese Class Schedule, I couldn't click fast enough.
If my loved ones were forced to stage an intervention on my behalf, it would probably have less to do with sweet, sweet booze, and more to do with stinky, stinky cheese.
Yes, there is booze AND cheese. But more importantly, most of us aren't born with an intrinsic knowledge of which boozes and cheeses were meant to be together, and Murray's classes have stepped in to reduce the guesswork of pairing.
The fantabu-rrific cheese empath, Nora Singley (formerly of Murray's and currently cooking in Martha Stewart's test kitchens), and overall-clad LeNell Smothers (Brooklyn/'Bama's own bourbon expert and spunky purveyor of spirits), presided over the merry marriage of congealed curd and brown booze with wit, ease, expertise, and bawdy tales.
Stuck on the idea of bourbon and cheese together? To be fair, it is a matter of taste; if you favor, say, white wine spritzers and mild cheeses, these pairings may be a hard sell. For me, I tend to heart the rankest of the rank, cheeses that are tough to pair with wines, ports and sherries--so bourbon and scotch pairings seem like the next logical step.
(Nora was quick to point out that she was slow to warm to the whiskey family, and it was the exercise of pairing them with cheeses to create "the elusive third taste" that really sold her.)
It went down like this (Whiskeys going from left to right, cheeses starting at 12 o'clock on the plate):
- Weller Special Reserve 7 Year (90 Proof) with Gabietou
- Four Roses Yellow Label (80 Proof) with Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere
- Corner Creek (88 Proof) with Goot Essa Mt. Valley Sharp Cheddar
- Vintage 23 (86 Proof) with Hoch Ybrig and with Ewephoria
- Wild Turkey Rare Breed (108.2 Proof - cask strength) with Roquefort
Any gathering like this in NYC is bound to attract food snobs and self-declared experts, but LeNell and Nora did a great job of redirecting beams of preciousness with their own genuine, informed enthusiasm--the class was WICKED fun for ladies-that-lunch and bearded fellas with a taste for firewater.
Things we learned:
- Bourbon does not need to be made in Kentucky to be called bourbon.
- No artificial colors or flavors are allowed in bourbon (unlike other whiskeys).
- Pairing #2 (Four Roses Yellow Label (80 Proof) with Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere) was an admirable feat--the yeasty, aggressive funk of Winnimere was reined in and focused by the spicy, apricot lash of the Four Roses. Mr. Man, admittedly not a fan of funk, found the oozy beast tolerably intriguing with the aid of the pairing.
- Pairing #5 (Wild Turkey Rare Breed (108.2 Proof - cask strength) with Roquefort) was impressive in a monster-meets-monster way: The big, peppery blue-bite of the Roquefort held its own against this cask-strength Wild Turkey behemoth. The end result--a warming glow on palate and gullet that could really be attributed to either player, and the perfect sensation upon which to end a tasting.
Favorite overall bourbon:
We liked the fruity complexity of #2, the Four Roses; LeNell mentioned that these characters were attributed to the high concentration of rye in the "mash". (Note to self: When next cornered in a nerd-packed liquor store, ask for "high-rye" bourbon recommendations.)
Cheese discovery for the day:
#3, Goot Essa Mt. Valley Sharp Cheddar, was pleasingly rich, with a nutty sharpness that I don't generally associate with cheddar. It was shot through with those pleasing little crunchy salt crystals that I love so much in Parmesan or Aged Gouda...
...which aren't salt AT ALL, Nora explained, but crystallized amino acids called tyrosine, which develop in the extended fermentation process for quality aged cheeses. Who knew?
I wanna go, you say! Alas, last week's class was the only one available for this season, but drop the lovely education folks at Murray's a note, and tell them you want to get the band back together, so that they may slate another class!
(And be nice. Nobody likes a pushy snobmonkey.)
254 Bleecker St.
(between 6th & 7th Ave.)
PH: (212) 243.3289
Toll Free #: 888.MY.CHEEZ
Fax: (212) 243.5001
Mon - Sat: 8am-8pm
*classes are held at the Bleeker St. Store, but if you need a midtown cheese fix, they have a counter at Grand Central Terminal
LeNell's Ltd: a Wine & Spirit Boutique
416 Van Brunt Street
b/t Coffey & Van Dyke
Brooklyn, NY 11231
PH: (718) 360-0838
toll free #: (877) NO-SNOBS
fax: (718) 874-2733