A Fabulous Festive FROMAGE FEAST

Thursday, January 05, 2012

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The latest culinary challenge I gave myself was to prepare a dinner using different cheeses from Uncorked! in every dish. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, a seven-course spread, complemented by wines from Uncorked!, was ready for 16 guests to enjoy.

My choices were deliberate and well thought out, taking into consideration the rest of the ingredients I wanted to use, the cooking methods, and what would be coming next on the menu. The truth is, the preparation of food is a science that is essentially experienced by sight (presentation), touch (texture) and our taste buds. Everything has to be just so, and dealing with the likes of fancy 'fromage' (the French word for cheese), which is bursting with so many flavours, it is even more important to take heed when manipulating them.

The decision to incorporate Parmigiano-Reggiano into the thyme and paprika shortbreads that were topped with roasted paprika peppers and feta, to melt Smoked Applewood cheddar under the grill with the sage and apple sausages, and then to pair Brie with plum port compote on a warm choux bun could not have been wiser for one's palate. Savoured along with an aperitif of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine with fruity and floral finishes, it was soon time to sit down for the rest of the meal.

Unbeknownst to some, l'entree is in fact the starter, and as I'd served a variety of hors d'oeuvres beforehand, I thought a soup would go down nicely at this point. I wanted to make something unusual, using a blue cheese which would melt evenly to form a smooth and creamy concoction, which is how I got to a sweet potato, split pea and Gorgonzola soup, that we all guzzled up with Marchesi di Barolo Gavi di Gavi. This white Italian wine, with its refreshing green apple and lemon undertones, was the perfect beverage to pair with such a rich dish.

A traditional cheese fondue was next -- Gruyere and Comte cheeses melted into simmering Chardonnay, and infused with berry-flavoured Schladerer (German schnapps) and nutmeg. Guests dipped thick cubes of my crusty home-made bread and florets of blanched broccoli into the astonishing amalgamation, while they drank dry Domaine-Laroche Chablis and elegant Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir. I did warn them to slow down as the salad, cheese, dessert and coffee were yet to arrive!

The Balsamic lemon vinaigrette-coated green leaves, roasted beetroots, toasted pine nuts and shavings of Ossau-Iraty sheep's cheese were a reprieve from an otherwise heavy meal, but the complexity of flavours went superbly with the same wines served with the fondue.

In France, the cheese board is always brought out before dessert, and upon mine lay Taleggio, a semi-soft Italian cheese which loyally lingers long after eating, and Gouda Extra Aged, a hard salty, yet sweet, Dutch cheese which is no picnic to cut (it breaks up easily), but is everyone's idea of a perfect picnic! These two distinct treats were thoroughly enjoyed with Taylors Late bottled Vintage Port and Californian Quady Starboard ('Port' like wines may not be called so, unless from the Duoro River Valley in Portugal) Batch 88.

Giving the group a rest, I flew into the kitchen to bake Anjou pear, vanilla and Bleu d'Auvergne soufflés. Pulling off a dessert that contains such a spicy cheese was actually very easy, much to everyone's surprise, and I wouldn't have had it any other way, since blue cheese goes superbly with Cooper Mountain Pinot Gris Vin Glace. To boot, this wine has its own hint of crisp pear bursting on one's tongue!

Lastly, and in fact the least amount of food for the evening, I brought out a small plate of dark chocolate and Goat Fromage Blanc truffles, to tickle the tired taste buds and full tummies. A nibble with a drop of Quady Elysium Black Muscat wine, and a cup of High Mountain Jamaican coffee, tipped us all way past midnight, but didn't seem to cheese anyone off!

— Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown





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