When your 8-year-old son suddenly starts thumping your belly gleefully like a bongo drum, chances are it means you’ve put on some weight. I confess that I’ve added 2-3 kg to my 190-cm frame since arriving more than a year ago in Belgium, a gastronomic paradise blessed with a tremendous variety of wines, overwhelmingly imported, and superb Belgian and imported cheeses.
Just moments ago, while carving a few slices of very old gouda, I was stricken with guilt again about my cheese consumption. But weight gain is a small price to pay for such a sublime indulgence. What a fantastic food cheese is, the more so because it’s so at home with its soul mate, wine.
A French wine-world saying goes, “Buy on apples, sell on cheese.” That does not mean, as an old friend of mine once errantly concluded, that wine goes well with fruit. Some wines do; that’s not the point. “Buy on apples, sell on cheese” refers to the buyer’s advantage when tasting wine with an apple, an acidic and unhappy marriage that puts the buyer at an advantage vis-a-vis the wine seller. Conversely, when wine and cheese are properly paired the advantage belongs to the wine merchant, since the cheese will enhance the wine’s virtues, even if they be modest. As a rule, this is absolutely true.
Wine and cheese, then, if “separable pals” in that they can be enjoyed on their own merits, can seem “inseparable pals” in that they go together extremely well when properly paired. Since Japan has steadily become a cheese-consuming nation, a growing variety of imported cheeses are being successfully marketed (often at absurdly high prices).
Perhaps because of their traditional “soft food” culture (rice, noodles, boiled vegetables, etc.) most Japanese are “softies” about food in general: soft bread, soft cheese, soft noodles. I implore my readers to “think hard” as well as soft about what they eat. Try some hard European breads, say, with hard cheeses (Parmesan, old cheddar, old gouda, manchego) and pair them with rustic red wines — something sturdy, with ample fruit. Jaw muscles develop and teeth align better if you eat food with firm texture (expressed in Japanese as hagotae, a wonderful word meaning “tooth response”).
The interest in cheese that began with my first cheese-book purchase many years ago led to membership in a turophile mail-order club in New York City and now finds me a cheese devotee in Belgium, where I can buy it fresh as dawn every week at the morning market and try different kinds with different wines. I’m enjoying the long learning process for cheese and will share some of my views with you from time to time.
There’s a lot to share. France alone has a few hundred different cheeses. With all that and their wine, we should admire the French simply for being able to concentrate on anything else. It begs the question: With such a variety of international wines and cheeses, and more and more good bread on the Japanese market, who needs microwave ovens? Wine, cheese and good bread, with soup or salad on the side, makes a delicious, nutritious light meal, in no time at all.
In months to come we’ll systematically explore wine and cheese combinations. For now, try to get some Chaource, chevre and Reblochon, three favorites of turophiles, including me. Chaource is soft, creamy whole-milk cheese from Chaource, a village in the Champagne region of France. It is round, has a white rind and smells a bit like mushrooms. Why it isn’t more popular amazes me. In general I prefer it to Camembert, especially after it gets quite ripe. Try it; it’s glorious with a dry chardonnay, a light Burgundy or a good dry rose sparkling wine.
Every week on Friday or Saturday I buy fresh chevre (goat’s milk cheese) at the morning market near my apartment from an artisanal maker of goat products, said to be the most healthful of all. He likes his chevre with red wines. I prefer dry, fruity whites such as chenin blanc. See what you think. From brie to feta immersed in olive oil, chevre is made in many styles. Add it to your shopping list.
Reblochon (meaning “second milking”) is an old, pale-cream mountain cheese made from the milk of special cows in the Savoy region of France. It is round, flat and soft, with a reddish rind. Fantastic stuff. Remove the rind and eat it fresh with fruity red wines or zindfandel.
That’s it for now. Try to find a little time to enjoy a little wine — with a little cheese.