Cover image: © WhereNYC
Bottom Line: Rather than just an attempt to be different, the French Cheese Board’s pairing collaboration with Japanese tea purveyor Nippon Cha of Bayside and Japanese craft dealer Takenobu was the product of careful thought and with a little je ne sais quoi.
Review: “Here goes,” I muttered to myself as I bit into a morsel of brie and chased it down with a gulp of green tea. I tried to imagine what could be worse than what I was about to taste. Far from the combo of orange juice and Crest toothpaste that I had imagined, my eyes opened in disbelief. It was actually very pleasant. Anything but an unorthodox pairing of pure insani-tea, matching French cheese with Japanese tea really works.
“You’ve got to remember that like wine, tea also has tannic acid which can cut through the fattiness of cheese and compliment it without overpowering, ” according to freelance food consultant and sommelier Richard Eng, who helped organize the event. It has a bitter-like quality that works like a perfect foil against the creamy texture and salty notes of cheese. When considering similar combinations, it is no surprise that caffeine and dairy can pair in harmony. Indians often brew Darjeeling, the champagne of teas, with milk, and serve it with traditional sweets like Chum-chums, made of milk. Even Westerners enjoy a coffee while lingering over an end-of-meal cheeseboard.
Both strong cheeses and Japanese foods are far more versatile than some may think. Recently, we have begun to enjoy more pairings of Japanese and Western cuisines. According to John Gaunter of Sake World, Japanese sake and certain hard cheeses pair well. Similarly, Japanese tea can also take on strong flavors, adding a certain refreshing alternative to wine that contrasts the creamy notes of French cheese.
At the back table, our hosts served cheese and a tasting flight of Japanese teas arranged on a pairing diagram. While all the tea and cheese combinations at this event were good, they were three pairings that really stood out. The Gyokuro and Brie Fermier has a lovely fresh, characteristic that balanced nicely. The slightly bitter, roasted brown rice mix genmaicha, a personal favorite, surprised me as I combined it with the salty nuttiness of Abondance from the Rhône Alps. Finally, the showstopper was the pairing of Bleu d’Auvergne and Satsuma Koucha, a fermented black tea. Strange as it may sound, it was probably the best combination that I had tried.
Guests at the French Cheese Board also participated in a mini Japanese tea ceremony with cheese pairing. The level of attention to detail, featured at the ceremony table was extraordinary. With delicate, precise motions, tea master Yoshitsugu Nagano, offered guests perfectly cubed morsels of cantal using bamboo serving tweezers. Each stylized movement was carefully choreographed from cleaning the tea utensils to measuring matcha with a traditional spoon, or chashaku.
As he handed us a bowl of tea, we bowed and accepted with two hands, gently turning the bowl twice. Behind our seated tea host, Yoshitsugu had arranged small shrine-like décor invoking themes of autumn. A bowl of arranged with dango, a kind of mochi, and a thin stem of dried wheat sat next to text in Japanese from an ancient Chinese philosophy. Although I could not see what it said, Yoshitsugu explained that it was part of his own interpretation of changing seasons. A small detail but told an amazing story.
It was an afternoon to remember, and once again, the French Cheese Board has taken our palettes to new, delicious territory.
Don’t miss FCB’s upcoming Clandestine Blue Soirée on Sept. 27.