For a brief amount of time, I wanted to be a cheese monger. I was taking courses at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Piemonte, one of which was Cheese Tasting and Evaluation. These cheeses are delicious, I thought, after probably my sixth cheese evaluation of the morning. Maybe I’ll get into cheese.
I could’ve hardly guessed I’d end up in wine, not cheese, but the two do share similar criteria for evaluation: sight, smell, color (rind and eyes, in cheese’s case), and the best part, taste. In class, we described yellow and white flowers, hay, barnyard, nuts, apricots—we’re talking about cheese, not wine—and I thought I had a special cheese connection.
What better place to begin a career in cheese than Giolito Formaggi, owned and run by Fiorenzo Giolito? Fiorenzo is none other than the purveyor of Eataly’s cheeses, and the very definition of garrulous, friendly, and funny. I vacuum-packed cheeses, unloaded “Braciuk” curing under grape marcs, and otherwise helped Fiorenzo’s assistant, a taciturn Albanian woman who was a little bit intimidating. Fiorenzo sent me home with wedges of cheese every day, instructing me to taste and learn.
While this didn’t turn into the cheese career I envisioned, I still love it in all forms: creamy, stinky, buttery, hard, piquant, melty, you name it. Now I evaluate wines instead of cheeses—and when I’m lucky, both together.
Why Loire Valley Sparkling Wines Pair Perfectly with Cheese
“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” asked Charles de Gaulle famously. Good thing he didn’t know France actually has anywhere from 400 to 1,000+ varieties. If you’re serving cheese and wine, don’t let these numbers scare you. However many cheeses on a platter, you only need one type of wine: sparkling. Let’s go with a famous French sparkling wine—no, not Champagne, but Crémant from the Loire Valley.
The Loire Valley stretches from central France west towards the Atlantic Ocean, bisected along its length by France’s longest river, the Loire. If we know anything about wine regions and rivers, it’s that they create favorable climatic conditions for grape growing (Rhine River and Riesling, Douro River and Port, Dordogne and Bordeaux). In Saumur, Loire’s most famous region for sparkling wines, the Loire River maintains its UNESCO Underground Caves at a naturally perfect temperature for aging (similar to a cheese cave). On the surface, the river helps moderate cooler vineyards by retaining and reflecting heat.
How “famous” are these sparkling wines? Saumur is France’s largest sparkling wine region outside of Champagne. The grape used here is primarily Chenin Blanc, with the occasional addition of Chardonnay. When made in the champenoise method, they’re called Crémants.
The ultimate “one-size-fits-all” wine for cheese is sparkling. Cheese is fatty and bubbles cleanse the palate; and delicate, young cheeses are overwhelmed by bold flavors and astringent tannins of red wines. Stronger, aged cheeses can pair incredibly well with reds, but when you have a mixed platter, opt for sparkling. These three French cheeses, available from Artisanal Cheese for overnight shipment, are perfect paired with Crémants from Loire Valley producer Bouvet Ladubay.
And remember: The best part about wine and cheese pairing is mixing and matching every combination to find your favorite.
3 French Cheeses and Loire Valley Sparkling Wines to Match
Valençay and Bouvet Ladubay Cremant de Loire
When I took the wrapping off, I thought the dark coloring was mold—which, to be clear, only excited me ‘cause I love a moldy cheese. In fact, as Artisanal’s helpful formager cards corrected me, it’s an edible ash coating which keeps flies off the Valençay while it grows a thin rind. This 100% goat cheese from the Loire Valley is creamy and tangy with notes of lemon. It matched perfectly with Bouvet Ladubay Crémant de Loire. The wine’s soft bubbles and delicate notes of white flowers, pear, and golden apple complemented it so well; neither one outshined the other, remaining distinct yet in sync, like best friends linking arms and walking in step. Spread it on a cracker, top with red jam (mine was “holiday spice” with pear and cranberry), and wash down with Crémant. Read why its pyramid shape is “beheaded” here.
Brillat-Savarin and Bouvet Ladubay Signature Brut
Hold everything, because Brillat-Savarin is my newest favorite cheese. There’s no better way to convey its incredible creaminess than Artisanal’s own words: “the cheese equivalent of ice cream!” This cheese from Île-de-France (just north of Loire Valley) is the sole reason why the French eat cheese for dessert. I especially loved it with Bouvet Ladubay Signature Brut. Its lively effervescence and bright notes of citrus “cleans” the palate of this ultra-creamy, triple cream cheese and complements its flavors beautifully. Really hard not to eat the entire round of Brillat in one sitting. The ultimate bite: take a nibble of dried pear, a sampling of Brillat, and a sip of Bouvet Ladubay Signature Brut.
Comté, aged 18 months, and Bouvet Ladubay Excellence Brut Rosé
East of the Loire Valley is the Jura Mountain Range, where Comté has been made for over 800 years; it is France’s most popular PDO cheese. When aged, this 100% cow’s milk cheese develops complex flavors, much like a fine wine. As such, it holds up to red wines very well. As for sparkling wines from the Loire, Bouvet Ladubay’s 100% Cabernet Franc Excellence Brut Rosé has plenty of structure, fruity notes of raspberry and red currant, and earthy tones that match the deeper flavors of this cheese. A few dry-roasted, unsalted almonds, a generous square of Comté, and a taste of sparkling Rosé is a delicious trio.
What are you waiting for? Start mixing and matching today: for a limited time, use the code “Wine365” for a 10% discount on Artisanal cheeses!
If that doesn’t convince you, until February 1 every order of French or Spanish cheese over $50 will include a free wheel of Brillat-Savarin, the “ice cream” of cheeses.