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The Cheese Course

Melanie Wong | | Jan 11, 2002 09:42 PM

. . . is a fine cheese store in Healdsburg where I recently selected an after dinner cheese course.

My friend Julie joined me last weekend in the country. We were up until the wee hours of the morning catching up, talking about life, and our intentions for the new year while nibbling from the cheese board and tasting them with different wines.

Dinner was simplicity itself: a couple of live Dungeness crabs from Bodega steamed at home, plenty of melted butter, a mixed salad, and a round of sourdough pull-aparts from Costeaux bakery in Healdsburg. We toasted the new year with NV Billecart-Salmon “Cuvée Reservée” Brut Champagne and popped open a white burgundy (Chardonnay, 93 Colin-Deleger “Clos Devant” Chassagne-Montrachet (1/2 bottle) to enjoy with our crab.

Susan at The Cheese Course had been accommodating about cutting small portions for just the two of us, making it easier to serve a selection of four cheeses: La Montagnard, Cave Aged Gruyere, Taleggio, and Crozier. Plus I snagged her last loaf of Meyer lemon rosemary bread from Della Fattoria. For our cheese course, the more serious wines came out: 93 Dom. Tempier Bandol rouge (1/2 bottle), 90 Terrabianca “Campaccio” Barriques Super Tuscan, and 83 Doisy-Daene Barsac-Sauternes (1/2 bottle) to try with the cheeses.

Le Montagnard is a washed rind cheese from the Vosges Mountains over Alsace. Ooey, gooey, this was in a perfect state of runniness. At this maturity, the rind was a sunny yellow that reminded me of the color of polenta. Soft and buttery in flavor and texture with plenty of character yet not at all "strong". It showed the best of the group for us this time. It matched well with all our wines, especially the Campaccio.

The Cave Aged Gruyere, matured for more than a year, was in splendid condition from a deliciously nutty and richly flavored wheel. This had aged gracefully, growing in complexity, but not drying out or turning hard. The Swiss say you should only drink white wine with their cheeses and we found it to be true in this case. The Champagne and the white Burgundy were the most complementary.

Taleggio, from Lombardia, is one of my favorites. This piece was mature and reaching that semi-soft stage with a fatty texture. The aroma was quite strong and pungent, but the taste was floral, mushroomy and meaty. Surprisingly, it didn't find a marriage with the Tuscan wine, instead it had more in common with the leathery earthiness and floral note of the Mourvedre grape in the Tempier.

This was my first taste of Crozier, a strong sheep milk blue from Neal's Yard. This is an intense blue with plenty of lanolin sheepishness too - not for the faint-hearted. When I pulled the Sauternes from the cellar, I was thinking along Roquefort lines in making the match. Instead, a vintage Porto would have been a better pairing in the manner of a strong Stilton.

In the morning, I pulled out a soft and mild local table cheese, Crescenza, which has the texture of a runny brie and is sold in a plastic tub. This topped toast of the remaining meyer lemon bread to be savored with jamon serrano and some fresh fruits for our breakfast. Julie and I both took note that we were not hung-over at all. Maybe the magic of our cheeses counteracted the effects of 3 1/2 bottles of wine?