In introducing folks to the world of tea, I have often been asked – by rather sparked enthusiasts – what to pair with tea. In our San Diego Tea Meetup group, we finally took on this challenge. I say challenge because for many “tea sophisticates,” this is a never-ending quest. Ahhh, but what an exploration it is! Our group chose to pair cheese with tea, hardly an easy task. There are almost as many cheeses as there are teas!
With the help of the founder of The American Tea Masters Association, Chas Kroll, five cheeses and five teas were selected for our group to taste together. I have chosen to list, by name, the cheeses and teas that we tasted to help others decide how to pair these two. Honestly, I do not believe there are any wrong selections to pair together because every sampling is an education in what works well and what does not, and, of course, everyone’s palate is different and totally subjective, so it makes no difference what anyone else says.
As long as people are tasting and trying tea, I feel we have accomplished a great deal already. To encourage them to try tea with other foods is win-win-win.
The five selections were as follows:
Brillat Savarin, Petite – a cow’s milk, triple-crème, brie-style cheese from France was paired with a Japanese Sencha. This buttery, rich, creamy, and decadent cheese with a rare “natural rind” was a wonderful selection to pair with the fresh, grassy, well-rounded body and crisp spring-like finish of the Sencha.
St. Agur – a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese containing 60% butter cream, this cheese is mild in flavor and not too salty in comparison with other blue cheeses. Its naked butteriness, along with its delicate sharpness, proved a champion to pair with a well-balanced, spring tea with full body – a first-place winner at the 2009 World Tea Championships – Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Buds.
Unie Kass Reserved Gouda – aged for a minimum of 18 months and under perfectly natural temperature and humidity conditions, this cheese maintains its unique smooth and spicy profile, time and time again. We paired it with one of the most prestigious black teas from Darjeeling, India – a Second Flush with a classic Muscatel character and subtle astringency. Its light and bright liquor was truly a better-than-fine partner for this classy cheese.
Long Clawson Stilton – a blue cheese from the U.K. made in the fine Stilton tradition, this sharp and tangy family recipe has been enjoyed for over 100 years and this cheese actually becomes creamier as it matures. One timeless classic deserves another – a superior Earl Grey blend of high-grown black teas from Sri Lanka with Earl Grey’s signature oil of bergamot paired with the Stilton made this duo most interesting.
Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar – a traditionally made Canadian cheddar that is aged anywhere from three to four years makes it extra sharp with a smooth texture, a full-bodied flavor, and a tangy finish. Not as crumbly as some aged cheddars and thus much easier to work with, this world-class cheese warranted a well-recognized and benchmarked smoky black tea from Taiwan – Nu-Kwa. Similar to a Lapsang Souchong from China, but with a more pronounced smokiness, coupled with a smooth and satisfying aftertaste, the Nu-Kwa worked well with the cheddar.
As far as HOW to taste – we tried different methods at our table. Sometimes we sipped the tea first – then tasted the cheese – then sipped the tea once more. Other times, we held the cheese on our tongues while sipping the tea. Others tried tasting the cheese first and then the tea. Watching the faces of our members as they absorbed the changes in the flavors of both the tea and the cheese was truly a valuable exercise. Some thought they did not care for a few of the teas until they had the cheese in their mouths. Others discovered that the aftertaste of the cheese mellowed or enhanced the flavor of the tea.
Some have already suggested a tea-and-chocolate event or a tea-and-dessert event for our future Meetup gatherings. However, next month, the San Diego Tea Meetup gets me as their presenter, at which I will do a slide show presentation of my trip to the tea fields of Darjeeling, thanks to Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea (Doke Tea Estate) and Shiv Saria of Gopaldhara, Rohini & Soongatchi Estates, who hosted me and took me to their tea gardens and beyond.
Most of us tea lovers know tea is good anytime and we will try tea with ANYTHING! Don’t hesitate to be adventurous! It is time to wake up those taste buds. Happy tasting everyone!