With the World Tea Expo just around the corner, a place where like-minded people converge for a few days to talk, drink, sleep and eat tea, my thoughts turn to how much of an opportunity tea can provide beyond the china cup. Equally avid as a tea drinker and cheese taster, not at all mutually exclusive pleasures, I venture beyond tried and true pairings (i.e., goat cheeses with green tea, sheep’s milk varieties with oolongs, black teas with rich triple crèmes) to experience the transformation of a strong or even funky cheese when tasted with a pu erh or smoked tea). Here’s what I suggest:
Go to your favorite cheesemonger (an independent retailer perhaps—are there any of those left?) and ask the counterperson to surprise you with small amounts of a selection of 4 or 5 different cheeses at random only limited by a prescribed budget—varieties that fall into the following categories: soft, semi soft, hard, young, aged, being sure that there is a selection of cheeses representing goat, cow and sheep’s milk. Make sure all of the cheeses and teas are labeled so that if you wish to take notes during all of this leaf and dairy revelry, you can refer back to your written impressions for future tasting adventures. Take the haul home, allow the cheeses to come to room temperature. Then just before that moment arrives, brew up 3 or 4 teas that you have never tasted before or that have been abandoned for a while in your tea cabinet in favor of others which are your go-to old standbys. With that heightened sense of discovery, you are more likely to leave behind any prejudgments or prejudices and enjoy the experience that much more.
Standouts from among my latest pairing:
Wisconsin sheep’s milk cheese—semi-soft paired beautifully with a first flush Honyama from Shizuoka, Japan Notes: grassiness, likeable, nutty
Vermont cow’s milk cheese, ripened and very soft with a Chinese black tea from Yunnan—cheese took on notes of dried fruit, a pleasant mellow roundness
Note 1: I am not giving details about the specific cheeses or teas tasted; instead, I leave it to you to draw your own delicious conclusions from pairings teas and cheeses that you have found that fall into the general categories of each shown. The field of contenders is wide open. Just explore. If one pairing doesn’t work for you, there are hundreds more to explore that may please you instead.
Note 2: Disclaimer. What follows is a shameless plug for my Tea and Cheese pairing session on June 17, 11 a.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center (check the World Tea Expo site for further details). Sign up now. Space is limited. Hope to raise a cuppa accompanied by a dab of dairy deliciousness with you there.