2008.Aug.18 Monday · 2 comments

in Drink, Food & Recipes

 The 550 farmers who contribute the cow’s milk for Beemster cheese belong to a century-old Dutch cooperative in the province of North Holland. But the land they farm, a 200-square-mile area called the Beemster Polder, has been dairy country for four centuries. Prior to that, the land was underwater.”

– Janet Fletcher, The Cheese Course, SFGate

Buenos Aires – I’ve never been big on “tasting notes” – those pithy (well, truly, more often pedantic) descriptions of, generally, a wine or liquor that purport to tell you what the liquid tastes like. I find too often that the writer is given to bizarre flights of fancy and associations with past memories that as often as not come from unshared experiences. That’s not really the problem – we’re all used to someone desribing a past event and being able to figure out a common reference point from which to appreciate their description. The problem is, that it’s about wine, or something similar, and that scares people. It really does. When it comes to flavors, people simply don’t trust their own palates – and more so when it’s about a luxury item. I’m not saying they don’t have a reaction, a visceral yum or yuck (the yin-yang of the tasting world), but too often, people have a need to “get it right”. And there is no right, despite the claims of one or another expert.

Look, if I tell you that a wine tastes like snizzleberries with hints of three day old mandlebrot and just a touch of well-steamed steffle seeds, you ought to be looking at me like I’m crazy and haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m talking about. The issue is, most people won’t – they’ll start sniffing away at the wine and trying to pick up those lovely fruit, fractal and spice aromas, and some of them will actually declare them into existence. Worse, is the person who simply doesn’t find anything more than “it smells fruity”, who now feels a complete failure, idiot, dolt, incompetent, and lacking in all abilities olfactory and gustatory.

And that’s all a shame, because despite the intent of a tasting note (on the part of most writers, with the exceptions of a few who really do set out to paint themselves as superior beings) is really just to give a frame of reference, a picture if you will, of a flavor. In fact, my favorite technique for teaching people about wine is to have one after another person taste a wine, with eyes closed, and describe not the flavors, but the picture that comes into their mind. I don’t tell them all until afterwards that they’ve all tasted the same wine – and it’s amazing how different the described scenes are, yet how they often have a truly common thread – try it with a group of friends… really.

Aged gouda and Pomerol

So, all that said, I’m about to give you some tasting notes. Of a cheese and wine. Some guests of Casa SaltShaker recently came in from the Netherlands, and one had asked me if there was anything he could bring me. Without hesitation, I answered, “an aged gouda”. This is not the little wax wrapped gouda cheese of the supermarket that we’re all used to, this is one of the king’s of the aged cheese world, and certainly up there in my top five favorite cheeses on the planet. To date. I’ve had the wedge of cheese here for a week or so, just waiting for an evening when a couple of friends who might appreciate it would join me (and couldn’t get anyone to, more’s the shame), for the wedge and some wine. Not that I finished off either on my own (Henry was off to La Plata for a couple of days and wouldn’t have been interested anyway) – so there’s still some time to come over and try… the cheese.

Our guests brought a four year old aged “gouda-style” cheese called a Beemster, and one in particular from the town of Alkmaar, where they live. A little shy of a kilogram piece, it came in at 74 pesos – or $11 and change a pound.

Closeup on aged gouda

Thoughts on the cheese as I tasted it: fine crunchy crystals, rich, creamy, mouth filling – almost like peanut butter, with a viscous oiliness, flavors of brown butter, roasted almonds, aged rum, salt, incredible length.

I selected a bottle of Château Bellegrave 1996 Pomerol ($33 wholesale ten years ago) to open with it – on opening: beet red, with brick orange rim. Aromas of wild strawberry, leather, fresh mushrooms, on the palate great acidity, mature, soft tannins, roasted wild strawberries, old leather, hints of earth. After one hour – smoother, less acidity, more leather, picks up note of tangerine peel. At two hours – hints of smoke, szechuan peppers creep in.

The combination? Absolute heaven. Those are my tasting notes and I’m sticking to ’em.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Evans August 18, 2008 at 14:02

I just love eating vicariously through this blog. đŸ˜‰ Someday the Misses and I are going to have to visit you for dinner.

dan August 18, 2008 at 22:30

We’ll wait here for ya’

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