There’s a perverse little saying I heard from a beloved Frenchman once, we will call him PP. He was expounding on the virtues of cheese and wine at a supper soirée and he poured a glass of a delicious red wine for the group, pushed the cheeseboard into the middle of the table and said “eat some of this… drink some of that… open your cheese…”.
This of course was followed by much tittering and guffawing and cries of “open your cheese”, “will you open my cheese?” And various ruder variations. But funnily enough, that saying has stuck with the rest of us and we frequently looked for good pairings of wine and fromage that would allow our cheeses to be opened.
PP was of course referring to that amazing revelation on your palette, when you eat and drink a great pairing of wine and cheese that allows the incredible flavours in the cheese to really develop when mixed on your tongue with a delicious wine. If you are lucky, it could be a pungent cheese with a delicious fruity red, or a salty hard cheese with a tart and dry white. After dinner of course, it should always be a red, perhaps paired with a little chocolate too, to really let you, along with the rest of the French population understand that dinner is over.
Unsurprisingly, cheese and wine in French West Africa were excellent and, if you were willing to pay for it (through the nose, natch!), you could get unbelievably good imported French cheeses and wines which would please even the most snobbish Bon Viveur.
We had a little trick for finding a good bottle of wine, that again came from the wise PP. To find a truly amazing red, look for three key elements… If you had all three the bottle would be superb…
Firstly, look for a picture of a chateau on the bottle, then check that the alcohol content is greater than 13.5 percent, and finally, you have to study the “punt”. This is the indent in the bottom of the bottle that I used to think was a clever way for the wine makers to give us less wine. I have since been educated by my Frenchie friend that the deeper the punt, the more expensive the bottle, and who in their right mind would put cheap plonk in an expensive bottle of wine right?
Right. It works people, if you are in French West Africa, and similarly I must assume, France. On the other hand, when I attempted to follow this in the UK or the USA, I had little to no luck. And the reason for this? The US is all about wine from the Americas. If you go to the European sections, those bottles that meet the criteria are super expensive. Otherwise, you are faced with generic bottles of wine that I can’t believe anyone buys. In the UK, the wine shelves are overflowing with wines from the New World. And it is hard to pay five times the price of one of those young energetic wines, just to revisit old memories of having one’s cheese opened.
Now the Frenchie in question, our PP, visited recently and found out that we checked out a vineyard once and bought him a special bottle of wine that we tasted, just because we thought it would open his favorite cheese beautifully. After supper, he came to try it, along with some hideously expensive imported cheese from a likely looking region of France. Monsieur le PP came to know that even though the Americans had no culture or sophistication, we could buy items here that could be bought in France, or Gabon, and that his two years of careful tuition in all things Francophile had not gone to waste. The beatific smile on his face as his cheese was opened in the good ole US of A was a sight to behold and it made us proud…