As part and parcel of teaching a private class on the fundamentals of wine and cheese at Tria Fermentation School a few nights back, I had the opportunity to taste a few goodies. One cheese in particular struck me for its individuality and funk: Clandestin, a dual milk cheese, blended from equal parts of cow’s and sheep’s milk, made by Fromagerie Le Detour in Québec. It’s a washed rind, pasteurized cheese, which comes in small discs about the size of a hockey puck. Every wheel that night was a little different, some firm and pliable of pate, others oozing and odoriferous, showing a darker orange tinge to their rind. I enjoyed a slice from one of the latter sort. My first impression was of a bacon-like smokiness, along with a slightly sour lactic tang that reminded me of Saint-Marcellin. There was some grassiness, but in a damp, slightly briny fashion that evoked comparisons from various class members to the aromas and flavors of caviar, mushrooms and shrimp. Curious stuff, I wouldn’t choose it as a staple in my cheese arsenal but it’s definitely worthy of consideration as something striking for your next cheese plate.
We paired the Clandestin with a 2003 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spätlese from Willi Haag. A member of the VDP, the Haag estate comprises about five hectares of vineyards in the Mosel. On its own, the Riesling was disappointingly one-dimensional. It showed round, peachy fruit but was lacking in both acidity and minerality, no doubt an unwanted side-effect of the hot, dry growing conditions, at least relative to the norm, in the Mosel in 2003. Lurking behind the wine’s generous sweetness and fruitiness was a touch of sweaty cellar funk.
At first taste – on the front palate, if you prefer – the pairing worked reasonably well together. The fruit forward nature of the wine played well with the smokiness and grassiness of the cheese; the sweetness level of the wine was just a bit higher than ideal. On the finish, however, the sourness of the cheese combined with the sweaty hint in the Spätlese to form an amplified funkiness. I rather liked it for its peculiar savor but I could see more than a handful of twisted expressions around the room. Next time around, I’d choose a drier Riesling, Grüner Veltliner or Sancerre, one with nervier acid, greater minerality and a more citrus character. And the terroirist in me would like the opportunity to test it for local affinities with a québécois Riesling or apple cider.