TeaSource manager Jess Hanley and I recently spent an evening planning, tasting, and schmoozing with one of the Twin Cities best known cheese geeks, Steven Levine. This was in anticipation of an upcoming workshop, Tea & Cheese: A Perfect (and Unexpected) Pairing, at our Eden Prairie store on Saturday, October 26th. We figured we better get together and play with some cheeses and tea for a while so we had an idea of what we would do on Saturday. Steven brought along eight different cheeses that we were going to try match with teas then narrow them down to five or six cheeses for the workshop. We started working our way through the cheeses, basically taking a lightest to heaviest approach. We went in thinking we would just try to pair cheeses and appropriate teas: choosing teas that complimented, contrasted, or provided a base or background note for the cheese. It didn't work out that way. It started with the first cheese: a very fresh, lovely, mild, local, goat cheese. It quickly became apparent that it wasn’t just a question of whether this tea tastes good with that cheese. The teas were actually changing the taste profiles and flavor notes of the individual cheeses. And the reverse was happening. We nibble a cheese, take a swallow, taste the cheese a 2nd time and all of a sudden there were all these notes from the cheese that weren't there on the first nibble. It was NOT subtle changes; it was like a whole different range of notes.
It would happen in the other direction too; try the tea first, then the cheese, then the tea again. And the tea would literally taste phenomenally different than the first sip: sometimes it would become muted, sometimes, individual notes would shine at the expense of others, and sometimes there would just be tastes that weren't there the first time. This happened with all eight cheeses (and teas), to varying degrees-sometimes dramatically so. All three of us were knocked over by this phenomenon. There may be gastronomes (old speak for foodies) out there to whom this is a common experience. But I wasn’t ready for it. Again I stress, it wasn't simply a case of two things tasting good together. It was the combination of these two foods within your mouth, changing the way the palate experiences the flavors available to it. It was wild. My favorite pairing was a five-year-old Gouda with a crumbly almost cheddar-like texture, matched with our Jin Jun Mei (an incredibly rich, sweet, velvety, black tea from Fujian). The taste sensation even changed depending on which direction we went: tea first then cheese, then tea again. Or vice versa, letting the cheese lead. We ended up not being able to eliminate any of the eight cheeses, they were all so good. So, on Saturday, October 26 we will be cupping up eight world-class cheeses with eight world-class teas--- and turning people’s palates upside down. There are still a few slots left open, but I expect the class to fill up fast. If you're not in the Twin Cities try this at home: seriously it’s amazing. After the class I will post the actual pairings we worked up. You'll experience tastes you've never tasted before, and that's a pretty rare experience. -Bill