02 December 2010 by Robyn Campbell

Pairing cheese with brandy

I adore cheese, and I’m increasingly developing an appreciation for South Africa’s very fine brandies, but I’ve never considered pairing the two.

When the award-winning outlet Cheese Gourmet, a specialist purveyor of artisanal South African-made cheeses, hosted a brandy and cheese tasting my culinary curiosity got the better of me.

KWV came to the party and sponsored the evening’s libations: 10-, 15-, 20-year-old, and Imoya potstill brandies.

I knew we were assured of excellent ingredients, but what would these products complement each other, or send my taste buds home whimpering?

We began by tasting a 10-year-old brandy paired with a Fairview Blue Tower, a cow’s milk, Gorgonzola-style blue cheese. Like a classic Stilton and Port pairing, the nutty, salty flavours in the Blue Tower worked well with the spicy, Port wine aromas in the brandy. Rating: 6/10.

Next, we tried KWV’s gold medal winning 15-year-old with a Huguenot. Similar to a Gruyère de Comté, the Huguenot is a brushed rind, cow’s milk cheese.  Smooth and mellow, the complex dried fruit, floral, and vanilla aromas in the brandy perfectly rounded off the Huguenots’ characteristic nutty sweetness. Rating: 8.5/10.

Oak-matured and amber coloured, KWV’s 20-year-old (a world brandy champion) exhibits hazelnut, nutmeg flavours, and honey and tropical fruit aromas on the nose. Paired with a Dutch Maasdam (the only non-local cheese tasted), the combination was initially pleasing, but on follow- through, the buttery Maasdam masked the subtle oaky notes in the brandy. Rating: 5/10.

The final pairing was KWV’s Imoya, a blend of potstilled brandies, matured in oak barrels for 20, 10, eight and 3 years, paired with a Fairview White Rock with cranberries.

Firstly, I despite cheese that’s been ‘fiddled’ with, so the White Rock, a Roquefort style cheese studded with dried cranberries, started on a back foot with me.

Reminiscent of artificially sweetened cream cheese with an unfamiliar crumbly texture, the cheese overwhelmed the toasty, mellow earthiness of the brandy.  Other tasters loved the combination, but for me this was a mismatch. Rating: 3/10 (and best forgotten).

Cheese with brandy is a pairing I’ll willingly experiment with going forward.  Have you successfully paired cheese and brandy? I’d love to hear what worked (or didn’t work) for you.

Postscript: The Huguenot, produced by Dalewood Fromage, was named the best South African cheese, and the best semi-hard cheese in the world at the World Cheese Awards 2010.

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