Yesterday evening I attended a very generous cheese and wine tasting at Bon Fromage, the cheese restaurant in Newlands. We were treated to five cheese and wine pairings, the cheese being chosen by Bon Fromage owner Brian and the wines from Slanghoek.
Brian hosts these wine tasting events regularly, and a very reasonable cost of R100 per person gets you an informative cheese and wine pairing, followed by dinner and a cheese platter. At every wine tasting you can order the wine at the cellar price, which is always good value for money.
I was surprised when we were offered a choice between Roast Vegetable Pasta Bake or Potato and Bacon Bake as a main course – I always considered Potato Bake to be a side dish! I chose the Potato and Bacon Bake and was more than happy with my choice, which was served with a deliciously crunchy side salad. When I complimented Brian on the Potato Bake, he informed me that it was a French dish named Gratin Savoyard, and intended to be served as a main dish. It was truly sensational; creamy, packed with flavour from his use of raclette cheese and contrasted with the smokiness of the bacon. I’m sure it was a good choice to soak up the wine I had tasted (without spitting)!
The tasting began with a pairing of La Petite France Brie and Slanghoek’s Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2011. The La Petite France Brie is from Natal and made in the French style – which means a higher butterfat content and is therefore more creamier than the South African style brie. According to Brian, most supermarket cheese reaches the shelves way before it’s ready (to prevent returns). It could be kept 3 to 4 weeks before it reaches the correct ripeness – and after 6 weeks you could whistle and it will come to you! He suggests if you do purchase a cheese that is not ripe, leave it out of the fridge for a day or two to ripen faster. All the brie cheeses at Bon Fromage are supplied by smaller, artisanal producers and are always at just the correct ripeness. The creaminess of the La Petite France Brie paired well with the Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc’s fresh green asparagus and green fig preserve notes. This is a fuller Sauvignon Blanc with gooseberry, tropical fruit and citrus notes on the palate.
Pieter, Slanghoek’s very knowledgable Cellar Master who talked us through each wine, began by telling us that wine and cheese is a perfect marriage when they work together – bringing out the best in each other when they work and the worst when they don’t. I asked him how exactly to taste the wine and cheese together. His suggestion was to first taste the wine to cleanse the palate, then consume the cheese and wine in unison.
Slanghoek’s Private Selection Chardonnay 2011 was paired with Dalewood Lanquedoc – a new cheese in the style of the French Reblochon. This is a true limited edition artisanal cheese with limited production. The rich smoothness of the Lanquedoc was a good choice for the citrus zestiness and nutty oakiness of the Chardonnay. We were told that a yellow colour in wine means that the grapes were harvested at a later date than wines which have more of a greenish tinge.
Cheese can make the wine taste better, providing that the pairing is correct. A successful food and wine pairing brings out something extra in both. One must not overpower the other. Pairing similar aspects works best, but of course there are exceptions to this rule. Another rule is that food and wine varietals from the same area will work well together.
Next we went on to the reds, where a Private Selection Shiraz 2008 was tasted with Belnori Tanglewood Goat Cheese. Tanglewood is a semi hard goat cheese of exceptional quality. I always find that Brian’s passion for cheeses is even more pronounced when he talks about his goat cheeses. At Bon Fromage every goat cheese is 100% lactose (dairy) free. Lactose makes the cheese go yellow (as does colourants in supermarket cheese) – goat’s cheese is white, it has a lower fat content and no lactose. After Brian’s praises for the Tanglewood, a plain and tangy goat cheese, and his description of how a goat cheese is made correctly so that it has no smell of ‘goat’, but retains all the flavour, Pieter remarked “That cheese sounds so beautiful, I don’t want to go on!”. He did go on and presented the Shiraz, with it’s mullberry and white pepper notes rounded off with vanilla smokiness, a lovely smooth wine which is barrel matured for 18 months.
Following this we enjoyed a rather large tasting of the Slanghoek Private Selection Pinotage 2008 with the Klein Rivier Grana. Grana is one of my favourite cheeses at Bon Fromage, a hard cheese which is matured for 13 months and made in the Swiss/Italian style. It goes extremely well with Sauvignon Blanc. Brian professed that he would not usually pair it with such a strong red wine, but he thought that in this case it stood up well to the Pinotage. The Grana is very similar to Parmesan with a distinct nuttiness. Pinotage is a born and bred South African grape varietal, which is now grown in other parts of the world, but remains proudly South African. This Pinotage has a deep ruby colour wiht notes of prunes, chocolate and strawberry jam on the nose.
Our tasting concluded with Slanghoek’s Cape Ruby Port 2010. Cape Ruby is a ruby style port, produced from a traditional Portuguese varietal, and made to drink at a younger age. It has a delicious fruitiness and hints of blueberry cheesecake. While Port is usually matched with Stilton, this port was served with a wedge of Cremelat Gorgonzola – a creamy, but not too strong, imported blue cheese, made from sheep’s milk and blended with cream.
Leonie from Slanghoek shared the story of how Slanghoek got it’s name. Why Slanghoek? The name translates to “corner of the snake”, and legend has it that the herd boys who herded cattle in the area believed there to be an all knowing and all seeing snake in the area. The snake possessed a jewel that would grant them eternal happiness if they could attain it, but alas no person was ever to find the jewel, as the snake always knew when it would be approached and slyly hid from sight. My neighbor, who was at our table, piped up “Now if you drink Slanghoek wine, you will have eternal happiness.”
“Life is too short to drink bad wine”, concluded Pieter, Slanghoek’s Cellarmaster. And with that dinner was served, followed by Bon Fromage’s delightful cheese board (Dalewood Camembert, Kimillili 6 mnth Mountain, Belnori Hedgehog Chevre, Klein Rivier Raclette and Klein Rivier Gruyere) with an offering of Slanghoek’s Private Selection Camerca.
The evening was enjoyed to the background of my companions discussing their respective recent trips to France and Spain, no doubt being reminded of Europe through our exquisite locally produced cheese and wine.