I was thrilled to visit the cheese maker. Their cheese with Lapsang Souchong tea blended in the cheese was phenomenal when I last tasted it. Cheese and tea can be a gratifying pairing.
Out In The Country
I had the pleasure of visiting a cheese maker in the countryside of New York State. I had tasted several of their cheese varieties years ago. If memory serves me, I am in for a treat visiting and sampling their cheese. Harpersfield Farmstead Cheese is located in the Catskills of New York State. They are adept at blending tea right into the cheese to impart unique and tea-filled flavors into the cheese.
Harpersfield Farmstead has been raising Holstein-Jersey dairy cows for forty five years. The three generation farmstead family has been making cheese for approximately twenty years. They process their cheese on the premises. Everything from pasteurizing the milk, creating the curds, packing the curds into metal wheels, placing the cheese wheels in salt baths, to aging the cheese in a cheese cave is all done in-house. The day I went to purchase cheese, they were not making the cheese. However, I was able to take a quick tour of the exceptionally clean cheese making rooms and the cheese cave. To me, the cheese cave was the most interesting part of the tour. Alas, I was not able to take photos though.
I know I wanted to purchase the Lapsang Souchong flavored cheese, but what else? I was given samples of delectable cheese varieties and the choices were limitless. The only self-imposed limits were space for traveling back with the cheese and keeping the cheese cold. I ended up purchasing seven different cheeses of which five varieties had tea blended right into the cheese.
Cheese can be categorized by milk types; sheep, goat, or cow milk. They can also be categorized by how they were aged differently, treated with molds or different bacteria. Cheese categories include fresh and soft, semi-hard, hard, blue and smoked cheese. I purchased semi-hard cheese that was made from cow’s milk and aged in a cheese cave, producing semi-hard cheese in the style of a Tilsit cheese.
Tilsit cheese has its origins in Germany, has a tangy flavor, and is made in a wheel or block shape. The cheese blended with tea that I purchased included: Raspberry Herbal cheese, Marry Me Again cheese, Lapsang Souchong cheese, Hot Cinnamon Spice cheese, and Chocolate Mint cheese. The two other cheeses I purchased were Basil And Tomato cheese and Lavender cheese.
Conducting a cheese tasting is parallel or on par to conducting a tea tasting. There are similar helpful suggestions along with a cheese specific rule that maximize the tastings. In a cheese tasting, the cheese should be left out to warm up before tasting. Cheese flavor profiles can change with the cheese temperature. To detect subtle tastes in the cheese, it is optimal to serve it at or near room temperature. Similar to a tea tasting, be sure to consume bland food for a meal or snack an hour or two prior to the cheese tasting. What you eat can coat your tongue and skew the true flavor profile of the cheese. Much the same as sampling tea, the cheese should be tasted from mildest cheese profile to the strongest cheese profile, tasting from left to right in a horizontal pattern. For example, a white cheddar cheese would be tasted prior to a Rouqufort cheese so that the cheddar flavor would be unadulterated by the Roquefort cheese.
I would suggest keeping snacks as bland as possible during cheese tasting. Saltine crackers may be the ideal snack and palate cleanser in between each tasting. Water is a good neutral palate cleanser, and it is a good idea to have a glassful available during a cheese tasting. Charcuterie boards are easy to pull together and can include easy-to-find snacks. However, each snack has the potential to amend the flavor of the cheese. Please keep in mind that spicy cheeses, deli meats, and spiced nuts may be too conflicting in taste to lend an appreciation for flavors of the cheese. In my personal opinion, if the focus is going to be on cheese tasting and not necessarily a charcuterie board, then sticking with crackers or a baguette would serve one well.
Several questions to think about while tasting cheese are what flavors are you tasting, is the creaminess of the cheese balanced with astringency in the tea, and does the mouth feel of the tea complement or contrast with the cheese? It is helpful to have paper and pen, or a technical device close at hand to jot down initial thoughts, comments and reactions to the cheese and tea pairings. Lastly, be sure to smell the tea and the cheese before consuming each one because our sense of taste is closely associated with our sense of smell.
Pairing The Cheese With Tea
A cheese and tea pairing can either complement, contrast or balance each item being served. Pairing can include matching or contrasting texture, mouth feel, aromas, and of course flavor profiles. Oftentimes it is recommended to keep the pairings to three cheeses. The less cheese, the easier it is to focus on what one is tasting without overwhelming the taste buds. However I wanted to conduct a tasting with all five cheese blends that were available to me for purchase. Due to the cheese flavors varying drastically from smokey to fruity, I decided to keep the tea consistent throughout the tasting.
I chose to steep a New Vithanakande Ceylon tea that is mild in astringency, and is lightly sweet, honey and lemon in taste. I thought it would be a well rounded base flavor that could complement and hopefully also contrast with the cheese flavor profiles. Yet, numerous other pairings would be just as appropriate. For example, a Yunnan black tea from China could be a tea paired with these cheeses. The Yunnan tea’s smooth mouthfeel and earthy profile would balance nicely with the cheese. India’s Nilgiri tea's grainy and fruity aroma and slight citrus notes would nicely complement the cheese as well.
To be prepared for the pairings, it is suggested to have everything ready and accessible prior to the tasting. I would start by smelling and tasting the cheese and then writing down your comments regarding the cheese. Then I would smell and taste the tea and write down comments regarding the tea. Finish up with another taste of the cheese. Had anything changed in the flavor profile of the tea or the cheese?
My cheese and tea tasting notes are simple; a jotting down of first reactions and impressions of the cheese and then how the tea and cheese pair together. Each person will taste and experience the cheese and teas given their own taste perceptions. I have included a basic cheese profile and then a tea and cheese pairing profile to hopefully demonstrate how easy it is to pair cheese and tea.
Raspberry Herbal cheese - The aroma of the cheese was fruity and slightly floral. The flavor profile of the cheese to me was floral, fruity, crisp, and slightly sweet. The mouthfeel of the cheese was smooth, creamy and buttery. The tea with the cheese brought out the raspberry taste and also made the cheese more tangy.
Marry Me Again cheese- The aroma of the cheese was slightly nutty, grassy, floral and fruity. The flavor of the cheese included a lemony and citrusy flavor along with a slight astringency in the cheese. The texture of the cheese was very creamy. The tea brought out a more pronounced lemon flavor in the cheese.
Lapsang Souchong cheese- This cheese has a wonderful smoky aroma because of the tea blended into the cheese. The cheese also smelled earthy, and mushroomy. The flavor profile of this cheese was that of mild smokiness, and it had a dry finish. Combined with the tea, the cheese had a hint of brown sugar and a mushroom flavor.
Hot Cinnamon Spice cheese- The aroma in the cheese was floral, sweet, milky, with a cinnamon undertone. The flavor profile of the cheese was citrusy, and grainy with a buttered noodle flavor. The cheese had a smooth umami mouth feel. When sampled along with the tea, the cheese had even more of an umami mouth feel and the cheese also had more of the cinnamon tea flavor.
Chocolate Mint cheese- This cheese had a minty, chocolate and a butter aroma to it. The flavor profile reminded me of minty mushrooms, with a hint of blue cheese and a dry finish. Combined with the tea, this cheese had a more mellow mushroom flavor and the mint became more apparent. The cheese also had an herbaceous taste after sipping the tea.
In between each taste pairing I would take a sip of water and consume a saltine cracker to help cleanse my palate. I would take a moment to write down my initial notes on the pairing and then move to the next pairing. A different tea could be paired with each cheese and tasting notes written down. Or, a tasting could be composed of one cheese paired with two or three teas at one time.
There are many options in how to pair cheese and tea. It is easy to create a cheese and tea pairing for yourself, friends and family. All you need is good cheese and good tea! Have fun and don’t forget the tea!
About The Author
Leslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea. No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!