Cheese and Wine Challenge | July 2005

Julia asks: Montgomery’s Cheddar and ……?

The British Empire no longer paints the world map pink, but still cheddar colonizes our palates and plates. Over 90% of cheese in Britain is sold as cheddar, as is over a third of cheese in North America, even after centuries of independence. Products of insipid texture, lurid hue and abominable fruit and vegetable flavours share this venerable name due to a tragic failure to protect appellation. Only six authentic farmhouse cheddar makers remain in England. James Montgomery is possibly supreme among them. For better and worse, cheddar reigns over Anglo-Saxon cheeses, but Montgomery’s is king of them all.

Why am I such a loyal subject? To start, the cheese’s production inspires awe and respect. Fewer than fifteen cylinders from the raw milk of a single herd are handmade each day, wrapped in cloth and set to age on a plank of wood. The transpiring rind and organic surrounding allow aromas of the farm to permeate the paste. One sniff of a freshly cut face and you are in bucolic bliss. Breathe in the mild sour tang of warm hide and the sweetness of straw. The paste crumbles and cracks, but is still resilient and glistening with youth; a bite skids across your teeth and dissolves quickly. Tongue-prickling acidity dominates, but from the back of your mouth, long after you have swallowed, comes a round bitter bass note straight from the barn.

I want to enjoy this cheese after a Sunday evening meal of roast beef and root vegetables. Ideally, I’ll share a wedge, off in the corner, with a fellow diner of a certain age. My companion will be from a generation that appreciates tradition, recognizing the beauty of expression within constraint, with a knack for conversation to match the depth and breadth of this cheese. What wine can possibly meet our expectations?

Tonia replies...

Traditional: Non-vintage Port
Fun: Honey Brown Ale
Adventurous: South Australian Chardonnay
Plain Old Crazy: Aged Priorat or Navarre (Grenache based, softened tannins and low acid but yummy dried fruit notes.) I thought of this because I love grilled cheese sandwiches with aged cheddar on raisin bread. Can you see the connection?

Christy Vaughn replies...

Originally from Ontario, Christy Vaughan now lives in Brooklyn, New York and currently splits her time between making music and drinking and writing about wine. Christy is in the process of completing the Diploma in Wines and Spirits from the WSET in the U.K.

In keeping with tradition, and British tradition at that, what could be more ideal with this special wedge of Cheddar than a glass of well-aged claret? Better known today in North America as Bordeaux, the British have a more than three hundred year old history with these red blends from the southwest of France. In fact, their obsession with these fine wines have outlasted many a Franco-Anglo war and trade ban. According to appellation law, up to six specified varieties can be included in the mix, but three grapes tend to dominate these red wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

In their youth, fine Bordeaux wines are legendary for their rough tannins and gritty mouthfeel. As the wine ages, however, the tannins mellow and soften, and the raw, exuberant fruit of youth transforms on the palate into a delicate mélange of dried plums, blackcurrants and smoky forest floor. The subtlety of the aged bouquet of the Bordeaux, along with the underlying strength of a sturdy backbone of structure will perfectly match the tangy acidity and bright youthfulness of the Cheddar. Neither component of this pairing will be overpowered; instead, the differences of each element will complement the other. Your distinguished companion will undoubtedly be an enthusiast of the extraordinarily complex notes that aged Bordeaux brings to the table and you will have much to discuss this evening.