cheese plate by Rachel, age 7

REVIEWS

Cheese Plates Around Town



Batifole 744 Gerrard St. East 416 462-9965

“The Best French Food in Chinatown!” proclaims the tongue-in-cheek sandwich board outside this packed and popular restaurant, which brings residents of Riverdale a rare local alternative to pho, chao sieu and dim sum. Not content to rest on that (miniscule) laurel, the team at Batifole offers a well-executed menu of Gallic classics including choucroute, duck confit and frites mayonnaise, which place this neighbourhood spot among Toronto’s better French restaurants.

So, how good is the Best Cheese Plate in Chinatown? Like everything on the menu, Batifole’s plat de fromage is well priced ($12) and generously portioned (5 x 30 g pieces). Unlike the several appetizers and mains that offer diners a walk on the wild side (cheval tartare, anyone?), the cheese selection is “France light.” A recent plate featured Morbier and Fourme d’Ambert, whose gentle, fruity delicacy makes them an unusually polite pair from the typically more challenging washed rind and blue cheese families. Standing in unannounced for Brie de Meaux and Beaufort d’Alpage were a Brie Ordinaire and Gruyère. Industrial Port Salut, which has been standing in for its former self (a noble Trappist tomme) for over a century, rounded out the plate.

Each piece of cheese was neatly cut, and in perfect condition, but the restrained flavours and pasty textures tended toward uniformity. The effect was somewhat like drinking a fruit-forward, soft-structured, simple wine. While the first sip may be tasty, a whole glass is too much of too little. But hey, wines like that are mighty popular, so Batifole’s board is likely quite successful as is. And the ability to offer cheeses in peak form is no easy matter, when most tables go directly from meat to dessert. To my taste, the accompanying zingy red onion and raisin compôte, the phenomenally fresh, toasted walnuts, and the glass of Banyuls – a velvety mouthful of dried red berries, currants and leather – were the stars of the cheese course.

 

 

Read previous reviews here


TASTING NOTES

Trappist-Style Beer and Cheese: Tasting Notes, April 2006

First Pair: Blanche de Chambly (Unibroue) and Triple-Crème du Village de Warwick

The beer: Cloudy pale amber in colour from bottle refermentation, the Blanche expresses notes of wheat, a touch of clove and grapefruit. Light and refreshing on the palate with pleasant and subtle hop bitterness on the finish.

The cheese: Cream-enriched with a velvety bloomy rind surrounding a semi-soft to flowing heart that smells of cultured butter and white mushrooms. Full dairy flavours and notes of nuts and mushrooms develop as the luscious paste melts in the mouth.

Second Pair: Goudenband (Liefmans) and Gruyère

The beer: A Belgian ale with less of the malty sweetness of many of its counterparts. The beer is a deep amber colour with a mocha coloured, persistent head. Lots of nutty, spicy notes on the nose that carry onto the palate. Tart cherry flavours in the mouth and a hint of pineapple and cheese. Long full finish.

The cheese: Smooth firm taupe coloured paste with a strong fruity and savoury aroma. This classic cheese is resilient but rich in the mouth, with moderate acidity and balanced sweetness and salt. Long finish with flavours of pineapple and ham.

Third Pair: Pineapple Lambic and Thunder Oak Reserve Gouda

The beer: A wide array of aromas are offered by this Belgian fruit lambic. Intense pineapple aroma is accented by clove, caramel and banana, all of these components also on the palate. Soft, full mouthfeel.

The cheese: Sweet and spicy aromas and a brittle paste that is rich and slow to dissolve. Full and balanced sweet, tangy and savoury flavours. The finish expresses wood, cumin and soy sauce.

Fourth Pair: Orval and Munster d'Alsace

The beer: This dry Trappist ale has an intensely aromatic character showing floral and fruit notes, as well as gamey notes. Full head with lasting lace leads into a full, firm mouthfeel with a tart, refreshing sour cherry finish.

The cheese: A venerable cheese with an orange-pink, sticky rind, bulging yellow paste, and intense aroma produced by washing the rind during affinage. Ripe Munster smells of fruit, hay and milk, and tastes spicy, tangy and slightly beefy.

Fifth Pair: Maudite (Unibroue) and Bleu Ermite

The beer: Medium mahagany colour with a sweet roasted malty and mocha nose. Palate is full and slightly sweet with warm citrus notes and light spiciness of coriander and clove. Only slight touch of bitter hoppiness to keep the finish tidy.

The cheese: A dense off-white cheese streaked with a loose network of deep blue veins. Aromas are direct, evoking damp cellar floor and fermenting fruit. The mould imparts a bitter, mineral undertone to the pleasantly sweet and salty paste. Bittersweet finish.


British-Style Beer and Cheese: Tasting Notes, May 2006

First Pair: Fuller's London Pride and Wensleydale

The beer: Light bronze colour with a medium head. Lightly toasted malt aromas and a hint of cocoa and yeast. A mouthfilling palate with a refreshing, lemony finish.

The cheese: A young cheese with light, pale lemon-white paste and a mild lemon yogurt aroma. Gentle but balanced flavours include notes of sweet cooked milk and tart fermented dairy products.

Second Pair: Innis and Gunn Oak-Aged Ale and Comté

The beer: Aged in malt whisky barrels that impart vanilla, toffee and orange aromas. Interesting hint of spearmint on the nose. The palate delivers a light malty sweetness with a touch of chocolate. Warm, balanced finish.

The cheese: Golden yellow paste indicates summer Alpine pasturage. Expressive aromas of toasted nuts lead to a long bittersweet finish with herbal notes. Texture is waxy and rich.

Third Pair: Neustadt "10W30" and Montgomery's Cheddar

The beer: Dark amber colour with aromas of caramel and roasted barley; medium bodied, with notes of coffee and toasted walnuts on the palate. Refreshing balanced bitterness on the finish.

The cheese: The pale, flaky, occasionally veined paste of this cloth-bound cheddar is intensely aromatic, with herbal and savoury cured meat notes. In the mouth, citric acidity is balanced with sweet, rich browned butter and made lively with salt. The finish is long and layered.

Fourth Pair: Hockley Valley Dark Ale and Bonnechere

The beer: Nut-brown colour with medium head, alon with aromas of caramel and roasted coffee. Same flavours are on the palate along with a refreshing balance of hoppiness and malty sweetness. Toasty medium finish.

The cheese: An unusual artisan cheese with a toasted rind. The semi-firm paste absorbs smoky, hickory-wood aromas and slightly sour flavours from the charring. Well balanced and ultimately gentle.

Fifth Pair: McAusan's St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Colston-Basset Stilton

The beer: A cup full of flavour! The colour is deep black with lasting mocha coloured head. Aromas are of chocolate, espresso and malt. The creamy texture is accompanied by flavours of toasted nut, dried leaves and earthiness. Long balanced finish with judicious hoppiness.

The cheese: Blue-green veins form a loose network throughout the creamy yellow-white to tan paste. Aromas are earthy and full, punctuated by an herbal sharpness. Smooth and slow to dissolve, the paste is surprisingly sweet, with flavours of cocoa underlying the piquant mould.


Lively collaborations between Quebec and Ontario

The cheese: Tourelle de Richelieu (Quebec, raw goat milk)
An ashed, aged chèvre made by Patrick Chaput and aged at Dépendances du Manoir. Depending on its age, this dense, smooth cheese will be more or less tart, with herbal and mineral notes.

The wine: Hillebrand Estates Trius Riesling Dry 2004 VQA
Refreshingly crisp, though not austere, with citrus and floral notes to complement these same nuances in the cheese.

The cheese: Le Cap Rond (Quebec, raw goat’s milk)
This cheese smells intensely goaty. The paste is very smooth and dense with a slight flowing texture just beneath the ash rind. Musky, warm, faintly bitter flavours show well against the wine.

The wine: Chateau des Charmes Viognier 2002
This smooth, medium-bodied aromatic wine has peach and almond aromatics and complex melon and citrus flavours on the palate. It is well suited to stronger goat cheeses of equal complexity.

 

Balanced sweetness, salt and spice

The cheese: Gorgonzola Piccante (Italy, pasteurized cow milk, DOP 1996)
One of the world's great blue cheeses, Gorgonzola has 10th century origins in Piemonte. This dark blue-veined cheese is salty and sharp, with earthy aromas. The dense, sweet, ivory paste provides balance and rich length of flavour.

The wine: Peller Estates Signature Series Cabernet Franc Icewine 2004
Rich red fruits and spice liven up this sweet but vibrant rarity: a red icewine.

 

Five small plates for entertaining

Queso Fresco with herbs and olive oil on chive flatbreads

Pecorino Staggionato with green tomato mostardo and Marcona almonds

Munster with caraway seeds and onion and garlic jam on "everything" crackers

Sao Jorge with membrillo and fresh figs

Colston-Bassett Stilton with caramelized walnuts and red pears


Other recent tasting notes:

Delicious American artisanal cheese

A wine and cheese dilemma

Notable cheese and wine matches

 


CHEESE AND WINE CHALLENGE:

November 2005 | Christy Vaughn asks: Pinot Noir and ……?

With autumn upon us and the leaves already starting to colour and drop, I have officially begun my search for the type of solace that can only be offered by a bottle of red wine in combination with a chunk of flavourful cheese.

I am a confirmed seasonal wine drinker. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a healthy combination of whites, rosés and reds all year round, but there is something about fall and the need for sweaters at dusk that prompts me to pour myself a glass of dedicated red.
And what’s in my glass during these gloriously crisp and colourful autumnal days? Pinot Noir. Light enough to be drunk on an unseasonably warm October evening, but with the fruit concentration and silky tannins to provide substance for more significant food adventures.

Pinot Noir is a difficult variety to grow well – its thin, delicate skin is susceptible to rot, but in the hands of a talented viticulturist and with the blessing of a good vintage, this grape can make some of the world’s most sought after wines. Grown most successfully in cooler climates like New Zealand, Ontario, Oregon and, of course, Burgundy, Pinot Noir generally retains a delicate balance of acidity and a gentle subtlety of fruit that will enhance rather than overwhelm accompanying food choices.

The Dufouleur Bourgogne Hautes Côtes-de-Nuits Rouge 2002 is an example of elegant Burgundian restraint, and shows well the delicacy and versatility of Pinot Noir. The fruit that makes up this wine is sourced from the northern half of the famed Côte d’Or, specifically from vineyards west of Vougeot, Vosne Romanée and Nuits-St-Georges. On the nose there are aromas of crushed raspberries and a faint hint of damp earth and smoke. The palate follows through with a soft, medium-bodied texture and just the right touch of tannin to add structure and moderate ageing potential. Bright acidity balances deftly with ripe red berry fruit and gamey barnyard accents.

This wine cries out for a cheese partner…what selection will step up to the plate and create a winning combination?

Julia replies...

Although I maintain a rigourous, year-round regime of wine and cheese study, I do agree with you, autumn brings new energy to my pursuit of spectacular combinations. Here is one suggestion for your current dilemma.

The next cool evening that a bottle of Dufouleur Bourgogne Hautes Côtes-de-Nuits beckons, grab your sweater and a plump, ripe Nuits d’Or cheese…. Yes, the name sounds oddly familiar. Even the lovely, formal, gold-foil label of this little washed rind disk could grace a bottle of Burgundy, albeit from an Appellation Inconnue! As a relatively modern branded cheese, Nuits d’Or counts on the thousand-year-old pedigree of its place of origin (Burgundy, of course!) to confer respect and recognition. If it were an undeserving cheese, we’d detest this cheap trick. Luckily, Nuits d’Or is delightful, and marvelously well suited to enjoyment with a glass of well-wrought local red. Unlike Époisses, Ami du Chambértin, and other premium pungent, ruddy cheeses, Nuits d’Or is consistently wonderful and reasonably priced. In this regard, it trumps the high stakes gamble of purchasing French Pinot Noir.

The cheese and wine have compatible body and complexity. Nuits d’Or shares the wine’s many-dimensioned balance. To the eye, the dense, hay-coloured cheese shows only a hint of sticky surface and bulging heart. Its aroma is fruity and earthy, but not excessively mired in the muck of the farm. As the rich, springy paste melts in your mouth, salt and acidity predominate, followed by mild hazelnut sweetness and a touch of dry-leaf bitterness.

Our match proves successful at enhancing both partners. The cheese’s full body and long, rich, perhaps overly salty finish underline the wine’s fruity, gently acidic character, and support its delicacy right to the end. The gamey, barnyard notes of the wine deliver a funkiness that Nuits d’Or shies away from. To achieve full-frontal “I’m in the stall now” impressions, cheeses often cross the line between ready and rotten, à point and pourri. Alone, Nuits d’Or hangs back, but with the wine, it heads toward the sublime place where development and decay pause to meet.

Had you challenged me with a cellared bottle of Chambertin, I would have parried with Époisses Fermier treated to the best affinage…but then that’s what Napoleon would have picked. We’d best leave that combination to the history books, as its near-perfection is unobtainable with commercial Epoisses, and a lean wallet. For a celebratory taste of fall, I can propose nothing better than a glass of your restrained, “dedicated red” and a wedge of my careful, presentable, retro-respectable, almost stinky cheese.

Previous Cheese and Wine Challenges... click here