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When Patricia first came across a soft cheese that a Japanese cheesemaker had dipped into a sake brine, this was over 20 years ago at a specialist cheese event in the hills above Veneto.  Our first tutored Sake/Cheese event was in 2012 when we were invited to match cheese to a Sake business for their high-end customers who would be suitably surprised by the pairings.  Since then we have had several tutored tastings and each one has little changes and  upticks as our palates become more refined. This board is born of a recent collaboration between La Fromagerie and Erika Haigh of Mai Sake, a Sake specialist and educator. She has a very similar approach with fine Sake as we do with fine cheese: focussing on taste, tradition, seasonality and terroir. The last of which, takes in human culture as well as natural factors. Put another way, we share the conviction that you cannot truly understand and appreciate a traditional artisan fermented product until you understand the place it is made.

The similarity with cheese does not end there. Lactic acid producing bacteria are involved right at the beginning of fermentation in both products and the extended fermentation of each produces savoury tasting amino acids in each. In a very real sense, they share a greater kinship than do cheese and wine! Quite a claim but in many respects, quite true. 

Trying Sake with cheese takes an open mind but the rewards are there. Forget about acidity and tannins and think about aroma, mouthfeel, temperature and savouriness. Let the cheese provide the gentle acidity to balance the pairing. 

Mahoroba Junmai, Yonetsuru Brewery, Yamagata Prefecture, Central Japan

Dewanosato Rice, 60% polishing ratio, 15% ABV

This terroir-driven sake pays homage to its ‘Mahoroba’ or ‘beautiful place’ that surrounds the brewery. The name is derived from the ‘Wanderer's Songs’ in the ancient texts ‘Kojiki’ and ‘Nihonshoki’, which means "a wonderful place."  It is brewed from 60% milled ‘Dewanosato’, a sake-brewing rice cultivated by the local Takahata Sake Rice Research Association in Yamagata Prefecture. A perfect balance of umami and crispness. It is thus a fitting name for a sake produced using ingredients grown in the fertile soil of Takahata, which is affectionately known as the Mahoroba village. Mahoroba is a Junmai that has been carefully brewed while remaining faithful to the foundations of sake-brewing.

Try at fridge temperature or room temp in a wine glass or as a single slightly warmed portion in a thin lipped cup or tumbler. Once opened treat like a wine and store in the fridge and consume within a few days.

 Le Barisien, Meuse Department, Grand-Est

 A decadent triple crème cheese made by the brothers, Jean-Philippe and Luc Dongé amongst the lush pastures of the Meuse Department of Grande-Est: Brie de Meaux country. The centre is like fluffy ice cream with a balance of sweetness from the added cream, gentle acidity from the fermentation and a subtle pleasing bitterness. The thin white downy rind contributes a flavour of raw button mushrooms. This is a luxurious but subtle cheese perfectly suited to supporting the subtle aromas of more delicate Sakes.

Soumaintrain Fermier, Gaec Leclere, Yonne, Bugundy

Soft Camembert size cheese lightly washed with brine developing a thin peach coloured washed rind with scatterings of white bloomy moulds often developing as it ripens. The taste is rich, mellow and fruity like clotted crème fraiche. The Leclere dairy is one of only six own herd farms making this cheese left in the region making this very traditional local cheese. A ripening period of around twenty one days is required during which the cheese is brine washed every two to three days.

Comté d’Estive with Sichuan pepper, Franche-Comté

We choose July and August cheeses most of the time and the Suchaux cheeses are aged for an extra year or more in the underground caves of the dairy. The process depends on how long we can keep the maturing going without the flavours becoming traduced or overpowering. The complex flavour profile is a real treat.

Sichuan Pepper

We happened upon a fabulous flavour combination in our tastings with richer Sakes – twenty four months plus Comté and ground Sancho pepper. Sancho pepper is not a pepper at all, rather a member of the citrus family that is very similar to the now world famous, Chinese Sichuan Pepper. It shares with Sichuan Pepper an incredible, almost mind bending, combination of fruitiness, acidity and mouth numbing effect though it is milder and arguably more subtle. The caramel richness of an aged Comté soothes the strength of the pepper, and the pepper in turn, lifts the flavours of the cheese. They combine to lift and open up the aromas of complex Sakes. A flavour combination not to be missed; use a light touch seasoning a bite of Comté and go from there!

The board includes a packet of La Fromagerie Charcoal Biscuits.



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