Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Wine Event hosted by Sam's Chop House

Last week I was invited to attend a wine and cheese event presented by Old Amsterdam hosted by Sam's Chop House. Sam's Chop House kindly provided the wine and most graciously their fabulous sommelier George.

An email was sent to me prior to the event by the PR Company which detailed the guest list, I noted that there was no familiar names? None of the usual Leeds food bloggers appeared to be attending?! Due to this when TDS and I arrived I had no idea who was a blogger and who was a PR girl/Old Amsterdam rep/Sam's Chop House employee. It soon became clear that we were the first 'bloggers' to arrive and quickly took a pew whilst ordering an ice cold drink (remember how sweltering hot it was on Wednesday 19th June - perhaps just a distant memory now?).

Another two bloggers arrived in due course, the amiable Simon O'Hare (previous Leeds Guide editor - now writer of a self titled wine blog) and the bubbly Sammie (littleblondelife.com). We were informed the other blogger (Yorkshire Pudd) was running late due to a delayed plane, he did eventually join us later in to the evening.

There wasn't much of an introduction from what I can remember (as you continue to read this post you will begin to realise I was actually quite drunk by the end of the night...) we seemed to get stuck straight in. I have absolutely no issue with this as sitting staring at food wondering when you can eat is not my idea of a good time.

I apologise in advance for my attempts as a naive wine and cheese lover (that is no professional experience) to describe my taste sensations of this night... I don't think I will ever truly learn either, I will always get too drunk to remember what I have been taught. I am glad I took notes throughout the night otherwise I would never be able to write this post. Wine and cheese experts prepare to cringe (if there are any reading this blog?).

The first cheese we tried was Burrata which is a mozzarella made with double cream. We were told this was a bit of a treat and not something normally on the menu for the cheese tasting. The outer shell of the cheese tasted like a rich mozzarella but as you cut deeper in to the centre it tasted entirely of double cream, but still retained that mozzarella texture - odd but nice, perhaps a bit too rich to eat a whole ball. George paired this with a Trebbiano which is a crisp light wine with a flowery and acidic taste. Not a typical white that I would choose for myself but even my naive taste buds could recognise a good pairing.

Next up was the star of the show, the reason we were all there: Old Amsterdam Cheese .

It looks like your stereotypical cartoon cheese, emphasised by it's waxy look and its mouse holes. As the cheese was passed around the table it was clear to me that Old Amsterdam Cheese wasn't the smelliest cheese on the table, which had pounced in to our nostrils upon arrival. Old Amsterdam Cheese is a type of Goudar but it is matured for longer to get rid of that chewy plastic taste (as this is being described my inner cheese gobbler is leaping around in joy - no one like chewy cheese, unless it's 2am in a burger and you have had so much alcohol your taste buds are numb). Old Amsterdam Cheese is matured between 6 and 18 months - a rather wide time frame if you ask me, but hey I am no cheese producer (yet...). This cheese is made just outside of Amsterdam and has already won 5 awards - I'm not sure how this compares to other award winning cheeses? How many cheese competitions are there in the world? On to the best bit - the tasting. The sales rep for OA described the taste as a creamy fudge. I don't think I actually clocked on to this until she mentioned it.. but I can go with that. It is definitely creamy but has that after taste of a mature cheddar.

George advised us to try it with the Trebbiano and this left a sour oaky taste in my mouth. Next we tried a Chardonnay (Domaine la Croix Belle Chardonnay Vine de Pays D'Oc from Languedoc Roussilloon), which was weightier and darker in colour. The higher alcohol level in this wine paired better and George explained that this was because the wine was balancing out the strong flavour from the cheese. Clearly this cheese needs bold strong flavours to complement it so we moved on to a red... a really heavy strong smelling red - Chateau Bonnet Reserve from Bordeaux. Although this wine looked heavy in the glass, on the palate it was less so with more complexity to it and it really hit the belly (maybe because it was empty). The red definitely paired better with OA than the white.

Other than the red wine this cheese also pairs well with fruits and chutneys, several were laid out on the table for us. I can't remember why this paired well.

The next cheese to be introduced was the Vasterbottenost (love that name for entirely childish reasons) which is Sweden's number one cheese and comes with a story too. The story goes that a cheese maid (I don't know if this was her official title...) was making the cheese (as you would probably expect a cheese maid to do) the first few steps is to keep stirring the cheese. However this little hussy had a surprise visit from her boyfriend and went for a quickie in the barn (I made that last part up, I felt the story needed more scandal and excitement) to come back to find the cheese had curdled to a texture similar to that of Parmesan. The result of her mistake is a sweet cheddar with both a sour and a bitter after taste. Rubbing the cheese between your fingers you can really feel the salt crystals packed inside. George recommend a grape blend for this cheese, the beautifully named Vina Esmeralda a Spanish Torres. He described it as a greatly fruity wine with inflects of peach, apple and Turkish Delight - I looked at him skeptically, put the wine to my mouth. Oh my. In exactly that order I could taste the peach, the apple and most surprisingly the Turkish Delight - it was luscious! We were then given a drop of Shiraz to compare. The Berri Estates Shiraz is a spicy wine that really married with the saltiness of the cheese. With a 14% alcohol level this seemed to me to be a warm wintry wine (rather than a summer wine) that wouldn't go a miss on those cold December nights, add a little warmth to your belly. We tried a little more of the OA with this Shiraz and it was clearly a finer pair.

It was at this point that I learnt a little tip when tasting cheese. Rub the cheese between your fingers before you try it as the heat generated releases the flavour - but be warned you will stink of cheese for days afterwards. 

The smelliest of the cheeses was next.... Sorry I mean the most pungent of the ... wait no... the most fragrant? I'll go with pungent as Waitrose describes it as this - The Epoisses Berthaut. The rind of this cheese is a dark orange due to it being washed repeatedly in Brandy (excellent). The potent mix of alcohol and saltiness make this one of the top ten smelliest cheeses there are. We were told to hold our noses first whilst putting the first bite in to our mouths, then repeat again without. The way I would describe this cheese is as a salty brie, it melts at room temperature the same way brie does and becomes incredibly sticky. You can feel the strength of this cheese drift through your nose. The salt almost makes the cheese addictive in taste and I expect eating a lot would make you want to drink a lot. A drunken cheese for a drunken person.

At this point in the night I actually learnt something about cheese and wine, a guaranteed good pairing is to choose a local wine and a fellow local cheese. The cows/sheep/goats etc will graze on the same earth that the vines have grown in and so they are a natural compliment. Paired with the Torres the Epoisses made the wine seem drier and removed the lovely sweetness of the wine. The recommended wine was a sweet white wine - Chateau du Seuil from Bordeaux, it had a honey flavour with a unique washing down. It sort of skips over your tongue brushing down the sides of your mouth and hits the back of your throat, in a good way. The vanilla flavour of the wine really sticks to your lips savouring the flavour a little longer.

The last cheese to try was the Gorgonzola blue, this cheese is just 9 months old and comes under the medium category when talking about blues. The pungent blue cheese taste slowly develops in your mouth and the spices slowly come through. It's a good novice blue cheese eaters blue as it isn't too strong or mouldy in taste. Again the sweet wine was paired with this cheese, it took out the bitterness of the cheese and brought out the creaminess that was hidden.

Then as a special treat once all the cheeses had been sampled we were given a Hungarian Royal Tokaji Blue Label, a favourite of George's. Undeniably drunk at this point my notes on this wine describe it only as 'rolls down the side of your mouth misses out your tongue and has flicks of satsuma'. I think I may have been getting confused a this point ... this sounds an awful lot like the sweet wine. So who knows what the Hungarian wine tasted like! I was too sloshed to care.

Praise needs to be given to George the sommelier provided by Sam's Chop House, his enthusiasm for wine really made the night. His knowledge impenetrable and sound, he really made the night.

Not even close to the end of the night the PR girls and the OA sales rep shot off as they needed to get back home (Manchester) so we were left to finish off the rest of the cheese and wine. AMAZING. We demolished the lot between us.

Just before the OA lady vanished she informed us that she had some gifts for us and produced some cool bags. I was expecting a small sample of the OA cheese... but when I took a look inside there was a whole block (the exact size of what was on the table at the start of the night) of each cheese for each of us! I am going to end up very fat.

There was no scrimping on cost, the event was put together very well and flowed easily. Everyone felt relaxed with no pressure placed upon us, I think a smaller group definitely added a dynamic that is often missing at blogger events.

With thanks to Old Amsterdam and Sam's Chop House for having us.