Cheese and Cheers

Cheese and CheersCheese and Cheers

W hen Sylvia brought out the blowtorch, I knew we were going to have fun. 

The manager of the cheese shop at Caseus fromagerie and bistro, Sylvia Sobocinski hosts the restaurant’s twice-monthly cheese pairing classes with general manager and wine buyer Megan Bresnahan.

On Tuesday, November 14, the culinary torch was the opening flourish to a convivial evening of wines and cheeses, a $45 sampling of what you might want to serve on your own holiday table. With a note of trepidation, Sobocinski fired up the torch and caramelized a sugar topping on the night’s first delicacy: Humboldt Fog, a California goat cheese with a fine ash rind. The sweet, crunchy brûlée provided a perfect introduction to the creamy cheese beneath. “Delicious!” someone from the crowd of 20 tasters called out. Paired with a pale, peach-colored sparkling rosé from Savoie, the experience brought to mind an elegant summer evening, even though it was cold and dark outside.

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Nearing its 10th anniversary, Caseus is known for “unique artisan cheeses, gourmet dry goods, spices, olive oils and preserves from local small producers and the world’s most unique and gastronomically significant countries,” the website explains. Located near the corner of Whitney and Trumbull, the cheese shop occupies the lower level. For our tasting, however, we gathered in the restaurant’s cozy bar, where tables of four got acquainted over five cheese and wine pairings.

“When the cheese and the wine come together, they both taste much more magnificent,” Sobocinski told the crowd. “So, sometimes there might be something you don’t like that much on its own, but when it gets paired, it’s really wonderful.”

Every wine on the evening’s tasting menu hailed from France, a bias wine buyer Bresnahan readily admitted to bearing. “Our menu has a French backbone to it,” she explained. “Our classic dishes always have a little French influence.” What the wines also had in common was their acidity. “We like to have big, zesty, acidic wines because you need that to cut through the fat of cheeses,” Bresnahan said. “It helps move that fatty cheese around on your palate and helps the flavors of the cheese expand a little bit.”

Together, Sobocinski and Bresnahan make an engaging team. They clearly know their cheese and wine. But despite a cornucopia of information given to us, there was no chance to feel intimidated by the caliber of the food and drink or by the hosts. Instead, Sobocinski and Bresnahan kept up a casual, playful rapport with guests and one another, culminating in a vote for the favorite pairing.

The winning duo was Cacio di Bosco, an Italian sheep cheese “studded with white truffles,” with a Beaujolais: the 2016 Domaine de la Voûte des Crozecs Cote-de-Brouilly. Made by a female vintner—still uncommon in the traditional world of French wine—this Beaujolais was far smoother and deeper than the typical nouveau Beaujolais released to great fanfare in time for Thanksgiving. As she served the cheese, Sobocinski acknowledged that “you either love truffle, or you don’t,” but for this crowd it was a pleaser: earthy and perfect for a late-autumn night.

Also plated were a Vermont “stinky” cheese called Harbison wrapped in spruce bark with a Folle Blanche, or “crazy white,” from the Loire region of France; an “assertive” cheddar from Scotland with a gamay, also from Loire; and Caveman Blue, a “fudgy” dessert blue cheese from Oregon paired with a soul-warming orange- and cinnamon-studded mulled wine. Served with a generous side of crackers, bread, dried apricots and dates, portions of both wine and cheese were perfect, enough to taste several times without filling up.

Caseus’s tagline is, “Every cheese has a story.” That claim was borne out during the course of the night, with stories about how the Vermont Harbison got its name (from a beloved older woman in the town where the cheese is made), how to cut a 55-pound wheel of cheddar (“It’s a good workout, so I don’t have to go to the gym, just cut some more cheese,” Sobocinski quipped), what makes that same cheese “boozy” (the cows eat a lot of “draff” from a nearby distillery) and more. Bresnahan shared details about the terroir—the environmental growing conditions—of each wine, the reasons each was paired with particular cheeses and the backstory of the mulled wine along with recipe cards, eliciting a cheer from the well-oiled crowd.

Coming up in December are two cheese pairing classes, one with wintry porters and stouts and another with robust red wines. “We’re very big on educating people because we feel like the more you know about what you’re eating, the more exciting your experience is going to be,” Sobocinski said.

Blowtorch and all, Caseus knows how to throw a party.

Classes at Caseus
93 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Twice a month or so
(203) 624-3373 x302
www.caseusnewhaven.com/education/classes

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is The Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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