On a beautiful evening, sixty wine-and-cheese lovers gathered at the Pequot Museum in Fairfield for an education on five specially selected cheeses and wines chosen by Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo, the owners of Fairfield Cheese Company and James Beard Award Winner Max McCalman. For two hours McCalman guided the group through the wonderful wines and delightful cheeses and masterfully conveyed his insight and passion. McCalman is a leading promoter of artisanal cheese production and was America's first restaurant-based Maître Fromager. He was conferred the title of Maître Fromager as designated by France's Guilde des Fromagers and is the author of Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best, which won a 2006 James Beard Award.
The group entered the auditorium with its soaring ceilings and was greeted with cloth covered tables, already topped with large pours of five wines from eastern France standing at attention behind a plate of five cheeses. The first wine was a Savagnin from Domaine Rolet Nature du Jura (2011), which was joined by two wines from the Savoie region. The first was a Rousette from Eugene Carrel & Fils (2013) and a Mondeuse from Charles Gonnet (2013). The last two were from the Alsace region and included a Reisling from Jean-Marc Bernard (2009) and a Gewűrztraminer (2012). After a sip of each wine, MCalman described the differences and characters, and then the class moved to sampling the cheeses, paired individually with the wines.
The first of the five French cheeses was a Comte Fort Antoine (Marcel Petite - Essex aged 14-18 months). This is considered by many as one of the great cheeses of the world. This was no exception as the browned butter nuttiness was evident. It worked well with the wines, especially the Mondeuse and the Gewűrztraminer. The second cheese was a Beaufort d'Ete. Again, the nuttiness was prevalent, more of a hazelnut in this vintage and I again enjoyed it paired with the Mondeuse and the Gewűrztraminer, and thought these two were the best pairings of the evening. The third cheese was a Tomme de Savoie Fermier (Paccard). This is a farmhouse cheese where all of the ingredients are from the same farm under the control of the cheese master. Laura thought this was one of the best varieties she has tasted in quite some time but was quick to point out that it was “not for everybody” due to its very earthy tones. Mcalman agreed as he voted this as the best cheese to pair of the five presented.
The group moved to the more creamy varieties with cheese number four, an Abbaye de Tamie (Paccard). This was my favorite of the evening. It was soft, creamy and mild, yet had a long tail of flavor. The last was a Petit Munster Gerome. Laura gave her first impression, she was not fond of this Munster. I enjoyed this variety which delivered a mild start but built with flavor over several minutes.
While the class enjoyed the wines and cheeses, McCalman educated the participants to its history, the wine and cheese making processes, the nuances that each delivered and the health benefits. It was a fast paced, fun-filled evening of eating great cheeses, sipping delightful French wines and listening to Max McCalman’s wonderful descriptions.