The reward for spending 90 minutes stuck in traffic? Arriving at your destination and being greeted with a glass of sparkling wine. The good people at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills know how to make a frazzled L.A. driver feel welcome, and they make “school” a picnic by presenting monthly cheese and wine pairings that are both educational and, well, fun.
Cheese People, as anyone who attends a tasting is called, gathered recently to relish wines and cheeses from the French, Austrian and Italian Alps. Tony and Norbert, founders of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, deserve a trophy (preferably made of Gruyère) for democratizing the cheese and wine tasting experience.
Snobbery is verboten here, despite the posh neighborhood. At the start of each tasting, Tony reminds “freshmen” and “seniors” about the golden rule: No snapping of fingers to get staff’s attention (“We’re not at Spago!”). By the way, this is the only place on the planet where it’s an honor to be called a senior, a title I’ve earned after years of attending Cheese Store events, much to the benefit of my makeshift wine storage closet (and the detriment of my waistline).
Clockwise from the top, the first cheese plate featured Cremeux de Jura, a cow’s milk cheese from France’s Jura department; Amadeus, made from cow’s milk in Austria (Norbert’s homeland) and a great breakfast cheese; Le Marcaire, a cow’s milk cheese from Alsace which tastes like Muenster on flavor steroids; Colombier, a goat’s milk cheese from France’s Rhone Alps; and Abondance, a cow’s milk cheese from France’s Savoie region that resembles Comté and Gruyère. Abondance is great in fondue.
Each cheese plate is served with a flight of two wines, which brings me to Grüner Veltliner. Considered Austria’s signature white wine, I’m seeing more Grüner on restaurant wine lists and in some California vineyards. Convenient, since I’ve begun worshipping at the altar of Grüner Veltliner. And we all learned that Norbert is the high priest of Grüner Veltliner, and that his radical evangelization has elevated Grüner to the status of “house wine” at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. With spicy aromas, delicate citrus and a beautiful minerality, Grüner is great on its own or with food. And it’s a bargain at $18 for a full liter bottle.
This is where I get to tell you that I have no photo of the second cheese plate. By the time I realized I hadn’t snapped a picture, all that was left were a few rinds. Blame it on my calorie-counting app. Put a cheese plate in front of me after two months of arduous self-denial and I crumble. Among the highlights was the Fontina Valle d’Aosta, a cow’s milk cheese from Italy; a French Munster cheese like you’ve never had (forget the waxy slices you buy at the grocery store – this was a soft cheese made in the shape of a small, flat wheel that Tony passed around for us to manhandle); and an extra-aged (as in 30 months) Comté from France.
The two wines served with Cheese Plate 2 were a 2011 Albert Mann Pinot Blanc with delicate peach and mineral aromas (a great buy at $22) and a grape I’d never heard of called Poulsard. Ah, Poulsard. Where have you been all my life? This thin-skinned red grape is rarely found outside of France’s Jura region, which sits between Burgundy and Switzerland. I would say this grape was a hit last night. Just look at the gorgeous color…
…and the empty bottle:
Poulsard is not a rosé, and it’s lighter than a Pinot Noir. The grapes are grown in old Jura soil, and at only 11 percent alcohol, it’s perfect as a stand-alone wine. But drink it soon, because it’s not meant to be aged.
Each Cheese Store tasting features a sample of a regional dish with the third and final flight of wines. A French chicken stew similar to goulash was paired with two gorgeous Italian red wines. Both the 2010 Didier Gerbelle Torrette from Valle d’Aosta and the 2011 Erste & Neve Lagrein from Südtirol-Alto Adige were spectacular.
And to prove that the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills tastings are what I call a Snob-Free Wine Zone, among the recommended pairings for the Torrette was the humble grilled cheese sandwich.
My random notes garnered an “A” from Tony, but I flunked Waist Management 101 by adding Swiss chocolate truffles to our wine purchase. That only means one thing – I’ll have to take the class over again.
The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. 419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 278-2855. Call or visit www.cheesestorebh.com to find out about monthly wine and cheese tastings.