French Lesson: A Study of Wine & Cheese in Paris
Leah Walker March 28, 2014

I love cheese. I also love wine. I particularly love cheese with wine. Preferably in France…with a baguette…sitting at a café…inhaling second-hand smoke. The mere thought of creamy, full-fat, non-pasteurized cheese makes this turophile’s mouth water. And the wine, oh the wine! I’m convinced that everything just tastes better in France.

Paris Wine and Cheese Tasting2

In planning my January trip to Paris and Bordeaux, I enlisted the help of my favorite private tour company, Kensington Tours. In 2013, their experts customized itineraries for me in Budapest, Vienna, Hong Kong, and The Philippines, each of which was perfection. Really, who can complain about private guides, exclusive experiences, and chauffeured fancy cars? Not I. Essentially, I gave carte blanche to Kensington for planning my two weeks in France. And as I combed through my nineteen-page tentative itinerary, I began to salivate.

Wine and Cheese Tasting

I read on. Enjoy a two-hour cheese and wine tasting with Cook’n with Class. TWO hours of eating cheese? TWO hours of drinking wine? There weren’t any other specifics I needed to know. Sign me up!

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My tasting wasn’t private, thank goodness. I know there would be no restraint shown had it just been me. At least with five other people I wouldn’t make a complete glutton of myself.

The tasting was led by Preston, an evangelist who would preach the virtues of my vices. An American sommelier living in Paris, Preston wasn’t there just to pour the wine and serve the cheese. This wasn’t a tasting per se. It was a class, which was a good thing. I certainly don’t need anyone teaching me how to taste wine or cheese. I’ve had plenty of practice. Though, any illusions of my swilling wine and polishing off a wheel of brie were quickly dashed.

Paris Wine and Cheese Tasting1

When I walked into the tasting room, my eyes darted back and forth between the platter of cheese, baskets of bread, bottles of wine, and bowl of chocolate. Could it be? Had I have found Utopia? Wine and Champagne glasses filled the long, rectangular table. Empty now, but that would soon change. After introductions and a brief low-down on what the next few hours would entail, Preston popped the first bottle of Champagne, and bubbles rose to the top of our glasses.

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God, I love France.

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to not just capture, but also keep the attentiveness of a class. Preston certainly caught my attention, despite the beguiling bubbles. Four types of wine would be served—two white and two red. The vin would be perfectly paired with four types of cheeses—two cow, one goat, and one sheep. Notoriously impatient, I resisted the urge to pull an Augustus Goop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This was not only a lesson on wine and cheese, but also a lesson in restraint.

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I took notes for distraction:

No screw tops for the French. They’re traditionalist and use corks. I can’t say I disagree.

The French regulations on the labeling of their wine are SERIOUS business. I sort of spaced out given all the acronyms and legal mumbo jumbo, but that’s the gist of it.

Champagne goes well with rich and creamy food like cheese and chicken in cream sauce. It also goes well with a glass and nothing else, just so you know.

It’s a huge waste of money buying bottle of Brut Champagne to go with dessert, because it can’t counteract the sweetness. Where has this information been my whole life?

In the USA, always go to the cheese counter. Buying pre-sliced cheese wrapped in plastic changes the flavor. Once the cheese is home, wrap it in parchment paper. This is just one of the reasons why cheese in America isn’t as good as it is in France. It tastes like plastic!

Always cut the foil under the bottom lip of a wine bottle. It’s just prettier. I’m convinced that we first taste with our eyes.

What grows together usually goes together. Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese? Makes total sense now.

Soft cheeses are cut in wedges, while a blue cheese wedge is sliced from the center of the thin edge to points along the thick edge. This allows everyone to get an equal amount of moldy goodness. Apologies go out to my friends who have been shortchanged with their share of mold.

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The two-hour class actually went to three, and I was one student who didn’t mind staying late. Extra credit included polishing off the open bottles of booze and the rest of the chocolate and cheese. If all graduate level classes were like Preston’s, I’d easily have my Ph.D. At the very least, I’d like to think I got a gold star for my efforts, if not the right to be called Dr. Walker.

 

I was a guest of Kensington Tours. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the intoxicating aroma of bleu d’ Auvergne cheese, the 2012 Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône Blanc, or the passion Preston showed for both. As always, opinions are mine. 

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

17 Comments

  1. I’m not a big wine drinker, but I’d be foolish not to be hungry after looking at the cheese and wine pairings. Oh, but wait, I saw some sliced sausages; yes! 🙂 Thanks for writing about your French lessons, Leah; that’s my kind of studying, too!

    1. Ahhhh…yes, good eye, Henry. There was some cured meat on the table. I might add, it was delicious as well.

  2. It’s incredible how the right pairings can totally change the taste of both the wine and cheese. The right pairings bring out the uniqueness of each, like a perfect marriage. Sounds like Preston was ace and this too is my kind of class!

    1. Add to that the sort of cracker and/or bread eaten with the cheese and wine. Seriously, it makes all the difference. You should totally look Preston up when you get to Paris. He’s awesome!

  3. Now this is a class I’d sign up for and not skip… great notes… upsetting on the American cheese too, I always use the parchment paper when available…

    but I disagree, a glass of bubbly is always a good idea, but I guess it may not always be the best idea… ah, got it.

    stay cheesy, Craig

  4. Oh man, what an experience of the senses that must have been! I recently did an online tasting of cheese and wine with Lodi Wine and their local cheese shop, and it was educational and tasty, but it was nothing like this.

    1. I tell you, everything is better in France, with the exception of quesadillas. Those are terrible. {Don’t ask.}

  5. I was thrilled that you shared this post again on FB, I had missed it before and I think it’s one of my favorites. My girlfriend and I travel together visiting wineries and looking for local cheese shops. I just sent her this post, this is the type of class we both long to take. Very fun!

    1. Oh, if you love wine and cheese, then you’d absolutely love this class. Preston is great and so passionate about what he does. You should totally check it out the next time you’re in Paris.

  6. Oohhhh, this post is reminding me of the wonderful cheese and wine I had in Paris! Going to the South of France in a few weeks, and will definitely eating a lot of cheese and drinking a lot of local wine!

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