Spirits A Cheese for Every Port

"Many a toothpick has impaled a cube of rat cheese at parties. Why not do it right?"

After all the many years of exposure to the convenience of American supermarkets I still cannot get used to the
unseasonableness of our vegetables, fruits and dairy products. Oranges in winter, how convenient. Fresh mushrooms
year round, what luxury! Fresh cream cheese in March-wait, it must be bad. After all, everybody knows that the best
grass for the best milk for the best fresh cheese grows in June and July, so naturally the best cheeses are ready to
be eaten in the fall.

Shopping used to be a time-consuming, tiring but exciting time. You had to go to many specialized little stores: the
butcher, the greengrocer, the fishmonger, the tea and coffee store, the cheese shop and on and on. And the most
exotic and fascinating of them all was a shop selling nothing but spices. I remember vividly an old man spinning
yarns about nutmeg from Celebes, turmeric from India, cloves from Zanzibar… only much later did I realize he was
an avid reader of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. So was I.

Well, that’s the way it was in the pre-supermarket era. Not any more. Now for the sake of convenience we have
surrendered half of the taste and three-quarters of the fragrance, but what little is left we have year round. But
some of the specialists are back. I am delighted that they are young, knowledgable and enthusiastic.

One of them runs the best cheese store in Dallas, known, appropriately enough, as The Cheese Shop. Gary
Kirchner carries over 300 different cheeses, including five different ched-dars, five different Swiss, and 50
different little boxes of dainty triangles of processed substances all of which taste similar, but still present the
largest variety in Dallas. He also stocks all the best known cheeses and sells them in the optimum condition and at
just the correct age. The storage cabinets are of the right temperature and the proper high humidity and all the cut
cheeses are wrapped for the night in clean towels dampened with vinegar and oil. In the morning the cut surfaces are
scraped to present their fresh complexions to the public.

The sales approach is soft. The sales persons are constantly seducing you into tasting the best looking cheese on
the counter and their general cheese know-how is scholarly. I get the impression of deep interest and continuing
study.



Much has been written, with almost religious fervor, about the affinity of wine and cheese, while at the same time
many a toothpick has impaled a tired, dried-out bite-size cube of rat cheese at so-called wine-and-cheese parties,
and many a lovely Moselle wine has gone unappreciated because Roquefort served at the same time completely
overpowered its delicate bouquet. Why not do it right? Here are some suggestions:

Serve large wedges of cheese, at room temperature, leaving the original wrapping wax or tinfoil (even though the
rind must not be eaten). A good looking slab of white marble is the best presentation, but a glass or china
platter will do. Avoid wooden boards – they tend to preserve the aroma of the cheese you served two months ago.

Decorate with rinsed and dried greens and fresh pears, apples and grapes. The perfect breads are lightly toasted
French, chunks of sourdough, or assorted Carr’s crackers. A personal favorite is “Lavosh”-an unleavened Armenian
bread from San Francisco, crisped in the oven at 250 degrees for 15 minutes. It’s available at Neiman-Marcus, The
Cheese House and The Cheese Shop
at about $2.60 for a sack of five sheets.



Color the wine red that goes with cheese. Somehow cold white wines clash on the palate with room temperature cheeses
and leave a peculiar, and to me, a decidedly unpleasant feeling in the mouth. Let’s face it-a slimy texture. Mild
cheeses blend better with wines than strong ones; Brie is absolutely ideal and Gorgonzola quite the opposite. The
service is easier if you use proper tools to cut and serve: the sharp serrated knife on hard cheeses, the cheese
plane on Swiss types, the wire cutter or a knife with etched pattern on both sides of the blade for soft, butter
cheeses like Gourmandise.



For those few rare occasions when you are lucky enough to serve an old mellow port with the mellowest of blue
cheeses, the Stilton, the super-chic tool to use is a solid silver cheese scoop. First make an opening (hole?) in
the center, pour two to three ounces of port into the cheese and let it permeate the blue veins. Then scoop and
serve.The Stilton people frown at this practice, but what do they know? Us wine drinkers know better.



Cheeses do not store very well, so buy only enough for two or three days and store in plastic bags in the
refrigerator’s vegetable drawer.



Literally hundreds of delicious cheeses go well with red wines. For convenience’s sake let me name just a few types,
each available with many different trademark names: Brie: Ile-de France; St. Paulin: Port Salut;
Em-mental: Swiss, Norwegian Jarlsberg; Triple-Cream: Gourmandise, Boursin; Cheddars: marketed
under many names.



To pick a Brie for serving tonight, look for a rind not dazzling white, but off-white with few brownish specks.
Press with your thumb from the rind towards the center. It should be evenly soft without a hard core. When cut,the
Brie should not run, just bulge out visibly. If this cheese smells of ammonia, forget it.

Personal impressions: The Cheese Shop: 2038 Promenade; 6104 Luther Lane; the best in Dallas.
Neiman-Marcus: North Park, downtown; great variety, sparkling clean, rather amateurish advice from
salespersons. Cheese House: 6077 Forest, 6137 Berkshire; good variety, but cheeses too crowded. Generally the
emphasis is on delicatessen and table service. An-tone’s: 4234 Harry Hines; out of the way location, but good
variety of cheeses and imported foods at lowest prices in town. Overrated submarine sandwiches.

Supermarkets and Grocery Stores: cheese knowledge-nil. Variety spotty. Cheese cared for very poorly. At
Fisher’s on Oak Lawn, after much fumbling, the third cheese shown to me was finally the Jarlsberg I asked for and
the price was $4.49 per lb., while all the other shops are charging $2.60 -$2.80 per lb. Mistake? Maybe.

Liquor and Wine Stores: Marty’s: 3316 Oak Lawn; small selection, salespeople enthusiastic-learning. A and
AVineyard:
6839 E. Northwest Highway; new wine and cheese store startedwith 50 cheeses. Progress report
later.Cowcatcher: 6939 Twin Hills; limitedselection of fine cheeses.

Wine Finds

You have found a beautiful Stilton cheese, inherited a gorgeous silver cheese scoop or maybe splurged and bought
one. What you need now is a bottle of port.

There are five basic types of port and all are available in Dallas-at the moment. The political situation in
Portugal is creating a shortage, and the flow is slowing.

Vintage port is made only from grapes of a great year. The wine is aged in wood for two or three years and
then bottled. The maturing process is continued in the bottle for 15 to 20 years, or longer. Do not confuse vintage
port with “port of vintage” which only has a small percentage of great year wine blended in.

Crusted port is a blend of wines from different vintages, aged in wood for differing lengths of time, and
then bottled. It is ready to drink some five to seven years after bottling.

Late bottled vintage port is produced only from grapes of the same year, but is aged in the barrel for four
to five years. The longer period of oxidation through the wood makes it ready to drink within three or four years of
bottling.

Tawny port is a blend of wines of different, well-matured vintages and is ready to drink when bottled. Watch
the price, for the cheapest tawny ports are a blend of red and white wines.

Ruby port is a blend of comparatively young wines and will improve some in the bottle. All ports are sweet to
a degree, the ruby being the sweetest and the older ports losing some of the sugar with age. Most of the ports will
form a heavy sediment and must be decanted (use a classic port decanter) before serving.

The youngest vintage port drinkable today is 1960. The other great years were 1955,1950,1947,1945,1935 and the
greatest of the great, 1927.

Here are some suggestions:

A&A Chateau: 1952 Taylor Fladgate, $8.95, or 1961 Warre’s, $9.95: Centennial: Findlater Tawny or “Old
Nathaniel,” both $5.99; Marty’s: 1960 Warre’s, $13.00, or 1960 Butler & Nephew, $9.95; Red Coleman’s:
Harvey’s Tawny “Hunting,” $5.59; and Sigel’s: Croft Tawny “Particular,” $5.79, or Croft 1960, $12.95,
1967, $5.99, and 1970, $6.99.

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