High Spirits

I know I’m late to this party, but I’m just learning how appealing a fine brandy can be with cheese. Not every cheese, of course, but many firm aged cheeses have roasted nut, caramel and brown-butter notes that complement the heady aromas in a brandy glass.
My epiphany happened recently when I was asked to pair cheeses with some super high-end Grand Marnier for a professional tasting. Did you know there was super high-end Grand Marnier? I didn’t either.
Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is the orange-scented liqueur that most of us know. It’s intense and syrupy, an interesting partner for buttery blue cheeses like Stilton, Bayley Hazen Blue and Bay Blue. But as I tasted through the company’s Grande Cuvée Collection, which peaks with the $900-a-bottle Quintessence, I realized that I had passed into another realm entirely. These luxury spirits are blends of fine aged Cognac, sweetened to varying degrees and scented with essence of bitter orange (Citrus bigaradia). They seem much more like brandy to me than like a palate-tiring liqueur. The sommeliers who attended the tasting discerned licorice and dried-cherry aromas on top of the obvious butterscotch, caramel and vanilla notes. So captivating…and so compatible with some of the cheeses. (Not all, alas—the double-cream Le Pérail was a mistake.)
I think any good grape brandy or Cognac would want the same cheeses as these top-shelf Grand Marniers. The Grand Marniers’ orange-peel scent is intriguing but it’s not the driver. So whatever brandy you’re sipping this winter, try pairing it with one of these cheeses:

L’Amuse Gouda, Beemster Extra Aged Gouda or other aged Gouda
With butterscotch and buttered-toast aromas and a salted caramel flavor, this is the ne plus ultra pairing.
Aromas of roasted nut, orange peel, brown butter and meat broth go hand-in-glove with wood-aged brandy.
The Italian love child of aged Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Andante Dairy Tomme Dolce
This aged goat’s milk wheel from California has a sweet caramel scent, like dulce de leche. The surprise hit of the tasting.
Fourme d’Ambert

Sauternes is the go-to choice for this buttery French blue but be a rebel and pass the brandy.

Classes Make Classy Gifts

A Gift Certificate to the 2016 World Cheese Tour is guaranteed to fit. Your recipients can choose any of eight themed evenings of cheese exploration with me at a comfortable Napa Valley cooking school. British cheeses….best cheeses for Cabernet Sauvignon…cheese with craft beer…there’s a topic for every taste. Gift certificates can be mailed to you or directly to your recipients. Details here.