Cheese & Tea pairing with Betty Koster
Despite consuming vast amounts of cheese at San Francisco’s Fancy Food Show last week, I couldn’t resist signing up for Betty Koster’s class about cheese and tea pairing held at The Cheese School of San Francisco last Wednesday evening.
Betty and her husband Martin are proprietors of Fromagerie l’Amuse a business consisting of two cheese stores and an affineur operation located in the Netherlands. They have been at the forefront of raising the bar in terms of working with Dutch cheesemakers to improve existing recipes as well as encouraging the creation of new ones.
In addition to being an expert on Dutch cheeses, Betty has recently delved into the intriguing world of tea and cheese pairing which (hooray) turns out to be both fascinating and good for you.
The four teas we tasted are produced by Dilmah a company that specializes in single estate teas of the highest quality. For the tasting, these were paired with eight cheeses Betty had selected.
Betty explained that like other pairings, it is always better to start with the milder flavors first – in this case green teas and milder cheeses.
Great care was taken in the preparation of the teas to ensure the water was heated to the correct temperature and that the leaves steeped for precisely the right amount of time. For instance, the Green Tea with Jasmine was immersed for exactly four minutes into water heated to 176˚F. Betty also recommends using spring water to minimize the number of extraneous chemicals or minerals.
Also, the teas were served in wine glasses which as well as being attractive to look at, provide a greater sensory experience due to their shape – much in the same way that gently swirling wine in a glass will release aromas.
Jasmine is a green tea to which jasmine flowers have been added. The combination was extremely mild, soft and smooth, with no sudden “hits” in the way that you might get with a wine or beer pairing.
Next up was a Single Estate Oolong leaf tea which is also known as black dragon tea in China. Oolong offers the lightness of green tea with the character of black tea. It is a semi-fermented variety, meaning that the leaves are left to dry in the sun before being rolled up and left to ferment for a certain length of time.
The Oolong was paired with a pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from Holland called Terschelling and another Dutch cheese Wilde Weide made from raw milk of Montebliard cows.
When tasted with the Terschelling the combination in the mouth was gently barnyardy and straw-like whereas with the Wilde Weide there were brighter and much more floral, herbaceous notes but also a subtle tannic note on the finish.
As we progressed up the flavor scale, the nuances of the pairings definitely became more pronounced. With the arrival of the Pu’erh (pronounced poo-air) No 1 tea, we were encouraged to taste a pasteurized goat’s milk gouda from north Holland called Gouda Gris and Betty’s signature l’Amuse gouda that she matures at her store.
Pu’erh is is a white tea and is unusual in that it becomes better with age whereas in general teas are at their best when young. According to Betty, Pu’erh is notoriously difficult to pair with cheese – the exception being a young goat’s milk cheese. It also known for its medicinal value - especially (& usefully!) with reducing cholesterol.
In my opinion, the flavors with the Gouda Gris were terrific. Immediately there were pronounced notes of hay and leather and bacon which only increased when we went on to try the Pu’erh with the l’Amuse gouda.
For me, this combination was the best of all. As anyone who has tried Lapsang Souchong will testify, it is one of the smokiest flavored teas on the market. Somehow, when tried with these cheeses, it was like drinking a really good single malt scotch with distinctly peat-like and smoky notes. It was stunningly delicious.
And so now I’m home, I find myself on a quest to learn more about the elevated and nuanced world of tea. Something that, despite my British roots, I had not really focused on beyond my beloved PG Tips “builders tea”. Not only that, but an entirely new aspect of cheese pairing has opened up to me – and one that even my doctor would approve of!