The Perfect Composition? Sake & Cheese Tasting, NZ
Guestaurant sent aspiring chef and photographer Raymun Macaalayt to sample the rare blending of sake and cheese, one of the Kapiti Store, New Zealand’s many adventurous culinary events. Here’s how he got on:
I know this seems to be a weird and interesting combination but yes it’s true that there is such a thing as cheese and sake tasting at least here in Auckland, New Zealand. I have also heard that this contrasting combination of East and West is gaining popularity across the globe and so I consider myself to be lucky as I am among the first in NZ to give this a shot.
The Sake & Cheese happened on Thursday, June 21st and was hosted by Kapiti Cheese (www.kapiticollection.co.nz) and Tokyo Liquor (www.tokyoliquor.co.nz) at the Kapiti Cheese Store in Shortland St Auckland CBD. There were sake and cheese specialists so the event was not just about tasting, but also educating people about what sake is, how it is made and its varying types. For the cheese, I guess Kiwi’s in general don’t need to be taught about this as we all know our cheese well.
In the tasting line up there were 6 cheeses and 6 sakes to be tried, take note that sake in this context is in the Japanese sense where it means liquor/alcohol and not the rice wine that we know of. Whilst there were several rice wines in the tasting menu, plum wines and beer was also served. For the pairings there were several suggestions but it was left open to the tasters to discover what their preference was.
Upon entering the location we were all greeted with a smile and showed to our designated oak barrels which were to be our tables for the night. Wasabi peas and some sort of mixed crackers were served as an appetizer whilst a presentation was shown. After a detailed explanation of what goes into a bottle of a rice wine, the cheese platters were served.
On each platter there were 6 good sized wedges of cheeses arranged from light (Brie/Candidum) to the strong (Blue/Roquefort), it was meant to be consumed from the light to strong so that you could taste everything properly without overpowering the lesser flavoured cheeses. After I got my platter I tried to nibble a bit of all the cheeses so that I would know which cheese to pair with which liquor.
First to try was the ‘Aorangi Traditional Brie’; it was a double cream brie and the lightest flavoured cheese on the plate. Very silky in texture with hints of earthiness which were evident when you let it linger in your mouth.
Next was the ‘Ramara’, a single cream Brevi speckled with white mould, this cheese was runny and flowing when sliced which was a good sign of the cheese’s maturity, which would otherwise be soft and spongy. It was earthy and buttery with hints of sweetness.
Now we’re going to the mild flavoured cheese which was the ‘Cumin Seed Gouda’, this semi-soft cheese had hints of fruity sweetness and a hazelnut aroma, the cumin seeds added a unique character to the cheese and texture.
Up next was the ‘Tuteremoana Cheddar’ which is hard-pressed cheddar that has been matured for 3-4 years giving it a sharp and zesty flavour. I liked the texture of this cheese; it was crumbly whilst holding its form with some interesting crunchy bits due to lactate crystallisation. In my honest opinion this was the best cheddar cheese I’ve ever tried.
Then we have the blues; ‘Kahurangi’ creamy blue was the first, this cheese was my personal top favourite. One of the best blue cheeses I have ever tried, it was smooth, creamy and mild for a blue cheese which is good for those who want to start adding blue cheese to their diet without being put off by the blue cheese sharp taste.
Finally, the multi-award winning cheese that Kapiti has to offer: the ‘Kikorangi’. It was a triple cream Roquefort which is why it yielded a very creamy and buttery taste. The blue vein marbling was dense but surprisingly not as overpowering as other cheese brands, it had a really pleasant taste which was not very mouldy. This was the first time I have tasted this cheese as I was afraid of trying it before thinking that the taste would be too strong, but to my surprise it was not and I think I may have to change my top favourite now.
After trying all of the cheeses, out came the liquor and I felt informed enough to decide which cheese to pair with each drink. The first liquor that was served is the ‘Takara Shirakabe Gura Kimoto Junmai’ which is a 70% polished rice wine, it had a strong rice and umami flavour, a bit of a rough drink and was comparable to hard drinks instead of wine. In my personal opinion a light cheese would be great with this sake so I consumed this with the Ramara.
Next was the ‘Takara Shirakabe Gura Kimoto Ginjo’ a premium rice wine which uses a 60% polished rice. From the first taste you could feel that the wine was indeed premium as it was so smooth to drink and had a very refined taste with a fruity aroma. This went well with the, light cheeses like the Ramara and Brie.
Third was the ‘Ozeki Taru Zake’ again another rice wine which uses 70% or more polished rice, it had a distinct taste as this wine was stored in cedar barrels which was evident on the bottle that was designed to look like wood. It has a similar effect to the wines stored in oak barrels, where the drink inherits the flavours and aroma of the wood. This earthy woody sake went best with the Cumin Seed Gouda as they blended well together giving the same earthy notes.
Fourth was the ‘Choya’ Plum wine, it’s not a rice wine but a liqueur flavoured with plums and was sweet with hints of sourness. I noticed that the women at the event in particular had smiles on their faces when they tried this one out. In my opinion this was a good dessert wine but the experts suggested having this as an aperitif or served together with spicy, sour and/or sweet dishes.
Fifth was another plum wine called ‘Takara Plum’, technically the same as the first plum wine but since it was popular that night, another brand was served. For the plum wines the cheddar was the best pair as they had contrasting flavours which ultimately complemented each other.
Sixth was the ‘Ozeki Hana Fu Ga’ which was a sparkling rice wine, regarded as the empress of all carbonated sake. This sparkling wine had a floral aroma with hints of peach and was really easy to drink. It was comparable to champagne and again cheddar was the best pair for this wine.
Finally the beer! The ‘Suntroy Premium Malt’. This beer is considered to be the top premium beer in Japan, made out of 100% European aroma hops, 100% two row barley malt and 100% Japanese natural water. It had that hoppy aroma and malty flavour and worked well with just about any cheese, but was best with the wasabi peas that were served earlier.
Now if you noticed, I never mentioned pairing the blue cheese with something because it paired well with all of the liquor…I might be just be biased as I love Kapiti’s blue cheese!
After the 6 liquors I was a bit tipsy. That’s a lot of drinks in the short space of 1.5 hours and before ending the tasting event we were given some ginger ice-cream to cleanse our palate, it had an interesting flavour but was surprisingly good. Overall this was a really good experience and a brilliant concept, the choice of cheese and liquor was excellent and encouraged me to buy my own hamper in order to continue indulging within the comfort of my own home. I suggest that if you have the opportunity to take part in a similar tasting event where you are, grab it as it’s a very unique culinary experience where two things that haven’t been paired before are matched together in an incomparable harmony.
Raymund Macaalay owns a blog called Ang Sarap (A Tagalog word for “It’s Delicious”). He is a Software Developer / Architect by profession and a Chef by passion. Raymund loves to cook, travel and take photographs (isn’t that the best combination) and started cooking at a very young age. Well-traveled, Raymund has lived in a number of different countries due to the nature of his profession, hence giving him a good grasp of local cuisines, evident in his blog which showcases dishes from all over the world but with a Filipino, Spanish and Chinese twist.
To see more of Raymund’s work, visit: http://angsarap.net/