If I made a list of my favorite things to ingest, cheese and whiskey would definitely be in the top five. So excuse me while I get all ooey-gooey about the whiskey & cheese session I went to at the Cheese School of San Francisco on Friday. The word “school” in the name might make you think of a classroom but it’s more like a big dinner party with 10 world-class cheeses, five diverse international whiskeys, and a really knowledgeable host.
Before the main event, we milled around with a bourbon and ginger beer cocktail. Then each of us got a generous serving of cheeses and refillable whiskey pours, along with bread, fresh figs, dried fruits, Meyer lemon marmalade, apple-cinnamon compote, and bread.
The whiskey line up was St. George Spirits single malt, Black Maple Hill small batch bourbon, Red Breast 12-year pot still Irish whiskey, Old Pulteney 12-year Highland single malt scotch, and Suntory Yamazaki 12-year single malt Japanese whisky. The cheese was a selection of goat, sheep, and cow milk cheeses of varying styles from around the world. Like with the whiskeys, there wasn’t a single dud in the bunch.
In some pairings, the cheese and whiskey enhanced each other or changed flavors. Two of the standouts:
Brescianella Aquavitae cow’s milk cheese from Italy with Black Maple Hill: The cheese is savory with a mushroom finish, thanks in part to a rind of barley soaked in aqua vitae. Black Maple Hill is sweet with hot finish. Combine the two and they mellow each other out without losing any of their character. The bourbon sweetness shines through and takes a little of the sharpness out of the cheese. (This cheese is at the 2 o’clock position on the cheese plate, if you look at it like a clock.)
Vermont Shepard sheep’s milk cheese with Yamazaki: This was my favorite cheese out of the bunch, so it’s no surprise it’s part of one of my favorite pairings. In general, it was the most flexible in pairing with whiskey. The cheese is rich and earthy with a mild finish. It mellows the peat in Yamazaki, adding dimension by letting the whiskey’s other flavors come through. (This cheese is at the 5 o’clock position on the cheese plate.)
The O’Banon Capriole goat’s milk cheese was a whiskey-cheese pairing on its own, since it was wrapped in chestnut leaves soaked with Woodford Reserve bourbon. It was a mellow, melt-in-your-mouth cheese with a slight peach taste.
The price may seem steep (this one was $65), but it’s on par with what other food and drink events cost in the city and I was totally stuffed and satisfied at the end. The tone was unpretentious and fun while still being lightly educational. Thanks to our great instructor, Wil Edwards, for a delicious night!