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Relish had the pleasure of meeting Barrie Lynn, The Cheese Impresario and host of the Small Screen Network internet series Cheese Rules, and sitting in on a tasting of one of her favorite pairings--cheese and spirits. This day, Ms. Lynn chose to pair artisanal cheese with dark rum--a seemingly unorthodox combination, one might think.
R: This isn’t your first profession. How did you become The Cheese Impresario?
CI: I spent a long time in the advertising industry and worked my way up from the very bottom...from below the mail room! But I was always into food because my mother didn’t cook--I was raised on Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks. Soon I began cooking for myself and bought some cookbooks. After college I moved to New York and started cooking for my friends, got some bigger gigs and an expense account and started entertaining. I became an early member of Slow Food and began going to Farmer’s Markets and learning about the artisans behind the food. Then I took a client to a Slow Food fundraiser--an artisanal cheese tasting--and it was like Cupid’s arrow just slammed into me--with all the flavors, the family cheese makers, the family farms that provided the milk--and in one second, I was in love. I started studying. I went to cheese classes. I was able to travel the world. I just called myself The Cheese Impresario as a lark.
R: So how did you turn this hobby into a profession?
CI: I joined the American Cheese Society and decided I wanted to bring artisanal cheeses to a larger audience--to popular culture and celebrities. So I decided to pitch an idea to the Oscars--just start at the top--why not? The worst they could say is no. So I pitched an Artisanal Cheese & Wine Pairing Adventure for their famous--and what turned out to be their final--goodie bag. And they chose it! I was amazed that some unknown person, pitching some cheese and wine pairing adventure--in the star’s home, no less--could get in. There were trips toTahiti in that bag! But they chose me and the media went crazy--it was ”The Cheesiest Gift in Hollywood History!” I started getting interviews, although I had never thought about doing anything with this professionally at all. It was something I just wanted to do personally. But I quit my job--my father cried, my mother was hysterical, my friends thought I’d gone mad--but I was in love and I just decided to go for it. What the heck...
R: So who wound up with the goodie bag Pairing Adventure?
CI: That was the year Three 6 Mafia won the Oscar for best song. I found out they had received the gift certificate for my Adventure and I thought, “Rappers, perfect!” because they were appearing on all the talk shows and everybody loved them. I’d never met a rapper before-or even heard a rap song--but I called Sony and they were game. I called my friend, Chef Norman Van Aken, who let me use his restaurant, and I called Variety and they said they’d cover it. That was my real entry into this business and the rest is pretty much history.
R: Tell me about the four cheeses and the rums we are tasting today?
CI: These are all family cheesemakers and all from Wisconsin. It's Wisconsin that's winning most of the awards for artisanal cheeses these days. They’re doing incredible stuff up there.
The first one I selected is a Raw Milk Foenegreek Gouda made by Marieke Penterman at Holland’s Family Farm in Thorp, Wisconsin. It’s aged on Dutch pine planks four to six months to develop a creamy, nutty flavor. Aging makes this very different from American Gouda-style cheeses, which are usually sold very young. This cheese won Best in Class at the 2007 US Championship Cheese Contest.
The second one is made by Sartori Cheese, the Sartori Reserve Espresso BellaVitano, made from cow’s milk by Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski. This cheese features a unique Parmesan flavor and a creamy Cheddar texture--it is a very new cheese that’s getting a quite a bit of attention.
Next is an Aged Brick Spread by Joe Widmer of Widmer’s Cheese Cellars. Joe is one of only 51 Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers who have passed the state’s rigorous standards.
Finally, I selected Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company. The cheese makers, Tony and Julie Hook, are true artisans--they have no employees, just two passionate people making cheese for more than 35 years.
The cheeses are paired with two different rums so that you can experience the difference. The first rum is an exceptional dark rum, Neisson Reserve Speciale. This rum was featured on my show, Cheese Rules, on the episode pairing cheese with rum. I did the show with Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum--he is truly the rum expert. I also selected Mount Gay Extra Old Rum from Barbados, which is readily available, so you could see how easy it is to pair a dark rum with cheese.
R: So why is rum a good pairing for cheese?
CI: Dark sipping rums deliver flavors of sweetness. They have a complex range of flavors from tropical fruit, smoky oak, vanilla, citrus, cocoa, spices, and a richness that can stand up to big-flavored cheeses such as a 10-year aged Wisconsin Cheddar, or even a parmesan. Some of them deliver a nuttiness that is in sync with the nuttiness of some cheeses and some work as a contrast with cheeses that aren’t as nutty.
R: Is there a right way to taste rum and cheese?
CI: We learned from Emily Post, the famous etiquette expert, that we’re supposed to consume our food and drink separately. Forget all of that. For cheese, you need to make what I call the "cheese highway." Coat your tongue with the cheese, then sip the rum and let them blend together while talking to your friends. I left the cheese out for about an hour, by the way. You should always do this.
R: What other spirits are good with cheese?
CI: Single malt Scotch whiskies are great with cheese. I’ve taught many classes on that. But if you want an easy pairing, stick with dark sipping rum. It’s a high payoff. Your friends and family will be happy.