Highland Fine is the oldest speciality cheese maker in the UK. Established in 1967, it all started out as an accident when Reggie and Sussanah Stone started making Crowdie on their small dairy holding on the southern shores of the Dornoch Firth. In the early days the Stones had their own herd of shorthorn cows but things grew a little too fast for the milk supply and today they have five dairy farms, supplying the company from Wick in Caithness through to the Cairngorm National Park.
Given all that has befallen us this year you might not be able to enjoy an exotic escape to warmer climes, a year perhaps for foraging nearer and to re-engage with the wonderful home-produced fare within our borders. And what better chance to explore the incredible range of Scotland’s artisan cheese than with National Cheese and Wine Day on 25th July.
Now, can you remember the original cheese and wine party? Let me take you back to the 1970s/80s, little blocks of tasteless cheddar, pickled onions, gherkins, all held together by a cocktail stick. This, of course, would be washed down by the decade’s finest wines, Hirodelle, Mateus Rose or Blue nun – the height of sophistication.
Luckily, today everybody has access to good wine and there’s so much of it floating about that there’s no need to invest half of your mortgage in first growth clarets – new world, old world; whites, reds and roses; Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet – it’s all there and much of it for under £20.
But what about the cheese? Scotland has enjoyed an excellent history of cheese making, from Crowdie produced on the crofts, right through to pressed cheeses from the East Coast called Kebbocks and Dunlop – our very own territorial. For the more adventurous there is an incredible array of blues and bries, washed rinds and cheddars to select from and throughout this article we will discuss what we think they go best with.
Don’t forget, it’s all about taste and what you think works well, there’s no right and wrong just enjoy the different flavours and dare to dabble with the mixes, try it your way.
Now down to the good stuff..
The tasting took place in the beautiful underground cellars at the Champany Inn, Linlithgow. Rory presented the cheeses and we received input from Ailsa McCallum & Gordon Davidson from Corney & Barrow wines and restaurateur, Jason Davidson from the Champany Inn.
Our Pairing Suggestions:
White wine with cheese I hear you ask?
We all agreed that white wine made more sense with softer cheeses. Look for a Riesling from Germany or the Southern Hemisphere to bring out the fresh, tart, dry character of the crowdie.
Both the Rieslings we tasted showed up well with the crowdie, however the sheer elegance and stone fruit/lemon mix of flavours backed up with fresh zingy acidity from the Dr. Thanisch in the Mosel just edged it over the ‘weightier’, baked apple characters of Rheingau from Schloss Schonborn.
Riesling, Dr. Thanisch, Mosel, Germany, 2016 – £18.95
Riesling, Schloss Schonborn, Rheingau, Germany, 2018 – £13.50
Chardonnay is a natural ‘go to’ grape for brie – there is just a lovely combination of yeasty/brioche and stone fruits flavours with nice underlying acidity that seems to work. The Lane winery from Adelaide Hills in Australia produces a beautifully restrained Block 1A Chardonnay that matched nicely to the brie’s creamy, chalky textures.
We compared it with a Chardonnay from Francois Carillon in the grape’s ‘homeland’ of Burgundy but preferred the riper fruit flavours of the Antipodean version. Look out for other New World options from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and you will have similar successes with Australian Semillons and Viogniers. There was also a call for perhaps a juicy new world pinot noir which we all agreed may have a place next to a plate of brie.
Block 1A Chardonnay, The Lane, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 2018 – £14.50
Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine Francois Carillon, Burgundy, France, 2016 – £23.50
The Minger is a wonderful expression of Scottish cheese. If Rory were to ‘benchmark’, it would be somewhere between a Reblochon or Munster and probably the most challenging in terms of matching with a wine.
We settled for two aromatic white wines full of weight, a touch of sweetness and again fresh, zesty acidity to cut the rich, creamy texture of the cheese. So look out for any of the grapes in the ‘aromatic, medium to full-bodied white section’ – Viognier, Muscat would work and we focussed on two organic wines from the Corney & Barrow portfolio.
The Beblenheim Gewurztraminer 2016 from Jean-Louis Trapet in Alsace was complex, medium-bodied with text book combination of lychee, pink grapefruit and spice. It was a star but we think we found the perfect match for the Minger in the fascinating dry Furmint from the Barta Winery in the Hungarian region of Tokaji. Vivien Ujvari at Barta is a brilliant winemaker, she has produced a lovely ‘pure’ style to her wines. Look at this as somewhere between the elegance of Mosel Riesling and the oily, richer style of Pinot Gris. It worked so well.
“The cheese reminds me of ‘sheep’s feet’ but it’s lovely and there was a ‘little touch’ of sweetness on the medium-bodied palate with a lively green apple/salty finish that took the deliciously edible Minger to another level!” – Ailsa
Egy Kis, Dry Furmint, Barta Winery, Tokaji, Hungary, 2018 – £14.95
Gewurztraminer Beblenheim, Domaine Trapet, Alsace, France, 2016 – £18.95
The Tain Cheddar
On Rory’s suggestion of taking a ‘breather from brutality’, we moved on to the Tain Cheddar.
We tasted a selection of dry, medium to full-bodied reds from New World Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon to European favourites of Cotes du Rhone and Rioja, but without doubt, the best combination was the ‘timeless classic’ of a Tawny Port. In this case Corney & Barrow’s own labelled 20 year old Tawny which delivered layer upon layer of gorgeous fruit and spice flavours and textures that was a perfect foil for the ‘savoury fudginess’ of the cheddar, really bringing out the ‘nuttiness’ of the port.
“In this modern world of challenging traditions in wine, this is the reason why we shouldn’t forget why Tawny Port and cheese and in particular, this cheddar is a perfect match!” – Jason.
Corney & Barrow 20-Year-Old Tawny, Douro, Portugal, 20% abv – £33.95
The Fat Cow
The Fat Cow is another recent addition to the Highland Fine Cheese portfolio. Rory describes it as like a ‘flavoursome Emmental’ and proved again that the complexity of the cheese required more serious consideration and debate amongst our tasters.
We finally agreed that the cheese required a red wine that could combine power with a fresh structure and a spicy, slightly ‘funky edge’. Look out for grape varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc from the southern hemisphere to work the funkiness of the Fat Cow.
Chile has seen a ‘new wave’ of small boutique wineries producing stunning wines full of character and style. We chose the Licanten Malbec 2018 from the Idahue Estate in theCurico Valley.
“ We were curious of a Malbec from Chile and not Argentina and this wine truly delivered a “Fresh with beautiful fruit intensity with underlying mineral and herbal notes leading to a silky, savoury, medium-bodied palate, ripe tannins and wonderful length.”- Gordon
Licanten Malbec, Idahue Estate, Curico Valley, Chile, 2018 – £13.95
Another classic ‘cheese and wine’ combination is Blue cheese and Sauternes, a sweet wine produced from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscatel grapes in the region of the same name in Bordeaux.
We again loved the Tawny with this. We loved the sheer intensity of sugar and fruit of the Sticky Mickey Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Eradus wines in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. It was successfully argued by Ailsa as the best match with the intense creamy and salty flavours of Rory’s famous blue.
“Lovely, intense, lots of rich, stone-fruit, tropical fruits – I find it over sweet and ‘sticky’ on its own (unless you like that ‘sugar-rush’) but it lifts the cheese’s weight and fat content and works so well with the saltiness.” – Ailsa
More wine shops and supermarkets stock a few ‘sweet wines’ so look for Moscatels, Sauternes and Fortified Muscats for that ultimate blue cheese and wine combination.
Sticky Mickey, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Eradus, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2017 – £12.95/hlf
Corney & Barrow Sauternes, Maison Sichel, Bordeaux, France, 2017 – £14.25/hlf
There is a wonderful and growing array of excellence from the fine cheesemakers of Scotland at the moment, look for Clava brie, Isle of Mull Cheddar, Ainster, Arran Blue and the incredible Strathearn washed rind amongst many others and if you can’t find these specific wines then try and replicate the grape varieties or appellations, you may well have a favourite port, Chardonnay or Malbec to experiment with. In the end it’s about engaging with your taste buds and savouring every moment.
Supporting local businesses such as Highland Fine Cheeses and Corney and Barrow has never been more important. Your local producers need you after such an unprecedented and unpredictable 2020.
If anything, now is the time to be more adventurous. Bring the restaurant cheese and wine experience to the comfort of your own home, try new flavours, be bold in your choices. There is no right or wrong when it comes to tastings, just tuck in, explore and most of all enjoy!