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Sake Pairings - "Tease Your Cheese" Pairing Cheese and Sakes!

Whaaaaaaat? Huh? (They look at me with their mouth screwed up like they just sucked on a lemon - their eyes squinting in disbelief - the dangling sound of air leaving their "huh?" In a word they look at me like I was from Mars or like I was wearing a bloody apron with a leather mask on and a butcher's knife in my hand - they are pained and confused and dumbfounded - that's it dumbfounded! They look at me in the most dumb-dumbfounded way ever in facial contorting history.) And all because I said that I was going to host a sake and cheese tasting!

"A sake and cheese pairing? Really? Seriously, sake and cheese?" What - do you prefer I do a chocolate milk and cheese pairing? Yup - the disbelief is getting a bit much. Why do people have such a hard time fathoming a sake and cheese pairing? I mean who was the first to say "Hey let's try wine and cheese!" "But you are crazeee" (imagine a very bad French accent there!) Point being - until it's done it won't be accepted. Well sake and cheese has been done - we did it for our True Sake Tasting in November - and we will do it again and again.

I'm a sommelier - but I never let that get in the way of people exploring for themselves. Thus I wanted to do a sake and cheese tasting that would allow for maximum exploration. "Tease Your Cheese" was the name of the event and we pitted 9 sakes versus 7 cheeses. (Yes invite said only seven sakes, but you should know by now that we always go up and beyond at our events! Rule of thumb, and yet another reason for you to join us for one of our "sessions.") So, in keeping with my theme of "seeking" on your own we had the seven professionally selected and presented cheeses on one long table and the nine sakes on a parallel table. Each sake had a colored bead to represent that brew. The tasters then walked that sake through the cheese selection and dropped a bead in a dish for each individual cheese if the pairing worked! (It was cool to hear the sounds of the beads being dropped into the dishes - ping! ting! ding! Each sound resonating with the success of a cheese working with a sake.

We started the process by selecting an array of sakes that we felt would go with all forms of fromage. We wanted a dry brew, a fruity brew, and Yamahai brew, an unfiltered brew, a sweet brew etc etc. Basically we wanted a gambit of flavors and feelings to bounce off the cheese spectrum - creamy, salty, sharp, pungent, nutty etc etc. The line-up in no particular order was Jokigen Junmai, Kamoizumi Nigori, Kasumi Tsuru Yamahai Ginjo, Kunigiku Junmai Ginjo, Nishinoseki Junmai, Tamanohikari Junmai Daiginjo, Tengumai Yamahai Junmai, Tomio Junmai Daiginjo Genshu, and Wakatake Onikoroshi Hiyaoroshi.

I'm a "feeling guy" so I enjoy the pairings that work in a melding of feelings - soft with soft, sharp with crisp, rich with full- bodied etc. And I was not disappointed, because I had some very good help "guidance" from my daughter who is a cheese fundee and the good folks at the 24th Street Cheese Store (Mecca for cheese lovers). I asked them what best represents the cheese universe using only seven cheeses! They suggested a Shropshire, Brillat Savarin, Humbolt Fog Goat, Prema Donna Gouda, Teleggio, Pecorino, and an Istara. This selection covered milk from most cheese animals - cow, goat, sheep and squirrel (just kidding!)

This is some pretty sophisticated stuff here and a pretty darn good resource if you would like to tease your own cheese, so instead of summarizing I will provide the results. I will give the top three cheeses for each sake:


  • Jokigen: "Super sweet" SMV:-65
    1. 1. Humbolt Fog Goat
    2. 2. Brillat Savarin Triple Cream
    3. 3. Pecorino Sheep's Milk
  • Kamoizumi Nigori: "A drier genshu nama nigori" SMV:-3 Acidity:1.6
    1. 1. Humbolt Fog Goat
    2. 2. Taleggio Cow's Milk
    3. 3. Shropshire Blue
  • Kasumi Tsuru: "A round and creamy Yamahai" SMV:+3 Acidity: 1.4
    1. 1. Humbolt Fog Goat
    2. 2. Brillat Savarin Triple Cream
    3. 3. Prema Donna Gouda (2 1/2 years aged)
  • Kunigiku: "A bright and fruity Ginjo" SMV: -1 Acidity: 1.6
    1. 1. Humbolt Fog Goat
    2. 2. Taleggio
    3. 3. Prima Donna Gouda
  • Nishinoseki: "A round, smooth, rich and semi-sweet Junmai" SMV: -3 Acidity: 1.5
    1. 1. Shropshire Blue (This pairing was the highest rated)
    2. 2. Pecornio and Brillat Savarin
    3. 3. Taleggio and Gouda
  • Tamanohikari: "A semi-fruity JDG with high acidity" SMV: +3.5 Acidity: 1.7
    1. 1. Taleggio
    2. 2. Gouda
    3. 3. Goat
  • Tengumai: "A musky deep gamey Yamahai with huge presence" SMV:+4 Acidity:1.9
    1. 1. Gouda
    2. 2. Shropshire Blue
    3. 3. Humbolt Fog Goat
  • Tomio: "A smooth and velvety neutral rice flavored JDG genshu" SMV: +3 Acidity:1.3
    1. 1. Brillat Savarin Triple Cream
    2. 2. Taleggio
    3. 3. Istara Sheep's Milk
  • Wakatake Hiyaoroshi "A tight, dry and compact draft seasonal brew" SMV: +3 Acidity:1.4
    1. 1. Istara
    2. 2. Pecornio Sheep's Milk
    3. 3. Gouda

Behind the numbers! The highest rated pairing was the Nishinoseki with the Shropshire blue cheese. The second highest rated pairing was a tie between the Kamoizumi nigori with Humbolt Fog Goat cheese and the Wakatake with the Istara. And the third highest rated pairing was a three way tie between Kunigiku with the Goat cheese, the Tamanohikari with the gouda, and the Tengumai also with the gouda.

There were some trends - the drier sakes went better with the sharper and drier cheeses, the fruity sakes with good acidity went well with the goat and blue cheeses, and creamy sakes went well with the creamy cheeses. But the best pairings jumped all boarders and just worked on their own! Really unique. The super-sweet Jokigen was a superb cheese sake - but sadly it is not available in the Bay Area any more! (We will work on getting this sophisticated sake and cheese brew back for that reason alone!) The cheeses that did the best were the Goat cheese, the triple cream, the Taleggio and the aged gouda.

Several of the tasters asked me why we did it? I responded by stating that I believe that when you do wine and cheese tastings there is just too much acidity in the mix and that leaves one feeling "all acidic" after a pairing. But sake has 1/3 the acidity of wine so there really isn't that acidity rush when all is said and done. It cleans the cheese effect as much as it pairs with it flavor wise. After all of the cheese that I "downed" and all of the sake that I "drowned" I thought for sure that I would feel bloated and yeasty after the tasting, but alas I did not at all! There were no sulfites present! None in the cheese and none in the sakes and this too may have helped.

All in all we all were quite pleased with our teased cheese. It worked! And now I want to really lay down some specific cheese and sake pairings to share with all. If you have had some success please send us your pairings and we will compile and share with the "others." And the best news of all is that when we look around our store whilst making recommendations we can now say "Oh by the way the Nishinoseki not only warms extremely well but goes great with blue cheese."

Oh last thought - Fondue - must now find a Fondue brew for you!

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