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Flavors to Sip, Nibble and Savor

Whole Foods French wine & cheese tasting raises palates to new levels

French producer Herve Mons ages its cheeses in a former railway tunnel.

Sometimes procrastination is good, but not that often. It was not good when I realized the Anne Arundel Community College cooking class I was planning to take had passed me by. I’d had a good experience at last year’s class, and I was looking forward to Dumplings from Around the World, which would make me a master of pot stickers, ravioli, pierogi, tamales and several other dumpling delights.
    My education in dumplings would have to wait for another semester, but my thirst for more culinary knowledge would not.  
    Fortunately, opportunity ­presented itself at the Annapolis Whole Foods’ culinary center.

Wine and Cheese Done Right
    My wife would also have to go to this one. She is the family expert and buyer for both wine and cheese.
    For cheeses, we have a palette of family favorites; this was a class to raise our horizons. We’d be studying high-end French offerings.
    The stars of any wine-and-cheese class have to be the wine and cheese. No amount of fancy stemware, wooden cheese planks or knowledgeable speakers — all of which the class had — will negate a bad choice for the star players.
    We sampled French producer Herve Mons in 11 varieties ranging from very mild to very strong and funky. I liked most of them. My more-discerning wife liked all but one. We each loved one or two that we’ll buy for special occasions.
    Five French wines, provided by Bin 201, the wine shop across the street from Whole Foods, were good as part of the supporting cast, while the cheeses were the stars.

10% Talk, 90% Tasting
    Herve Mons doesn’t make cheese, Kevin Palmaccio explained. The company are affineurs, aging cheeses and then selling them. They know the perfect timing and conditions to bring each cheese to its peak flavor plus special steps like brining or washing.
    For example, my favorite cheese — a French unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese called Époisses — is washed with water and cognac, then brushed by hand every three days for six weeks to bring it to maturity. Époisses was not on our testing menu; Herve Mons doesn’t make one but does make a similar cheese, St. Soleil, that was very good. I’m glad I discovered it.
    The flavor and character of fine cheeses are acquired during aging, so the affineur is a key part of the production. One of Herve Mons’ assets is an abandoned railway tunnel used as an aging cave. Each cheese has its own process for aging and washing; each affineur has proprietary processes and facilities.

Herve Mons supplied 11 cheeses, which Whole Foods cheese expert Mia Jones paired with French wine at a recent tasting.

    Having been schooled in the basics, we were better able to appreciate the extras, introduced by Mia Jones, the Whole Foods team leader for cheeses, chocolates and other yummy things. She walked us through each cheese, describing them, telling us what to look for and recommending which wine was best paired to each. Certified as a Cheese Professional by the American Cheese Society, she is knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastic.  I suspect Whole Foods sells a lot of cheese when she’s behind the counter.
    I take my cheese tasting very seriously. After listening to Mia, I took a small sample of each cheese and savored the flavor. I used handout sheets describing both the wine and cheese for notes and keeping score. Sometimes, I’d come back to a cheese and take another sample. My scoring ranged from zero to 10. The lowest for the night was 4 of 10, the highest 9 of 10. Most were in the 7 to 8 range. It was a good night for a cheese lover.
    We had a comfortable environment and all the accouterments to enjoy wine and cheese: water, fruit, nuts and slices of baguette, provided by Whole Foods Culinary Class coordinator Rene Acosta.
    I welcome the Whole Foods offerings to the catalog of courses available to local foodies. My Anne Arundel Community College classes were hands-on cooking; these, hands-on tasting. Both were excellent in their own right. I’ll go back for seconds on each.

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