Patricia Michelson is a world-renowned expert on cheese. This week, she will be visiting the UAE to host tasting sessions in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where she’ll be giving gourmets the chance to try unusual varieties of cheese from across the world. Before then, she shares some of her knowledge with us.
Her journey into the world of cheese began on a skiing holiday in Meribel in the French Alps.
“I had had a bad day’s skiing and was walking through the village when I stumbled upon a cheese shop,” she recalls. “So I picked up the local cheese, which was Beaufort.
“It tasted amazing and I wanted to find out more about it, so I found the cheese maker at the market and got chatting to him. I asked him to deliver me some cheese to take home with me. I thought he’d give me a one- or two-kilo piece, but he gave me the whole wheel, which weighed 30kg.”
After returning home with the cheese in the boot of her car, she gave as much away to friends as she could, before deciding to sell off the rest from her garden shed.
Such was the interest in this product, she imported more Beaufort and traded it from a market stall. Then in 1992, she opened her first shop, La Fromagerie, in London and her second a decade later. Nowadays, she imports around 250 varieties of artisan cheese from 14 different countries.
She also supplies some of the UK’s top restaurateurs, including the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse.
The perfect cheeseboard
“When choosing a cheeseboard, always look for harmony,” she explains. “The tastes need to gel together. It’s very important for what you start with and what you end with.
“The journey has to have a meaning. You need to start with something light and end with something strong and spicy. That journey has to go in a lovely wave of tastes.”
So, she explains, you could start with something like a light goat’s cheese, for example, then end with a strong blue cheese.
A taste of the unusual
Michelson insists that those with esoteric tastes should experience a Norwegian goat’s cheese called gjetost. This buttery product has a flavour somewhat similar to sweet, condensed milk.
While there are mass-produced versions on the market, Michelson says one should try the artisan, farmhouse gjetost to really appreciate it.
“We only buy our ones from this tiny cooperative of farms from the wilds of Norway,” she says.
“It’s amazing and, if eaten in the right way, it’s peculiar but moreish. It has that umami taste. If you have it first thing in the morning, very thinly sliced on rye bread, it is quite extraordinary.”
Look beyond pickles and chutneys as accompaniments with your cheese.
“Sometimes chutneys have a huge amount of vinegar in them, and that can kill the taste of the cheese,” insists Michelson.
“Instead, try to think what foods will work well with each type of cheese.
“For example, apples have this lovely acidity that goes with hard cheese, pears have this sweetness that’s lovely with blue cheese, while almonds have this nutty milkiness that works well with hard Gruyere cheeses.”
“It still has to be the Beaufort,” says Michelson.
“To know that the animals are grazing up on these gorgeous Alpine pastures … and then are milked up there, then the cheeses are made up there.
“Then at the end of August, [the farmers] come down from the mountains, and bring the cheese down with them and store them in caves.
“To keep that for two or three years, then you open that cheese, it’s a lovely feeling. I always enjoy taking that first bite. You can really taste the pasture,” enthuses Michelson.
Patricia Michelson’s cheese tasting and pairing workshops take place tomorrow at Jones the Grocer, Al Manara, Dubai, then on Tuesday at African + Eastern headquarters in Tecom. Both run from 6pm to 8.30pm. On Wednesday she will be at Jones the Grocer, Muroor, in Abu Dhabi, which runs from 7pm to 9pm. Call 800 56637 or email email@example.com for more information.
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