Paris, France — It was probably one of the most surprising and successful of food and wine pairings. Two of France’s great gastronomic specialties — raw milk cow cheeses and champagne — came together in a burst of flavors and textures at the Grand Comptoir of the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe. Champagne producer Jean-Marc Charpentier brought in to town his Terre d’Emotion collection of champagnes where they met up with fine cheeses selected by master cheese specialist Xavier Thuret, who is a MOF, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, designating him a master craftsman in his field.
This is a champagne for connaisseurs, champagne that has been carefully curated by the Maison Charpentier, a house that brings out complex champagnes, champagnes for a simple champagne time, but, too, for drinking throughout the meal or with this uncanny but highly sumptuous champagne and cheese pairing. For French cheeses are the great cheeses and Mr. Thuret selected perfection every time.
It all started with a Brut Vérité from the Terre d’Emotion collection. The champagne brings together the three classic grape varieties of champagne, with 70% Chardonnay and the remaining 30% divided evenly between the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier varieties. The Chardonnay grapes came from vineyards planted by Mr. Charpentier’s grandfather some five decades ago. The champagne was pure and precise and was delightful with the Cantal entre-deux cheese selected by Mr. Thuret. The Cantal entre-deux is one of the great cheeses of France made in the Auvergne, one of the fine but lesser known cheese producing regions of France. Aged between three to six months it has just a nice intense flavor. In other words it is neither mild nor pungent.
We then proceeded onto one of the Gourmet Gazette’s favorite champagnes the house’s Blanc de Blancs Brut, made from 100% Chardonay grapes, dry, crisp, zero acidity which was served up with one of the very first Mont d’Or cheeses of the season. Mont d’Or are creamy, luxurious, unctuous cheeses that can only be sold from September 10th until May 10th and it is a popular cheese on holiday tables in France. This cow’s milk designated label of origin cheese is made in the Jura mountains and was enjoyed by Louis XV.
The Rosé brut, a pink champagne from the house of Charpentier, another one of our favorites, offered an unusual take on Chardonnay with 88% Chardonnay and 12% of Pinot noir offering a delicious yet atypical savor, it was fruity and perfect with a Fourme d’Ambert, a blue cheese made with cow’s milk, also a designated label of origin cheese emanating from the Auvergne. It is regarded as the mildest of the blue cheeses, fragrant and delicate, it proved to be perfectly matched with the Rosé champagne bursting with its very own strong character.
What goes with one of France’s most famous cheeses the luscious, pungent Camembert from Normandy? It turned out to be a well-structured Blanc de Noirs Extra-Brut, with the Pinot Noir at 80% and the Pinot Meunier at 20% which held up perfectly to the equally structured and also strong Camembert, a cow’s milk cheese whose taste emerges during the aging process. It is one of the trickier cheeses for a master cheese monger to mature.
Mr. Charpentier then brought out his Pinot Meunier zero-dosage, meaning no extra sugar had been added during the vinification process, a technique which is becoming increasingly popular. This champagne made entirely from Pinot Meunier grapes coming from the house’s oldest vineyards and from 2017, which was regarded as not a particularly good year, but, « we did it, » commented Mr. Charpentier. And that was a very good thing for it was an excellent champagne. This was enjoyed with a Gruyère made with milk from cows that feast on the grass and plants of alpine pastures, imparting onto the raw milk its fragrant notes.
It seemed as if the party was over, but not exactly yet. Mr. Thurin brought out a Saint-Félicien. This is a rich, creamy cheese from the region around Lyon and nothing short of a gourmet delight. Mr. Thurin liberally sprinkled it with caviar, offering an incredible contrast of tastes and textures and promptly asked us to simply select which of Mr. Charpentier’s champagne to savor it with. We went for the crisp Blanc de Blancs Brut 100% Chardonnay for a truly emotional experience.
The Charpentier champagnes are of a certain purity, each tasting of the work of an author behind it. This author is Jean-Marc Charpentier, the eight generation of the family to grow and manipulate the grapes and to transform them into great champagnes. It all began back in 1855 with Prosper. The house of Charpentier and its old historic vineyards are located in Charly-sur-Marne in the Marne Valley where all three of the traditional champagne-making grape varieties are grown: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot-Noir. The Charpentier vineyard is planted on hillside slopes and as is atypical for the region is planted in 45 % Chardonnay (the Marne Valley is know for its Pinot Meunier), complemented by the other two leading Champagne country grape varieties and Jean-Marc is currently converting the vineyard into organic agriculture. This is a vineyard that has been carefully handed down through eight generations.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette