Believe it or not, my first food and wine epiphany was in high school. I was seriously enamored with a clarinet player in the band. She was a senior and I was a junior. I boldly asked her to join me for a picnic at a local park. She said yes. I was shocked that she accepted my invitation but momentary delirium quickly turned to panic. How could I possibly convince her of my worldly experience at the ripe old age of 17? I desperately needed help and quickly engaged the help of my older sister Tina, who was a junior in college at the time. I requested a loaf of French bread, a bottle of French wine and a French cheese. She went to a delicatessen in a local shopping mall and soon returned with bread that resembled sponge cake, a half bottle of white and a wedge of strange looking cheese. I had no clue about any of it but threw everything into a basket with plastic cups, paper plates and napkins and then went to meet up with my date.
At first the picnic went well. Lots of well-thought out lines on my part (your eyes are like two limping fools …). I sliced the bread, unwrapped the cheese and somehow managed to get the cork out of the bottle without any minor explosions or shards of breaking glass. I had just poured two plastic cups of the wine when my date took a bite of the cheese and practically spit it out in disgust. “It’s awful!” was the only thing she managed to say. All thoughts of dancing pastel unicorns in my head quickly faded. I took a big sip of the wine (completely surprised that it was sweet) and then took a bite of cheese. What followed was one of the cosmic moments of gastronomy in my life. Time stopped. Angels sang. I was completely alone. The combination of sweet wine and the moldy weird cheese was the single most amazing thing I had ever tasted in my seventeen years. In that moment, dear and respected readers, everything changed for me. I had crossed the line between “eat to live” and “live to eat.” Life would never be the same.
I quickly handed my date a glass of the vino and urged her to try the cheese again. It took some serious convincing but I succeeded and she, too, was astounded that two things so strange and completely different could taste so incredible when paired together. The picnic finished in grand fashion (I can say no more). As for the other details, the wine in question was a late-‘60’s vintage of Barsac from B&G, a botrytis dessert wine similar in style to Sauternes. The cheese was Roquefort, the famous blue cheese from the south of France near Soulzon.
That single experience made me an instant and lifetime member of the cult of botrytis dessert wine and blue cheese. It’s a food and wine pairing ritual that I have experienced many times since and one I try to repeat as often as possible. My current favorite is matching an Auslese German Riesling with Stilton, a salty blue cheese from the U.K. The combination of honey and stonefruits in the Auslese with the salty and pungent notes of the cheese is somewhere between a frat party and Angels frollicking on your palate. Try it. It will momentarily change your life. I guarantee it.