The Classic Pairing: Sancerre and Crottin
So let’s get this category off to a start and talk about one of the classic pairings of wine and cheese.
Few wine and cheese pleasures measure up to the simplicity of a little French bread, an apple and the sensuous pairing of Sancerre and goat cheese. OK, it’s a bit cliché and guaranteed to have any wine snobs you know rolling their eyes. But, it is a classic pairing for a reason. I’ll pick this pairing as my first choice because of a little personal history. My first experience with this was simply walking into a store in Angers, picking up a small local cheese, a bottle of the local white, some form of sausage and bread and off to a park to enjoy in the shade of Anger’s trees beside the old castle. I had no idea of what I was buying but the experience was somewhat transformative. And got me hooked on Sauvignon Blancs.
The Loire Valley produces a couple of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc wines –Sancere and Pouilly Fumé. These two wines are classic summer wines and go great with salads, cheese and light summer dishes. Typically, the profile of a Sancerre is semi-dry, fresh, fruity white with vegetable flavors.
Sancerre is a village located in the Loire valley of western France. The area around Sancerre also produces reds and rosés based on Pinot Noir grapes which are similar in style to Beaujolais and are not marketed much outside of the area.
Now, Sancerre isn’t cheap but you can pick up some decent versions of it for $20 to $30. As with most French wines there are plenty of options to spend more if you wish. This semi-dry white with the veggie or even grassy notes is perfect with the local goat cheese.
The French are real big on what they like to call Terroir. Basically, it means soil or earth and the belief is that subtle micro-flavours from the soil appear in both grape and cheese are what make this combination so perfect.
OK to the cheese. A great choice to go with your Sancerre if you can source it is Crottin de Chavignol.
Chevre is the common term for French goat cheese (Chevre is the French word for goat) and a number of mass produced brands are widely available. Any sort of generic chevre will be OK but it is worth seeking out some better versions.
Near the village of Sancerre is the town of Chavignol, where the famous Crottin de Chavignol is produced. Probably the most famous cheese of the Loire Valley, it has spawned some imitators that are usually labeled simply Crottin. To be genuine, it requires the de Chavignon appellation.
Crottin de Chavignol has been produced in the area since the 16th century and is one of the more distinctive varieties of French goat cheese. The local cheesemakers pour whole goat milk into tiny molds and let them set for 24 hours. Once removed from the mold, the cheese develops a wrinkled surface and is given a salt bath. The cheese then ripens for 10 to 12 days. What happens next is what makes this cheese particularly appealing. When young, the cheese is white or butter coloured and is soft enough to be spread. You can also warm it and pour over bread. At this stage it has a herbaceous and almost lemony taste, which of course means it is perfect for that Sancerre you have lightly chilling.
As it ages, over a month old or so, the flavour becomes slightly nutty and takes on a richer taste. It also becomes more crumbly. Also as it ages the rind will also change from a light butter colour to a grey and eventually to a blue.
The cheese can be eaten anywhere from two weeks to four months. By the end of the that time span it is pretty good for grating and slicing for a sandwich. You may also want to move up to a local Cabernet Franc or a meatier Chenin blanc like a Vouvray.