The Alchemy of Affinage With Cheese Guru Bernard Antony

By Gavin Smith

Eating cheese and drinking fine wine is really one of life’s little pleasures. The skills in matching the right cheese with the right wines is no easy task and something taken very seriously amongst the world's finest wine and cheese makers. One name that kept cropping up when speaking to winemakers about wine and cheese pairing was Bernard Antony, a man who now supplies 20 of the world’s 3* Michelin chefs as well as working alongside many of the world’s top winemakers matching cheese and wine at events for Guigal, Angelus, Humbrecht and many more.  

We caught up with Jean Francois Antony (Bernard's son and protege) to find out more about Affinage (the ageing of cheese) and their perfect cheese and wine pairings.

45 Years at the Service of Taste

Bernard Antony is one of the world’s great cheese makers. Strictly speaking his mastery is in affinage, that is finishing and ageing cheeses. From humble beginnings working as a travelling grocer in Alsace, in 45 years he has gone on to become one of the most recognised men in the world of fine cheese.

Bernard Antony was the protegé of the late great Maitre Pierre Androucet – known as “the Pope of Cheese”. Bernard says of Pierre - "To me, he was like a father. He was the man who created me, who taught us everything, to my wife and me. He didn't like me to say it because he wanted to give me all the credit for my success”.

Following on from Androucet’s advice and support, Bernard set up his own cheese ageing cellars in the early eighties in the southern Alsace village of Vieux-Ferrette. The ageing cellars are made up of seven different chambers all at different humidity and temperature levels – ideal for raising and ageing various different styles of cheese. Only when the cheeses are deemed ready and at perfect ripening are they released to the markets and delivered to restaurants. Ageing of cheeses can range from just a few months for the fresher goat’s cheeses to several years for some hard cheeses.

 

Speaking with Jean Francois Antony, Bernard’s son, who works alongside his father, running the day to day operations of the cellars, he identifies that the skills in good affinage revolve around a number of key elements. First of all, “raw (unpasteurized milk) is essential if one is to speak of cheese with authenticity… taking into account the breed of animal, the animals' diet, the talent of the cheesemaker and then of course the controlled process of ripening are also key”.

 

The cheeses arrive to the cellars already halfway through ripening and their ageing cellars go into action to give them the final touch. They provide the perfect environment and temperature for ageing as well as the most important element in the Bernard Antony cheese cellars, the natural yeasts that live there helping the cheese mature distinctly and in the best way possible.

 

The famous ageing cellars are open for visits in the village of Vieux-Ferrette. If you are travelling through Alsace it is an essential visit. Book via their website: http://www.fromagerieantony.fr/8/useful-information/article/contact?lang=en

They often pair the cheeses with fine wine so we thought who better to ask for advice on the ultimate cheese and wine pairings than the man himself.

Below is the Bernard and Jean Francois Antony’s essential guide to food and wine matching, split up between the different styles of cheese, with additional advice passed down from Pierre Androucet.

 

 

The Floury Crust Family of Cheeses

·         Camembert

·         Brie de Meux (un peu sale)

·         St Marcellin and St Marcellin (runny)

·         Petit Mosellan

·         Coulommiers

·         Chaource

 

The classic pairing would be Champagne (Blanc de Blancs, Aged and even Rose Champagne) however Bernard Antony advises that you remove the crust as it can make the wine appear more harsh. The bubbles work brilliantly in refreshing the palate from these rich cheeses and the yeast flavours from the Champagne also work really well. Avoid tannic reds with these cheeses. One of Bernard's favourite matches include a Gevrey Chambertin 2012 from Domaine Denis Mortet with the St Marcellin. He states a white wine with both gentle oxidation and good acidity works particularly well with Petit Mosella (Saint Peray from Domaine Tunnel or Alain Voge) or a fruity red wine with well-coated tannins such as a Beaujolais Cru wines with the Chaource and Colombier fermier.

 

The Washed Crust Family of Cheeses

·         Epoisses

·         Langres

·         Livarot

·         Munster

·         Maroilles

·         Vacherin

·         Pont-l’Eveque

 

According to Androuet: robust and virile wines, with sap and generous bouquet work best with these potent washed crust cheeses. They require “solar wines“ which can harness the power of washed crusts. Gewurtztraminer Grand Cru from Albert Mann, Chambolle Musigny from Liger Belair would both work well. Pinot Noir from Zind Humbrecht, Bollinger 2008 Grande Annee also a particular favourites with Bernard Antony.

 

 

The Pressed Crust Family of Cheeses

·         Comte

·         Emmenthal

·         Beaufort

·         Gruyere Suisse

 

According to Androuet the matches depend on the evolution of the cheese. Dry white or red wines with bouquet work well, red wine brings a balancing touch of bitterness. These cheeses flatter any red wine by erasing astringency and promoting fruit therefore making White or Red Burgundy a good match. With more ageing of the cheese, wines from the greater South-West, the Rhône Valley and Languedoc Roussillon become better matches. Other personal favourites from Bernard Antony include Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Italy) White wines from Valais (Switzerland), and Savignin wines from the Jura.

The Pressed (uncooked) Crust Family of Cheeses

·         Morbier

·         Tomme de Savoie fermiere

·         Mimolette demi étuvé

·         Salers

·         Roblochon

·         Sainte Nectaire

 

Pairing again depends on the maturity of the cheese. The older the cheese the richer the wine. Chateau Latour 2001 is Bernard’s match with Morbier. Saint Joseph Pierre Gonon 2013 works well with Reblochon and Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere Grand Cru Classe St Emilion 2008 works well with Saint Nectaire.

 

The Family of Blue Cheeses

·         Bleu d’Auvergne

·         Roquefort

·         Fourme d’Ambert

·         Blue de Gex

·         Bleu D’Auvergne

·         Stilton

·         Gorgonzola

 

These are best paired with sweeter fruited wine or sweet wines. Avoid red wines as the mould changes the structure, the aromas and brings out the bitterness. Top picks are Rivesaltes Vins Doux Naturels, Pacharenc du Vic Bilh or aged Sauternes even red Vins Doux Naturels such as Maury, Banyuls work well with blue cheeses.

 

 

The Family of Goat and Sheep Cheeses

·         Ossau-iraty

·         Brebis cremeux et parfume

·         Brebis Corse

·         Chevre:

·         Frais

·         Moelleux et onctueux

·         Affiné. Vieux et sec

·         St Maure de Touraine

·         Banon de Provence

·         Chevrotin des Aravis

With this family of cheeses the wine must tame the acidity of milk. The wine must work with the texture of the fat and complexity of the flavours. Androuet confirms the well-known phrase - match local wines with cheese of the same origin, particularly very dry and fruity whites. Dry white wines from the Loire -include the smoky Pouilly Fume, Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly work well with the goats cheeses from the region. From Burgundy, try the lighter Aligoté, Saint-Véran, Macon villages and from the Alpine pastures the white wines of Savoie or lighter reds of the Loire – Bourgueil and Chinon. Bernard Antony’s particular favourites with these cheeses include wines closer to home including Riesling Vendange Tardive 2007 from Barmes Buecher, 2002 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kaferberg 2002 and Pinot Gris Grand Cru Osterberg 2016, Domaine Agape.

Behind the Bottle - Monfortino

BY Gavin Smith,

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