Friday, April 1, 2011

A little experiment

There has been so much buzz of late surrounding the idea of pairing food with cocktails, and by "of late," I mean the last few years.  The wonderful cocktail dinner held at Lineage several months back that featured Berkshire Mountain Distillers' spirits was really quite sublime.  I was amazed at how well each drink paired with each course, especially given that the talented bunch of bartenders (Joy Richards, Bob McCoy, Kevin Martin, Jackson Cannon and Ryan Lotz) had never tasted the course before crafting the drink with which to pair it.  While I cannot even approach their level of expertise or skill, I wanted to proverbially get my feet wet with the idea of pairing cocktails with food.

As a starting point, I came to the conclusion that it would be easiest to pair cocktails to cheeses.  Admittedly, this is partly because of my laziness in not wanting to prepare hors d'oeuvres as well as mix drinks.  However, my, I think good, rationalization was that I could pick three cheeses, each with a distinct flavor profile and with a somewhat canonical set of pairings with wine.  Using that foundation, I picked some cocktails that I thought fit along the lines of what has already been done in terms of wine pairings, but to offer these flavors in a new way.

That said, I invited a small group of friends over for this little experiment:

The menu

Each category had two cheeses (except for the cured duck breast) with one cocktail paired and one wine paired.  The wine pairings are perhaps boringly standard, but I wanted to serve the wine alongside as something of a baseline.  As for the cocktails, the Thorough General is one that I've made before, but the other two were newly developed for this concept.

I wanted to play the sweetness of the Thorough General, and its touch of floral and citrus, with the saltiness and pungency of the Fourme d'Ambert and the duck breast.  I thought it was good, though not revelatory.  Perhaps an idea that should not be dropped altogether, but may work with a bit of tinkering.

The Fifteen cocktail is actually what really got me motivated in the cocktail-cheese pairing, as the quince preserves therein really struck me as reminiscent of the classic combination of manchego and dulce de membrillo.  Indeed, this cocktail really complemented the manchego wonderfully.  On the other hand, the play with Nancy's Camembert was not unpalatable, but certainly less successful.  As for the name, it is a little play on words; the Spanish word for "fifteen" being "quince".  Incidentally, amaro Ramazzotti was also first produced in 1815.

2 oz brandy
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz Ramazotti
0.5 Tbs. quince preserves
Dash Angostura bitters
Lemon twist

The last set was pairing a fresh chevre and a goat triple cream from Coach Farm to a cocktail I've dubbed the Daitoku-ji, so named in honor of the Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan, known for its zen gardens and for its connection to Sen no Rikyū, one of the most influential Japanese masters of tea.  I truly love the toasted thyme and have to thank Shingo at Angel's Share again and again for his inspiration.  In fact, his fingerprints can be seen throughout this cocktail.  I thought it matched the chevre better than the triple cream, for which it lacked the acidity and sparkle to stand up to the richness of the triple cream on the palate.  The gustatory commerce between the Daitoku-ji cocktail and the chevre, though, got better as the drink evolved, the thyme donating a heavier presence over time.

2 oz shiso-infused gin
0.75 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz Longjing green tea syrup
Dash Boston Bittahs
Toasted thyme

 Finishing a round of cocktails

While I think the concept of pairing cocktails with cheese, and food in general, has many more miles in the tank, I certainly think it could use some refinement on my end.  Nothing was stridently conflicting, but aside from the Fifteen with manchego, nothing seemed sublime either.  Of course, the best part of the evening was the thoroughly delightful company, which could have sweetened even the bitterest of pills.

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