When an opportunity to go for a tasting with a cheese expert at Classified arose, I was pretty much jumping for joy and just drooling from the anticipation, as, yes you’ve guessed it- I’m also a cheese fiend. I adore cheese, all kinds, blue stinky Stilton, creamy Brie, Boursin (Du pain, Du Vin, Du Boursin? Loved that advert!), Edam, and even the humble Cheddar.
When I met with Wendy, Classified’s Cheese Specialist, at the new branch in Tai Hang, I was immediately struck by how tiny she was- how can she eat cheese everyday and still be so small? Jealous!
She started the tasting by leading me to their impressive cheese cabinet and telling me about their range of cheeses. Classified generally houses between 40- 60 cheeses at each branch and the flagship on Hollywood Road has the greatest range to choose from. All of their cheeses come from Europe, with the majority coming from UK and France. Wendy and her colleagues are careful to select only local farm produce and signature and classic cheeses from each country, ensuring the highest quality for Hong Kong consumers.
You can buy 100-200g of cheese for immediate consumption, or if you’re sitting down to eat at one of their branches, you can have a 3, 5 or 7 cheese platter. I was particularly impressed to discover that if you’re throwing a party, you can supply Wendy with your wine list, and she will pair the appropriate cheeses that would go with your tipple of choice, and Hey Presto! You have a whole wheel of cheese!
Wendy had already selected five cheeses for me to try, but I asked for a sixth to be added- the Stinking Bishop, as I hadn’t had that in ages.
I was drooling again as we sat down, and when the cheese platter arrived, I was in fromage heaven. As a cheese lover, I always thought it was remiss of me not to have learnt more about the production and the different types. All I know is cheese is yummy, and one should have an emergency wedge in the fridge. But my scant knowledge was changed as I was given a lesson on the selections in front of me.
I know now that cheeses are classified according to milk type, texture and production methods. Milk type being either goat, sheep, cow or buffalo; texture- soft, semi- hard, hard and production methods being washed rind, blue or natural maturation like Brie. But more on that later!
We had six cheeses, starting with the Wigmore. A cheese made from ewe milk and hailing from Berkshire, UK, it’s suitable for vegetarians as it’s made using vegetable rennet. The Wigmore had a fantastic flavour, light and salty with that distinctive sheep aroma, but once paired with quince paste, (a type of marmalade or jam made from a Spanish apple, that cleanses the palate), it left a lovely milky flavour with little saltiness and sweet aftertaste.
The Mimolette is an orange coloured, cow’s milk signature cheese from the north of France, with a greyish crust. I was told the Mimolette is the French version of Edam and the colour comes from an African plant called annatto. The sample I had was aged to 24 months, but you can consume it at different ages, the longer it’s aged, the harder it is with crystals inside. This cheese has what experts call a complex taste, firm with a nutty flavour and slightly sour finish.
Cheese three was the Comté, a French cheese made from cow’s milk in the Comté region of Eastern France. A pale yellow in colour with a light brown rind, the texture was firm, the flavor delicate and nutty and you could taste the grain in the cheese. If eaten young at 12-16 months, there is no grain but from 24 months onwards till 4 years, it becomes harder, with more crystals, and crumblier and saltier.
Next up was the Ardrahan, a washed rind, Irish cheese from Cork, made from cow’s milk and vegetable rennet. Washed rind cheeses are cheeses that are washed typically with a salt, water or alcohol based liquid after solidification and during maturity to retain the moisture, keep the texture pliant and add a certain flavor to the cheese. In this case, the Ardrahan was washed with a salty liquid. I really enjoyed it. It had a strong smokey, lactic acid flavor, with an earthy undertone and a dry aftertaste. The epitome of a complex cheese, wonderful.
Cheese five was my requested Stinking Bishop. My lesson on this cheese was a revelation for me. Another type of washed cheese, I never realized the name is so called because the cheese is washed with a perry (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears) made from the Stinking Bishop pear, a local variety grown near Dymock, UK. And there I thought that it was called that because a Bishop made it and it stank. How wrong can a girl be?! This is a simple cheese, with only one distinct fruity flavor to it, which made so much more sense to me after hearing its origins!
Last, but certainly not least, was the Cashel Blue cheese from Cashel in Tipperary, Ireland. It’s Ireland’s first farmhouse blue cheese and again suitable for vegetarians. It has a lovely milky, salty taste with a semi-soft texture, perfect to smother on bread.
On reflection, my favourite was the Wigmore, and I recommend you try it, even if you’re not a fan of sheep’s milk. It was honestly a beautiful cheese.
So there you go, an education in cheese in an afternoon. The cheese is stored at 9-12 degrees in their cheese cabinets, but, Wendy told me, cheese should be eaten at room temperature. If you want to increase the shelf life of your cheese, you can store it at 4-5 degrees in your fridge.
I hope the next time you bite into your wedge of cheese or sprinkle Parmesan on your pasta you have a little think about where it’s from and how it’s made. I know I will be!
Sheung Wan: 108 Hollywood Road, 2525 3455 (currently under renovations – will open again soon!)
Wanchai: 31 Wing Fung Street, 2528 3454
Central: 3rd Floor, Exchange Square Podium, 8 Connaught Place, 2147 3454
Sai Kung: 5 Sha Tsui Path, 2529 3454
Tai Hang: 1-9 Lin Fa Kung Street West, 2857 3454
Happy Valley: 13 Yuk Sau Street, 2891 3454
Eating and Reporting by Sassy Food Blogger, Michelle Ng of ChopstixFix