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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Blue cheese pairings: six drinks that come alive with Saint Agur

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A cheese for every cheeseboard, that’s what Saint Agur is. Butter-smooth and ever-so-slightly walnutty: before the flourishes of tangy blue reach your palate, a creamy sourness comes forward. Like the best Greek yoghurt or a dollop of creme fraiche, it shouts to be paired with fruit and acidity – fresh pear, apricots, mango. The sharper, piquant flavours come later, gently rolling into view like a morning mist over the volcanoes of its Auvergne homeland.

It’s so unlike other blue cheeses that it can happily take its place alongside another on a cheeseboard. Saint Agur’s balance sits between unctuousness (without being gooey) and blue-veined spice (without stinging your eyes). For a moment of indulgence – and we could always do with more of those – pair with one of the following and explore the complexities that each brings out …

The red wine

Let’s try something new. After a bit of a dance with cabernet franc from Mendoza, I’ve decided that I’d most enjoy my Saint Agur with a bright, fruity Austrian zweigelt. I particularly love the wines being produced by natural winemakers in this part of the world, who use the zweigelt grape with passion, and encourage its tart blackcurrant, liquorice and peppery flavours to break through. Known as the ideal picnic wine, zweigelt pairs deliciously with the creamy texture and more complex flavours of the Saint Agur. Claus Preisinger’s biodynamic Kieselstein has the fresh acidity to balance Saint Agur’s decadence and a leathery earthiness to match the cheese’s delicate barnyard character.

The white wine

Sweet white wines such as sauternes or ice wine are an absolute classic here, but for honey-pear-syrup-sponge deliciousness, you really can’t get any better than a Hungarian tokaj aszú.

Saint Agur blue cheese
Saint Agur matches well with fruits such as pears

Tokaj aszú is the amber-jewelled, noble rot royalty of wine (noble rot is a fungus that helps create some of the most prized dessert wines). When I drink tokaj aszú I feel luxurious whatever I’m doing – which is why I think it pairs gorgeously with our highly flexible Saint Agur, a secretly luxurious cheese with rich, mushroomy flavours that’s equally at home drizzled in truffle oil or popped on a cracker. In great examples of aszú there are spicy notes of stem ginger and saffron, and lux cheeseboard fruits like fig, date and dried apricots that perfectly complement Saint Agur’s complexity. Even if you don’t usually enjoy sweet white wines, when those sticky-sweet, honeyed fruit aromas and flavours mingle deliciously with your cheese, you’ll be converted.

The beer

Avoiding high bitterness is the aim here. What we want is fruity malt character, and the warming flutter of alcohol flickering in the throat to balance the cheese’s peppery funk.

Export stout. That’s the beer for this job. The Kernel Export Stout is hard to beat, and its deep, dark, roasty character, studded with dried fruits and peels, is a satisfying, surprising match for Saint Agur.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, for less decadence and more refreshment, grab a sour saison. Give Burning Sky Saison Provision a try – tart and layered with “farmhouse” vibes, it cuts through the cream and play-fights with the funky farmyard in this cheese like a fun family friend.

The spirit

Again we’re looking at something sweet here, something luscious, something that goes down smooth and blooms with aromatics inside your head. I’ve picked Ron Zacapa XO rum. However, a demerara rum such as El Dorado 12 would be just as fantastic.

The sweetness of the spirit brings out a sharper profile of the cheese. Its saltiness, too, is a welcome addition to the sugary rum, which has a deep layering of flavours thanks to it being made from sugar cane syrup in a similar way to sherry – complex but so easy and joyful to sip.

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Saint Agur blue cheese choux buns by Raymond Blanc

The cocktail

Let’s talk about the rebujito. Starring sherry and made as casual or as sophisticated as you like, I can’t think of a better drink to pair with Saint Agur. Sherry, with its endless layers of flavours ranging from sweet to earthy, was made for this cheese. Don’t fight it.

Switch the fino sherry out for oloroso, and enjoy all those wonderful woody, autumnal aromas mingling like far-off bonfire smoke with the sky – bringing out our cheese’s umami.

If you’d rather enjoy the almondy-spritz of a fino rebujito to celebrate the salty, piquant nature of your cheese, absolutely go for it. And if you use lemonade instead of lemon juice and soda – who am I to judge?

The cider

Cider is cheese’s soulmate, and at the moment natural cider is the drink you need to know about. Made from 100% pressed juice and nothing more, these drinks are usually made with their own naturally-occurring yeasts, giving them the complexity and expressive terroir you’d expect from fine wine.

Try something slightly sweet and slightly tannic to balance out the salty, funky flavours of the cheese – and a cider with a little bit of natural yeast earthiness will also pair beautifully.

Look out for a “keeved” cider: this means it’s been made using a historic method that keeps some of the residual sugar from the juice. Pilton makes amazing keeved ciders, and its first release of 2021, Fox Dog Cat, with its fruity juiciness and a tiny curl of smoke to finish is a dream with Saint Agur.

Discover delicious ways to enjoy Saint Agur every day

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