It seems everywhere you look these days someone is talking about matching food and booze. Wine dinners, beer dinners, whiskey dinners; matching a few courses of gourmet cuisine with the chosen beverage to show off the versatility of food and drink matching. Having been to a few of these I have to admit one of the things I have never understood is something I call the “forced match”. This is where the wine or beer is matched to a dish that it just isn’t suited to in an attempt to show there are “no boundaries!” I’m all for being open-minded but sometimes you just gotta let go and accept that some matches aren’t meant to be. Red wine and Indian food, beer and sushi (yes, I mean it!) are a couple of examples but the most common one I see is wine and cheese. Sure, eating cheese with wine offers the feeling of sophistication and there are some great matches particularly with dessert wines and fortifieds, but in many cases it just doesn’t “go”. Step in sake! Despite cheese not having a long or traditional place in Japanese cuisine it has definitely been embraced by chefs and restaurants. Some would suggest it is the umami in cheese that appeals to the Japanese palate. Regardless, it is arguably the presence of umami in cheese that suits it so well to sake.
If I can find the discipline I hope to do a few posts over the next few weeks exploring the sake and cheese combo starting today with Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (Kyoto) and some simple Jindi Reserve Washed Rind cheese.
But first, a tangent…Yamahai sake is basically one the old schools of sake brewing. As mentioned in a previous post the original brewing method was Kimoto where the rice, koji, water and yeast would be stirred and pounded into a puree to get the fermentation enzymes active. However in 1909 it was discovered that all that stirring and pounding wasn’t necessary and the moto (mash) would ferment on its own with just a slight increase in water temperature. This method relies on naturally occurring lactic acid to find its way into the mash and take out any unwanted micro-organisms and bacteria. This style of sake produces a flavour profile similar but not the same as Kimoto. High acidity is a common thread but Yamahai tends to be much more funky and gamey.
Back to the cheese. While this particular cheese is not overly pungent like some washed rind cheese can be, it does have the funk. The milder acidity of sake compared to wine helps it melt in with the soft cheese rather than cut through it and those gamey, earthy flavours in both the cheese and the sake line up perfectly. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, sake and cheese is the best match you’ve never tried!
Tama no Hikari Junmai Ginjo Yamahai
Kyoto, Seimaibuai: 60%