Sparkling Pairings I Just Love: Cheese and Champagne
Belgium may be small, but it is home to a rich gastronomic culture and a wide array of top-notch artisans, chefs and sommeliers. And when they combine forces, the results are truly magical.
Head sommelier Tom Ieven, from Belgium’s number one restaurant Hof van Cleve, is one of those people. Not only did he obtain several prestigious sommelier awards in recent years; he also completed the WSET Diploma and received a coveted distinction grade for his Weinakademiker thesis on pairing champagne and cheese.
Champagne and cheese: it’s a love we certainly have in common. So when Tom announced he would present the results of his research and experiments in a one-of-a-kind tasting, at the wonderful new venue of Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp, ánd accompanied by the world-class cheeses of Kaasaffineurs Van Tricht, you can imagine I didn’t hesitate.
As down-to-earth East-Flemish folks, we regularly roll our eyes when confronted with people and projects from our compatriot city of Antwerp. After all, many of them ‘may’ appear a bit more prone to megalomania and overconfidence than is common in the rest of our humble country. Nevertheless, I can happily admit that the city continues to birth exciting initiatives, houses plenty of fantastic bars, restaurants and other venues, and hones excellent craftspeople. As a result, Antwerp is where we got our fabulous wedding rings, where we continue to meet so many wonderful people and where we’ve had countless unforgettable meals so far, and more to come I’m sure. In short: a city I am much more fond of than I would ever admit in public. Oh, wait… 😉
One of Antwerp’s newest, and possibly most prestigious, projects is the renovation of the Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp site. These past few years it’s been wizarded into a sustainability-focused, state-of-the-art yet still historic locale – a hotspot for sophisticated socialites and refined nature lovers alike. Featuring a 5-star hotel with 108 rooms and spa suites; ample conference and banquet capacity; fine-dining restaurants, bistro and bars managed by Michelin-starred chefs and award-winning sommeliers; a 15th century chapel; a botanic garden and a 1,000 square metres botanic health club and spa. Pricey for sure, but truly exquisite.
Against this gorgeous backdrop, the champagne and cheese tasting was presented by sommelier Tom Ieven and cheese master Frederic Van Tricht, both absolute stars in their respective fields.
After his studies in Hotel Management, Tom worked in several renowned Belgian restaurants, i.a. Zilte in Antwerp, which held 2 Michelin stars at the time and recently obtained a third. In 2019 he became Head Sommelier at Belgium’s best restaurant Hof Van Cleve*** in my original habitat, Kruisem.
These past few years, he’s been topping virtually every wine competition or award list here: Best Sommelier of Belgium in 2018 and ’19, Sommelier of the Year 2020, Gault&Millau’s Sommelier of the Year 2021 ánd he passed the ASI sommelier exams at Gold level. On top of that, he recently completed the WSET Diploma, and the Weinakademiker thesis he presented on this particular evening.
Frederic Van Tricht is one of Belgium’s most famous master artisan cheese refiners. He represents the third generation in his family business, which has been active in and around Antwerp for at least half a century. Kaasaffineurs Van Tricht was founded by Frederic’s grandparents in 1970, originally as a delicatessen, before his father Michel gradually expanded the business into a full-fledged cheese refinery. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal named the shop one of the best in Europe, and rightfully so.
The tasting itself was organised by WineWise, our local WSET course provider, together with the Benelux chapter of Comité Champagne, the trade association which represents the interests of the Champagne producers, and regularly organises events which showcase the diversity, versatility ánd other qualities of my beloved Champagne.
For the tasting, Tom sorted the champagnes in broad, effective categories:
- Young and refreshing non-vintage champagnes
- Mature and complex champagnes, either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir-dominated
- Fruit-forward rosé champagnes
- Rich and sweet champagnes (demi-sec)
With each of these, he presented an extensively tested pairing:
- a Crottin goat’s cheese with the Deutz non-vintage;
- the 2013 Moncuit Blanc de Blancs with Camembert;
- the fabulous Bollinger La Grande Année 2012 with 20-month old Comté and Parmigiano;
- Pol Roger Rich (demi-sec) with Époisses;
- and last but not least: one of my long-time favourite cheese and champagne pairings: Shropshire Blue with Drappier’s Rosé Brut Nature.
Truly grand combinations, so DO try these at home!
Which are your favourite cheese and champagne combinations?
Do let us know in the comments. 🙂
Frederic Van Tricht: https://www.kaasaffineursvantricht.be/en/
Comité Champagne Benelux: https://www.champagne.fr/en/comite-champagne/bureaus/bureaus/belgium
WineWise Benelux: https://www.winewise.be/en/
Weinakademiker Austria: https://www.weinakademiker.at/
Botanic Sanctuary Antwerp: https://www.botanicantwerp.be/