Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

EVENT: Wine & Cheese at AOC

I got sick again last week, which means that I spent most of the week in bed with some sort of cold/flu , sweating and hacking and trying to shield my precious lungs from the fire-polluted air, and shield the rest of the world from my diseased germs.

But I think I'm up to snuff now, aside from a lingering cough, so hopefully my writing skills are back up to snuff as well.

I have a small girl-crush on chef Suzanne Goin. It goes right along with my girl-crushes on Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. Chef Goin is elegant, stylish and at the same time talented and successful. She has three restaurants and is raising twins, and yet every time you see her she looks calm and well-put-together. I also now know she's a lovely hostess and a very friendly person as well.

The other weekend, I was lucky enough to get to attend a wine and cheese tasting event at AOC hosted by Chef Goin and her restaurant partner, Caroline Styne, which was followed by a four course dinner in the private dining area of the restaurant? How did I get this coolest of invites? Well, it was actually thanks to my mom and her American Express card, as it was one of the perks of her membership. Thanks, mom!
The first part was the cheese/wine tasting, which was held in the main room of AOC. We were seated at the bar so we had front row seats. The cheeses were arranged on an old world/new world basis. First we would try a classic cheese, and then a more modern cheese that Chef Goin thought made a good counterpoint to the classic cheese.

We tasted:

1. Brillat Savarin (Normandy, France) with NV Camille Saves Grand Cru, Bouzy: A cow's milk triple cream cheese, that's one of the richest cheeses in the world. This is really the king of cheeses and I love it with all my heart. The wine was a sparkling wine from a family vineyard made in a traditional fashion since 1894. Classic.

2. Trio by Andante Dairy (Petaluma, CA) with NV Parigot & Richard, Cremant de Bourgogne, Brut Rose: The cheese was a special cheese created just for AOC of cow's milk, goat's milk and creme fraiche, paired with a sparkling rosé.

3. Valencay made by P. Jacquin (France) with 2006 Domaine Des Vieux Pruniers, Sancerre: An very runny goat's milk cheese paired with a delicate Sancerre.

4. Pyramids by Juniper Grove Farm (Redmond, OR) with 2005 Alta Mura Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: This cheese was actually modeled on the Valencay (which is pyramid-shaped) although it tasted quite different and was not runny, paired with a small production, French-oak aged Napa Sauvignon Blanc.

5. Epoisses made by Fromagerie Berthaut (France) with 2005 Domaine Robert Chevillon, Nuits St. Georges, Roncieres: A cow's milk cheese, and one of the best things I have ever tasted. This and the Brillat-Savarin were by far my favorites. Paired with a "masculine" Burgundy pinot noir

6. Hooligan by Cato Corner Farm (Colchester, CT) with 2005 Radio Coteau Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley: A semi-soft, moderately stinky cow's milk cheese, paired with cult California Pinot Noir. My aunt and I loved this wine - too bad it's hard to find. A glance at the vineyard's website tells me this release is all sold out.

7. Comté by Marcel Petit (Jura, France) with 2004 Domaine du Caillou, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Les Quartz: A French Alpine Gruyere, made since the time of Charlemagne, paired with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine that's a blend of grapes, from 70 to 100 year old vines.

8. Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Uplands Cheese, Inc. (Dodgeville, WI) with 2004 Cambiata, Tannat, Monterey: A firm cow's milk cheese made in the style of French mountain cheeses. One of the first artisanal cheesemakers in Wisconsin after the industrial cheesemakers had taken over. Paired with California wine made from a Pyrenees grape, the tannat.

9. Romao with 1998 Bodegas Muga, Prado Enea, Gran Riserva: Can you believe I am still going? This was insane. We are on the last plate now. This was an absolutely amazing cheese. A semi-hard sheep's milk cheese rubbed in olive oil and fresh rosemary and aged that way. You must try this before you die. Paired with a classic and well respected Spanish tempranillo blend.

10. Vermont Dandy by Peaked Mountain Farm (Townshend, VT) with 2005 Jules Harrison Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley: A semi-hard raw sheep's milk cheese from super-spoiled sheep in Vermont. The farm also produces maple syrup and blueberry bushes and I want to go live there now. Paired with a Central Coast pinot from Caroline Styne's own winemaking partnership.

11. Estrella la Peral with 2004 Dehesa de Rubiales, Alaia, Castilla y Leon: Now we're into the blue cheeses. This is a crumbly Spanish one, paired with with a robust Spanish red.

12. Tilston Point by Tony Hook (Mineral Point, WI) with 2005 Carlisle, Zinfandel, Sonoma County: FINALLY, we reached the end. A Stilton-style blue by the cheesemaker who made the amazing and addictive cheddar from my last cheese tasting, paired with a Sonoma zinfandel from a small winery.

I cannot believe how much cheese and wine there was. And this was BEFORE dinner. Luckily, I began to realize the enormity of the task early on, so I practiced restraint and managed to get by sampling everything, but not gorging on it. Chef Goin came over to talk to us and I got over my crush long enough to geek out with her for a little bit about cheese and how much we love it. She's really a nice lady.

After that we had a break (thank god) which we used to walk off some of those cheese and wine calories before they hit our butt regions, and have some tea at the Little Next Door to provide some caffeine to get us through dinner.

After some fresh air, exercise, and the gathering of my husband, who was returning from watching his pitiful football team get whupped by an even more pitiful team, we returned to AOC for dinner. It was hard to imagine eating after our decadent lunch, but luckily all of the dishes were small and were served family style, so you could take the portions you wished and not leave a guilty-looking plate of food in front of you.

We started with the famous roasted dates, parmesan and bacon, as well as chickem liver crostini with pancetta. I could eat those dates all day. I had a few, even though I knew I should ration my portions, I figured I'd get by on less later on in exchange for an extra date. They are rich and smoky and salty and a fabulous snack. I'm not a pate fan, but the crostina still tasted good to me. It's hard for me to pass up bacon in any form so I had to try one.

Second course consisted of fattoush: cherry tomatoes, fried pita and labneh with haricots verts, burrata and pounded hazelnuts. Labneh is a strained yogurt cheese. Fattoush is a salad made with fried or toasted pita + vegetables. I ignored the tomatoes, but I cannot say no to cheese or fried things. The green beans were very nice, served cold, and made a refreshing break from the wave after wave of richness I had been experiencing up until then.

Third course was clams, garlic, and amontillado sherry with halibut, roasted peaches, yogurt, and pistachios, plus roasted carrots with charmoula. Charmoula is a marinade which is a mixture of garlic and herbs. The clams really stood out here. They came in a little pot still in the shell with a piece of toasted bread. It's one of those dishes that instantly transports you somewhere else - in this case the French or Spanish seaside, in a cosy little restaurant somewhere.

Fourth course consisted of grilled skirt steak with roquefort butter and chanterelles, ricotta gnocchi and sherry cream, plus sauteed rapini with garlic and chili. I could barely eat by this time, but I managed to sneak some chanterelles. Chef Goin is a sorceress with mushrooms (her morel dishes are out of this world). I was glad I did. The rapini was too bitter for most of my dining companions, but it was exactly what I needed at that point. Bitter is my favorite flavor after salt and I think bitter greens are perfect when you are feeling like you ate too much rich food.

For dessert we were presented with chocolate tres leches cake with cashew caramel and coconut sherbet and lemon and blueberry gratin with pain de genes. Pain de genes (Genoa bread) is like a pound cake. And the "gratin" was baked in a little dish. I loved the coconut sherbet, but couldn't stomach the thought of anything else.

But wait! There was more! Not food, thank goodness, but we were all presented with our very own copies of 'Sunday Suppers at Lucques,' signed by Chef Goin, and a package of her Valrhona chocolate dusted spicy almonds. And she and Caroline came back to say goodbye, and Chef Goin showed off her lovely hostess skills by greeting my husband and asking him about his football game, remembering our excuses for his absences earlier on. I think he fell a little bit in love with her, but I can't be too jealous, because I'm a little bit in love with her myself.


Oh you lucky lucky ducky...

said by Chubbypanda at 12:41 PM Delete

s surely crush-worthy, but still no Michelle Bernstein. Rrrowrr.

said by Jeremy at 11:24 AM Delete

oops -- that got cut off. "Goin is . . . " [insert the rest]

said by Jeremy at 11:24 AM Delete

Oh. So.VERY. Jealous.

The b-s and the epoisses would have been my favorite cheeses, too!

you'll love the cookbook, and it will make you so proud to live in L.A.

said by Demery at 9:19 PM Delete

) did you know how cheese was invented? It wasnt necessity, it was an accident, read this

said by s.j.simon at 12:21 AM Delete

I share your girl crush--I once saw Ms. Goin speak on a panel about women in food-related jobs and she was just so dang articulate and interesting. Also, you'll find throughout the cookbook little tidbits about her that prove her perfection--as a high-schooler she staged at a fancy French restaurant in LA, she went to Brown, she's traveled around Southern France with stinky cheese in her glove compartment :)

I know you posted this ages ago, but I'm on break from school and catching up on all my blog reading. Also, love your redesign!!

said by Erin S. at 4:16 PM Delete

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