review: wine & cheese tasting at l’albatros

cheeseI can’t think of a combination I like better than wine and cheese. Who doesn’t? Add some fresh bread, and I am one happy, happy girl.

For as much as I enjoy cheese, whether at home or dining out (I prefer cheese at the end of my meal versus something sweet), I’ve never participated in a structured cheese tasting. That is until L’Albatros extended an invitation for a few bloggers to participate.

Now, if you’ve been to L’Albatros, I don’t have to tell you about the food and how truly wonderful it is. You know this (and if you don’t, you’re missing out). And if you’ve dined here, chances are you’ve met Brandon Chrostowski and have already been wowed by their impressive cheese selection (the best in Cleveland) and his extensive knowledge. Well, imagine an entire evening of this.

We participated in the Italian cheese and wine tasting last week. For two hours, a group of 50 or so listened to music, sampled light hors d’oeuvres, and were taken on a trip throughout the regions of Italy where we enjoyed wines and cheese hand selected by Brandon, a certified sommelier, fromager and trained chef — a triple threat (read more about Brandon here).

The eight cheeses we sampled include: La Tur, Casatica di Bufala, Salva Cremasco, Pecorino Sardo, Testun al Barolo, Monte Veronese Malga, Taleggio Bergamasco and Blu del Moncenisio – plus carefully selected wines to accompany each.

Brandon won us over after our first visit to L’Albatros shortly after they opened. And this tasting just amplified what I like best about him. He’s knowledgeable, but not in a pretentious way. And he’s a wonderful storyteller who genuinely enjoys passing on his learnings and sharing the back story of each cheese- where it comes from, interesting facts, etc. So each guest walks away with something other than a new favorite cheese.

My personal favorite cheese of the night was the very first course, La Tur. This incredibly creamy cheese comes from Piemonte. It might just be one of the best cheeses I’ve ever tried. I was also impressed with the Testun al Barolo, but I truthfully don’t know if it was the floral hints of this cheese I liked so much or the great lengths Brandon went to for us to try (one hard-to-pronounce volcano  kept his order in Italy, and the horrible weather down south, where the only cheese monger in the US he was able to locate resides, was also affected by Mother Nature).  I actually enjoyed each course, with the exception of the last one – mostly because I’m just not into bleu cheese.

The staff was quite generous with the portions – for both the wine and cheese. They regularly came around to top off the wine and offer more cheese (though trust me, no one needed it). Like I said, we were guests, but the cost of this tasting (and most of their tastings), is $50. And I can tell you that is an incredible deal given all that you experience during the two hours. At the end, you have the opportunity to buy any of the wines and/or cheeses (I bought the vin santo del chianti, castello sonnino, Montespertoli. I didn’t care for the blu cheese it was paired with, but surprisingly liked this dessert wine).

The only thing I would have liked with this pairing was perhaps some greens or even sorbet about half way through, just to break it up (it is a lot of cheese, even for me, and you need something to cut through it all). But truly, even without, this was an impressive tasting and I highly recommend experiencing first-hand.

Parallax

The next day, I took a client to another of Zack Bruell’s restaurants: Parallax in Tremont. I’ve been impressed with this restaurant since the day he opened it. It’s always spot on and one of the best restaurants in town. We sat outside and I took advantage of it being a Wednesday when they offer the full sushi menu: sashimi combo of yellowtail, white tuna and tuna, plus a cup of the leek soup. I’m a fan of nearly everything I’ve tried there, but the sushi is among my favorite in town. Always fresh, inventive and completely satisfying. Sushi is available for lunch at Parallax everyday, but only a limited offering – except on Wednesdays. The entire sushi menu is available for dinner each night.