Epcot's 2007 International
Food & Wine Festival

Cheese Tastings

Saturday, September 29, 2007
by Jack Spence

Hosted by Artisanal Premium Cheese


Chabichou du Poitou
St. Nectaire Fermier
Brillat Savarin
Bleu d'Auvergne

from Maison Louis Jadot

Pinot Noir

Cheese Tastings

On Saturday, September 29, 2007, I attended the first of this year's Cheese Tastings. There will be seven Cheese Tastings this year, each sponsored by Artisanal Premium Cheese. I'm sure the seven Cheese Tastings will be somewhat different depending on which fromager (cheese expert) is speaking, which winery is featured, and which country's cheeses are presented.

However, I was surprised that the two events I have attended at this year's Food and Wine Festival were quite similar. This is not meant as a negative comment, but rather a statement of fact. I now realize that many of these events have the same basic principle: you are served specific foods and wines, and a guest speaker provides you with information about the foods and wines. Variations from one event to the next are because the foods and the wines change from event to event, as does the guest speaker. Some events may serve full meals (such as The Cook, The Book, and The Bottle) while other events provide only small samples (such as the Cheese Tastings.) But, the basics remain the same, so don't be surprised if my description for the two events is much the same.

This Cheese Tasting was an afternoon event, from 2 to 3:15 p.m. in the Odyssey's Chef's Showplace, between Test Track and Mexico. It consisted of a classroom-style presentation about cheese, and the opportunity to taste four cheeses and two wines.

The guest speaker was Tyler Hawes, a graduate of The French Culinary Institute in New York City. He does seem to be passionate about cheese -- both the product itself and the process of manufacture.

We arrived 15 minutes early to find a line forming outside. A Disney Cast Member had a clipboard with reservation information and was working her way through the line to verify who had arrived.

When we entered the dining room, we found eight round tables attractively set with white table cloths and napkins. At each place setting were iced water, two glasses of wine, and four saltine crackers.

Although the tables were large enough to seat 10 people, they were set for eight. The two missing chairs were those that would have had their backs to the presentation area. It really is nice that nobody had to sit facing away from the stage.

The presentation area included a show kitchen on a raised stage. To either side of the stage were large TV screens. The television screens were used primarily for the slides Mr. Hawes used in his presentation.

Once everybody was seated, the MC (who didn't introduce herself) welcomed us and introduced a woman from Maison Louis Jadot. She gave a short description of the two wines that were served. Next, the MC introduced Mr. Hawes.

As Mr. Hawes began his presentation, plates with samples of the four cheeses were set in front of each guest.

He provided an overview of cheese, including the types of milk used, the steps of manufacture, the various types of cheese, the textures and flavors of cheese, and wine and cheese pairings.

To actually taste the cheese, we followed Mr. Hawes guidance. We checked first the appearance, followed by the texture and consistency, the smell, and finally the taste of the cheese.

What's my opinion of the event? The cheese and wine were wonderful. Tyler Hawes presented interesting information about cheese. Having lived near San Francisco for several years, I have visited wine country and have learned the basics of how to taste wine. However, this was the first time anybody had explained to me how to taste cheese. Although I've always enjoyed cheese (that's why I went to this event) I learned several things about cheese, and will probably enjoy it more in the future.

I also found it interesting that we tasted each of the four cheeses with each of the two wines. The taste changed depending on the combination. While most of us seemed to find that three of the cheese went well with either wine, there was one cheese, the Brillat Savarin, that had us divided. Some people definitely liked it with one wine, but not the other, and some people preferred it with the other wine, but not the first. It did prove that while there are guidelines and suggestions from the experts, it all comes down to personal preference.

Another important question would be, "Is it worth $60 per person?" Well, that depends on what you are looking for. This is a presentation. Because of the ongoing presentation, you couldn't have a conversation with your table mates. You could only watch, listen, and taste.

This is not a meal. It is a tasting. The portions of both the wine and the cheese were small. While the cheese and wine were excellent, that isn't what you're paying for. You are paying to see and hear the presentation. Once the presentation was finished, both Mr. Hawes and the wine representative were available to answer questions.

If you want to hear the guest speaker and possibly learn something about cheese, this is the event for you.