Friday, March 30, 2007

Special Foodventure #31: Vodka/Cheese Tasting @ Artisan Cheese Gallery (Studio City)

Having been well-acquainted with Modern Spirits flavored vodkas at their various events (first time at Lola's, then again at 561 Restaurant) - not to mention some personal sippings & cocktails at home, I was delighted when husband/wife co-owners and vodka makers Melkon & Litty Khosrovian finally returned to L.A. from their nationwide tour of paired menus to host a few more events here in L.A. this month.

I have the option of either going to a vodka tasting
in a sub-zero freezer wearing a fur-coat that touched who-knows-what beforehand, or I can go to a 7-course pairing at an artisanal fromagerie in Studio City with rare and unique cheese from around the world . . . at room temperature . . . in my own clothes. No contest.

The Artisan Cheese Gallery is a boutique cheese shop in Studio City and is just one of those food places you'd wish was in your own neighborhood. Owner Melody Dosch is friendly and very knowledgable and passionate about her cheeses and always ready to share a sample of her unique finds. The store/restaurant, they serve salads and sandwiches in the day and hosts occasional tastings at night, pretty much mirrors Melody's friendly foodie personality - painted an inviting lemon-cream yellow, with light wooden shelves stocked top to bottom with all sorts of gourmet food items, from sun-dried tomato peanut butters, bell pepper-jalapeno preserves and single-origin dark chocolate bars. And of course, a prominent glass display and wooden counter showcasing dozens of rare and seasonal cheeses of many varieties from around the world.

There were about 40 seats at the event ($35/person), and the tables were already set when I arrived a little before 7:30 --

I can hardly keep my mouth from drooling with the aromas of cheese lingering through the air and the sight of them right in front of my face. Thankfully, the event officially started within minutes and we can all finally dig in:
Going clockwise from bottom of the plate, the items & vodka pairings were:

Brie layered with black-truffle mascarpone, paired with black truffle vodka - being a truffle lover, I was purely delighted by this first course of truffley soft cheese with an equally intriguing-flavored vodka--if there was a drizzle of white truffle oil on top this would've been perfect!

Fra'mani Toscano, with celery black pepper vodka - a salty & slightly spicy piece of salami - which in turn accentuated the celery taste of the vodka, sweet and slightly grassy.

Sublimity with Herbe de Provence & pear-lavender vodka - A wonderfully fragrant hard cheese bursting with lavender and rosemary aromas. Though I love the cheese and the vodka, this pairing was only OK -- the pear flavor, which is mild to begin with, is especially muted here due to all the dominating scents and flavors from the other herbs.

Piacentinu d'Enna and celery black pepper vodka - an unusual, mac'n cheese-like yellow-orange because saffron has been added, as well as whole peppercorns. Mildly nutty and very savory, it highlighted the celery flavors in that vodka even more.

Fromager d'Affinois with crystallized ginger piece (not pictured) and candied ginger vodka - a double-creme cow's cheese with 50% butterfat content, this is by far my favorite of the cheeses on the plate. It spreads almost like butter with the slightest tang to its creamy smoothness - heavenly. The pairing of this mild cheese with spicy ginger pieces & ginger vodka is slightly confusing, however.

Pierre Robert with Oregonian honey, paired with grapefruit honey vodka - an even higher butterfat content (72%) but interestingly didn't have as much a butterlike quality of the d'Affinois. However, it's still a delicious cheese, especially after being honeyed up, and went well with the citrusy-sweet smelling vodka.

Brunette and tea vodka - Melody's favorite, this is a slightly-wrinkly goat cheese with a notable, but not offensive, tang, a slight flowery taste and a creamy texture. The pairing with tea vodka was decent, but, as my table neighbors discovered and later showed me, it went incredibly well with a little of that Oregonian honey and black truffle vodka.
Finishing it all off, a Spano's Raspberry Chocolate Truffle. A small but intense powdered sugar coated cube, this chocolate bursts with a juicy, tangy flavor as it melts into a wonderful cocoa creme on your tongue. Appropriately enough, this was paired with the Chocolate Orange Vodka -- which was just alike enough to complement this nicely (but not so similar to the point of near-identical, like Lola's confuzzling chocolate-orange dessert, where I had a hard time figuring out where the flavors are coming from.)
And what started as a request for a second small piece of the buttery d'Affinois turned into Melody & her staff giving me pieces large enough to spread on half a baguette! Having already well blown my refined carbs and fats budget for the day, I ate just another square and wrapped the rest home to be enjoyed later in the week.

It's only been a few days since the event, and already I can't wait to go back to
eat a panini, and buy a few more wedges, or a premade $6 assortment plate, to take home. Or, perhaps, for another wonderful tasting of alchy, cheeses and sweets.

The Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City 91604
Phone: 818-505-0207


Clare said...

OMG - my mouth is watering!! I love cheese. Will definitely have to check this place out.


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