We’d read about the Old Hickory Steakhouse’s Tours de Fromage in a local paper, so we called right away (about a month in advance) and made reservations for this event. The newspaper article had the time wrong: it said that the event started at 12 noon. When we called for reservations, no one mentioned this, but it was only when I called the week before to confirm and happened to ask about the time that I was told it was actually at 4 pm. The hostess said that there had been a few articles with various times: 12 noon, 6 pm, 5 pm, so we were fortunate to have called in advance.
A word about parking at the Gaylord Palms: it stinks. We couldn’t believe that it costs more to park at some convention center than it does to park at Disney! And that the restaurants didn’t validate for parking, so we were stuck with a whopping $12 parking fee. Sheesh.
There was a chiropractor’s conference going on that day, so we had to park far in the back of the building, out in BFE. We approached a canopied entrance that said, “Entrance of the Stars.” Apparently we weren’t considered stars, because we were turned away and told to hail down any passing black vans that we could find. These “shuttles” (not labeled, of course) would take us to the front entrance of the convention center. Hoping it wasn’t a van full of Iranian terrorists, we flagged down an approaching unmarked black van and, lo and behold, the driver very kindly offered to drive us to the front entrance. This still left us walking from there to the actual hotel in 90+ degree weather, but half a loaf and all that.
The moral of the story, Children, is to arrive early enough to walk a half-marathon around and through this building if you have reservations for an event inside the hotel. And don’t be afraid to climb right into unmarked black vans – the drivers are your friends!
We arrived at the Old Hickory Steakhouse, hot, dishevelled, and slightly out of breath, with five minutes to spare. Go us! We then had to wait until around 4:05, when our host came to seat us.
A word about the dress code: it is business casual. And please keep in mind that it is a cheese and wine tasting, which requires the use of all of your olfactory senses, so drenching yourself in perfume will impair the experience not only for you, but for everyone else at the tasting. The room is exceedingly small, with a maximum of 30 guests.
We were fortunate enough to be seated at our own table, but one poor couple got stuck at a table for five and were joined by three 50’s-60’s-ish women dressed for a formal wedding and reeking of scent. It was enough to discommode everyone in the room. We’d go to smell the wines or cheeses, and all we were getting was eau de middle-aged-ladies. After it was over, our Maitre de Fromage, Kayla, asked us for suggestions for future events, and I suggested having the hostess taking reservations remind guests not to wear heavy amounts of perfume. At a tasting, that kind of thing can really mar everyone’s experience. Kayla agreed and immediately knew who we were talking about.
But now on to the actual event!
Our first cheese was Garroxta, a goat’s milk cheese from (where else?) Spain, though the paired wine was a champagne: Chartogne-Taillet “Cuvee St. Anne”, NV. This was a 50/50 mix of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, and it was a grower’s champagne, which meant hand-selected the grapes that (s)he wanted and made the wine himself, as opposed to selling the grapes to the negociant, who would buy the grapes for a large house. The negociants are looking for a certain flavor & consistency, whereas the growers are looking for grapes that are representative of their terroir. This wine had very small bubbles and apples on the nose. The sommelier (John Glover of Augusta Wine Imports) commented that this wine was sweet, which we actually didn’t get until after we’d tasted this champagne again after the next cheese.
The Garroxta itself was very good. It was mild, not extremely goaty, yet not without goat, if that makes sense. I like my cheese to be animally, and this was, but no offensively, in-your-face animally cheese. Kayla suggested that we pair this with the quince jelly or the date. To me, the quince jelly was a bit overpowering with this very mild cheese. The quince jelly was delicious and sweet, but when you paired it with the cheese, you tasted – quince jelly. The date did much better. It had a mild enough taste to accentuate rather than overwhelm the Garroxta.
Our next cheese was a sheep’s milk cheese, a Zamorano. This was interesting, because it definitely had what Kayla called a “sheep’s bite.” It almost made the back and top of the mouth itch, if that makes sense. This cheese was better with the wine, and it was creamier than a Manchego.
The wine paired with this was a Jose Palactos Petalos Mencia from Spain. This grape varietal was genetically similar to a Cabernet Franc. The wine tasted a bit like licorice and was better with the cheese. The cheese made the wine taste smoother; by itself, the wine’s tannins were a bit much.
Our third and final cheese (yes, were were disappointed that a “tour”de fromage consisted of only three cheeses) was our favorite, the Mahon. This was actually very similar to an extremely stinky cheese that we’d bought at the Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York this summer, from a New Jersey cheesemaker. The Jersey cheese had been stinkier then this one, and it had also been creamier. This cheese had a similar pungency, though. Kayla said that when she first tasted it, she took a big bite and had to spit it out! The Mahon was very tangy and very salty, and we enjoyed it in small, deliciously interesting bites. I picked up notes of apricot, while my husband thought it was reminiscent of a really funky cheddar. It was so odd that we both immediately declared this to be our favorite of the three cheeses.
The wine paired with this cheese was an Atalayas de Golban from Spain. This was from Tempranillo old vines that have never been re-planted, grafted, or changed. Apparently soil conditions and the altitude of these vines made them resistant to phyloxera. It was a so-so wine and didn’t impress us in any way. It tasted a bit smoky, whereas I like my wines to be a bit more fruity.
Here are the cheeses, with the Garroxta on the far right, the Mahon in the middle, and the Zamorano on the left. The slice of red is quince jelly. Just below this is the date, and just below that is a fig cake, which my husband enjoyed. I don’t care for figs – I don’t like the seeds.
When we were seated at our table, the two red wines were already poured. This was good, because the wine had a chance to breathe, but bad because a bug had flown into one of my glasses and I had to request a new one. The interior of the Gaylord Palms is an ersatz tropical forest, so flies happen.
We were actually quite disappointed in the sommelier from Augusta Wine Imports. I don’t know whether it was his first event, or whether he was nervous, or whether he just didn’t give a rat’s a**, but he made no effort to circulate or talk to the guests about the wines. He stood in the front of the room, gave a short spiel about each one, then waited at the bar for the next wine to be introduced. At one point, he stepped outside to make a phone call. We were expecting him to be a bit more like the vineyard representatives we’d encountered at the Jiko wine dinner.
Overall, for $30 per person, it wasn’t a bad deal for three cheeses and three glasses of wine, though I was expecting more cheeses to make it an actual “tour.” I also had thought that it might be nice to be seated banquet style, to inspire guests to converse about the cheeses and wines, but instead we were at our own tables. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise when the perfume ladies walked in. Even though we could smell them, it would have been much worse if we’d been seated next to them.