Where did the idea of pairing gin and cheese come from?I was working in a cheese shop during the first year of my career, where the owner focused on whisky and cheese pairings. He used a spray to apply whisky to the cheese to ensure it wasn't overpowering. I found this gesture elegant and wanted to incorporate the idea into the various competitions I participated in. However, I felt that whisky was sometimes too pronounced and not always the best fit – it's a very personal assessment! When I joined Fauchon, there were exquisite gins, and I thought it could work well with a washed-rind cheese, for example. I conducted some experiments. I don't believe I was the first to pair this alcohol with cheese, but this was about fifteen years ago, and it was something a bit surprising, especially because there was not a strong gin culture in France at the time. It wasn't a well-appreciated spirit, and we didn't have all the distilleries we have today.
Do you remember your first experience?My first bite was with Langres cheese, accompanied by a compote of mirabelles and a spray of gin on top. I knew the sequence of flavors it would create in the mouth. The gin had its very aromatic citrus notes, freshness, and a hint of mint. Then came the sweetness of the mirabelle, and finally, the flavor of the Langres. I thought it worked well, so I kept that idea for my tastings.
What element in the aromas enhances the cheese and surprises the consumer?In a way, drinking gin is like drinking perfume. It's as diverse as a perfume because it's a white grain-based spirit that can be infused and flavored with juniper berries and whatever else you desire. We have spirits that can resemble cologne or soil, buckwheat, and more. The possibilities are endless. Gin is more open and interesting than rum, whisky, or tequila.
Gin is highly aromatic and explosive, which is why I find it works. Moreover, it especially appeals to people who are not very familiar with gin and think there is definitely something to explore. While this alcohol has explosive aromas, it eventually gives way to the cheese, and that's important.
Which cheeses are particularly well-suited for this alcohol?
I think all washed-rind cheeses – like Langres, which I mentioned, and Époisses – pair really well with gin. You can also try it with cheeses like Brillat-Savarin, Brie, bloomy-rind cheeses, and cheeses with natural flowers. You can work with them differently, maybe using gels. For example, I used to make a Brie stuffed with pistachios, apricots, and gin in mascarpone. These are the two families of cheese that work best with this alcohol. But I must say, I have a real fondness for Langres.
Does gin rebalance the cheese's flavors, or is it simply complementary?
I would lean more towards complementarity, as well as surprise and reinterpretation of the cheese. With a cheese you know by heart, like Brie or Brillat-Savarin, gin brings something new, surprising, and aromatic. It doesn't act like a syrup where sugar balances out the strong saltiness of a cheese. Gin influences the aromatic aspect and the reinterpretation. I would say the experience can almost be a little unsettling!
François Robin will be hosting a tasting workshop at the Cheese and Dairy Products Fair (February 25-27, 2024).