Every June, we celebrate the mariage [sic] (a word that every one in Japan is using to express explosive flavor pairings) of sake and cheese.
And every year, on a given weekday after we close the shop, we dim the lights, turn on the slow jams and Umami Mart transforms into Bistro Umami. The staff gathers around a decadent spread of cheese and sake and taste away. The combinations of different sakes and cheeses take us through some interesting revelations of taste and the flavor profiles of sake. This year, we had an impressive cheese selection including a triple creme, comté, blue cheese, sharp cheddar, and smoke gouda. An array of cheese was necessary to taste with the sakes ranging from a junmai ginjo to a kimoto, genshu, muroka junmai. In some cases, the cheeses made a sake taste sweet, while in other cases, it enhanced a cleaner ending for the sake.
Sake and cheese pair well because they share a common ingredient: lactic acid. When making cheese, bacteria is introduced into a warm milk setting. The bacteria then produces lactic acid as they metabolize. When making sake, brewers either add lactic acid to yeast starters in order to kill the unwanted elements (like wild yeast and bacteria) or produce it naturally by combining steamed sake rice, koji, and water and letting it develop over time. Because both cheese and sake-making involve lactic acid, consuming them together exhibits symbiosis on the palate. When paired correctly, the flavors can complement each other to bring out flavors that you may not have noticed if they were consumed separately.
On June 26, from 5-8pm we are hosting a Sakqueso! at Ramen Shop to celebrate the month of pairing sake with cheese. We will offer a flight of 3 sakes and a plate of 3 cheeses at $30 for members and $35 for non-members. Join us to taste through the sake selections of June with different cheeses that best highlight the marriage between sake and cheese. Now, that's a Royal Wedding I'd actually like to attend.
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Chiyonosono Junmai Ginjo “Sacred Power”
Chiyonosono Brewery (Kumamoto, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 55%, SMV: +2.5
This is a special treat for Level 1 members this month! Chiyonosono is a premium sake that we were able to special order in the 300ml size. This smooth, juicy junmai ginjo is like a young honeydow melon, waiting to be picked off the vine. This sake starts with flavors of fresh grass and fruit, and ends with a long, lingering finish that also has the slight bite of lemon peel. These flavors are best complemented by a tangy, fresh goat cheese like Humboldt Fog. I like this sake chilled since it highlights the flavor of fresh melon.
Kinokuniya Bunzaemon Junmai
Nakano Brewery (Wakayama, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 65%, SMV: -2
Out of all of the sakes this month, this is the easiest to drink because it is not a diva-like sake. Don’t let the the musty basement or cheese rind aroma turn you off; the flavor is actually quite light and smooth, with hints of caramel and mushroom. We asked the third generation owner of Nakano Brewery, Koji Nakano, which cheeses he likes to eat with his junmai. Without skipping a beat he said “Comté.” Comté is a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. It is mild and nutty with a firm but sliceable texture. Indeed, the Comté, that was reminiscent of himono (dried and grilled fish, most often horse mackerel), was a great pairing alongside the smooth and drinkable junmai that had a similar aroma to the Comté. Try this sake at room temperature and warm.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Tatenokawa 50 Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo
Tatenokawa Brewery (Yamagata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 60%, SMV: -2
I didn’t know about nakadori sakes until I watched an episode of Moyasimon, an anime series about agriculture and fermentation (highly recommended!). During the pressing process, there are three runs. The first is arabashiri, when there is little pressure and the sake is slightly cloudy. For the second run, or nakadori, more pressure is added and the sake starts to run clear. The last run, or seme is when more pressure is added and the sake tends to be higher in alcohol. Out of the three runs, nakadori is known to be the most well-balanced. This junmai daiginjo is like biting into a Fuji apple – sweet, bold and juicy. It was stunning chilled with a smear of blue cheese.
Sempuku Shinriki Junmai 85
Miyake Honten Brewery (Hiroshima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 85%, SMV: +5
After initially spotting this sake in Chicago and trying it, I knew I had to get it for Sake Gumi. I asked the importer in New Jersey to ship just enough bottles over for our club. This is a Junmai Muroka Genshu Kimoto (pure rice, un-charcoal filtered, tank strength, and traditionally brewed in the kimoto style)! The 85 in the name is also something to note. The rice (Shinriki) has hardly been polished (just 15% was removed) yielding a bold, in-your-face sake that is umami rich, with notes of honey and bourbon. It’s tank strength, so no water was added after pressing. This means that you will feel the high 19% ABV warming your throat as it goes down. A great complement to rich cheeses like a triple creme brie or smoky gouda. Recommended chilled.