Our final interviewee for the week is cheese expert, consultant and teacher, Emma Young!
We love sherry, we love cheese, so we're pretty much a match made in heaven.
Check out Emma's Instagram account @thecheeseexplorer for the most hunger-inducing content out there.
Where are you from?
I am from the UK, born here to a Filipina mother and English father.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
France suits me well with the cuisine, abundance of cheese and wine and delicious fresh produce. However, I would be happy anywhere where the seasons are defined, and I can grow vegetables a lot easier than I can in the UK! I’m not a huge fan of carrying an umbrella, suncream, flipflops and a jacket to cover all weathers in one day.
Tell us about a memorable food and wine pairing experience (doesn’t have to be fancy! And doesn’t have to be sherry)
To stay true to myself, I must tell you about my favourite cheese and wine pairing experience. Mont D’Or & the Bolney Estate Kew English Sparkling Rosé. This was one of just a handful of lifechanging pairings I have tasted. The bubbles and acidity cut through the fatty cheese paste, the fruit in both the wine and the cheese matched perfectly and some other magic definitely happened to make them completely lift and complement each other.
If you could only eat one cuisine (beverages included) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Lebanese. Lebanese. Lebanese. I adore Lebanese cuisine, the variety of small starter dishes, the grilled meats and to round it all off, Arak and Lebanese wine. I have a particular love for wines and Arak from Chateau Ksara which are available in the UK. Their blanc de blancs is my go-to and their big reds are brilliant for matching with the rich cuisine.
A question that I’m sure is on any cheese lovers’ lips, how did you go from cheese fan to cheese professional? Have you always worked in the industry?
By accident. Very few people decide to start their working life in cheese so many of us come into the industry sideways. I studied Linguistics and needed a part-time job to make some money. I loved cheese, decided I wanted to work in a deli, and I soon became hooked.
I retailed cheese for many years, made cheese for an urban cheesemaker in London and I ran the wholesale department of a French cheesemonger/distributor called Mons Cheesemongers. I have an addictive personality so when I get an interest in something, I fully immerse myself. Lots of self-study, visiting cheesemakers on my days off, judging and instagramming became a career path which has led to me now working freelance, directing my own consulting company.
You’ve got to travel a fair bit for work – what would be the country that’s surprised you the most on your travels, whether that be for making quality of cheese you didn’t expect, or a style that you really enjoyed that is perhaps more under the radar?
I am always pleasantly surprised. Even when you think you know a countries cheese culture fully there are always hidden away cheesemakers & new age cheesemakers and the best way to find these cheeses are at local markets. My favourite countries for under-the-radar cheeses have been Lebanon and Croatia. I also discovered and visited a cheesemaker in Bermuda this year! I have plans to look more into the Balkans and I love to share all my cheese finds on my Instagram account.
Now onto sherry! How did you get into it? Did you have any pre-conceived ideas about sherry before you tried it (if you remember)? And again, if you remember, what was the first style of sherry you tasted?
Sherry was always my grandma’s favourite tipple. It reminds me of Sunday roasts and Christmas. It was always drunk alone and never with food and in a teeny tiny very beautiful but impractical glass. I started to really appreciate sherry a few years back. My fiancé is a wine specialist, and we like to drink and taste new things with our food. He introduced me to sherry and its versatility in food matching and naturally I have developed this interest into finding cheese and sherry matches.
Tell us a little more about your process for pairing sherry with cheese. Is it a similar approach to ‘general’ food and wine pairing? I.e. you’d look for congruent and complementary pairings, matching or contrasting flavour intensities, etc
Absolutely the same. The bonus with pairing sherry and cheese is that sherry exhibits many flavours of foods which pair naturally with cheese - nuts and dried fruits are a perfect accompaniment to a cheeseboard. There is also an explosion of umami in both cheese and sherry plus the salinity and oxidative notes lend well to pairing with cheeses. For contrasting flavours, sweet beverages and salty cheeses are a perfect match. Think Stilton & Port, Roquefort & Sauternes - PX and blue cheeses are an obvious starting point where you cannot go wrong.
Hopefully you can answer this one! What’s your favourite (or if you can’ choose, top 3) sherry and cheese pairing you’ve discovered?
I feel that there are some definite fool proof pairings like the PX & blues above – I really enjoyed the Nectar PX Dulce with Roquefort from Mons cheesemongers. My favourite so far (my pairing journey is by no means coming to a close!) is the Extra-Vieille Mimolette from Isigny-Ste-Mère with an Oloroso such as the Alfonso Oloroso Seco. This was an outstanding pairing bringing out warm, rich flavours of walnut and a rounded savoury finish cut slightly by the gentle sweetness of the Mimolette.
If someone you knew had never tried sherry before, how would you describe it (hard one, sorry!) and what style would you recommend first?
This is a hard one. I would start the same way I was taught. I’d give an overview of the different styles of Sherry as there are so many. Us Brits have a sweet tooth so I would be tempted to recommend a PX first, however I think a good way to introduce people to sherry is to introduce the sherry with a food pairing, to see it in a food context.