If you're looking for a cheese to pair with champagne (or just a reason to pop open a bottle), look no further than France's own Langres, made in the Champagne region since the 18th century. A washed-rind cow's milk cheese, similar to the much revered and highly aromatic Époisse, Langres oozes out of its craggy, pale orange rind when ripe, just begging to be scooped up with a spoon (or licked off a finger).
Slightly mellower than Époisse, Langres is washed as it ripens with water and annatto, a natural dye that gives its damp, wrinkled rind a characteristic reddish orange colour. When you purchase Langres, it is cradled in a straw basket and you will see a small sunken indent in the top – the result of the cheese not being turned over during ripening (turning a cheese allows gravity to even out cheeses as they ripen). This indent is known as "the fontaine" and is said to be created so that it can be filled with a drizzle of champagne.
Though I've kept my champagne in its flute when sipping bubbly alongside this cheese, I agree it can be a wonderful pairing. Most recently I tried Langres with Prince Edward Country's 2010 Hinterland Rosé (made in the champagne method) and loved how the cheese's smoky, savoury and tangy notes combined with the toasty, slightly strawberry characteristics of this dry sparkler. As part of a holiday tasting, I was pleasantly surprised to find Langres also made a good pairing with fruit-forward red wine. But my new favourite match is Ontario ice wine – the salty notes of the cheese are a classic counterpart to the concentrated sweetness of the ice wine. The Tawse Ice Wine (made from the cabernet sauvignon grape) had a great acidic backbone that cleansed the palate when following the cheese. It made me think that this combo would be a lovely end to a meal (or just a long day).
Langres can also fly solo. It's the perfect size to be enjoyed between two people (just add baguette and salad.) And though it is a little pungent, you might even be able to get away with it in the lunchroom. If you share.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.