We were lucky enough to have obtained tickets to another of Martine Nouet‘s masterclass where she paired eight different bites - four sweet and four savoury (all prepared by Inge Lanckacker) with four different whiskies.
Martine had given each whisky her own season, and explained to us that she found each season to have it’s own specific set of flavours. Your body experiences each season differently, and if we could match one of our senses with a season, she would propose a different whisky and dish with each of them. Food and Whisky writer pur sang, Martine took us on a sensory trip through all four seasons, starting with spring.
In the spring we use our nose more by filling our lungs with fresh air and the promise of the summer lying ahead, leaving the mineral cold of winter behind us.
An anCnoc 16yo - a light, sweet and slightly sour, unripe-fruit whisky on itself, was first served with a savoury bite of a piece of toast with some butter with chive, coriander and raw salmon.
A sweet bite of a skewer with a blueberry, marshmallow, strawberry, another marshmallow and a raspberry dipped in chocolate sauce were presented as the sweet bite.
The fruit and citrus freshness were enhanced by the savoury snack, adding a mix of pomelo, anise and creamy mouthfeel. The sweet snack was mellowed by the whisky, challenging the bitterness of the chocolate and the marshmallows. We learned that the sourness of spring is a good match for bourbon matured whiskies which in turn match with milk and white chocolate.
From Spring we enter Summer. In this season we tend to use our mouths more; to taste all the lovely fresh products around us. Walking in the sun, imbibing all the energy needed so very much after the colder period behind us.
Martine choose the Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14yo, a complex, sweet, and packed with tropical fruit flavours, put together with the savoury combination of a skewer of kiwi, pineapple and cooked ham with some chili flakes on top. The sweet match we got served was a little glass with mango cubes in passion fruit juice with a slice of banana and again the chili flakes.
The combination of the salty ham and chili flakes somehow enhanced the fruit notes, and the tropical creamy notes of the fruit made it soft, rich and full of flavour at the same time. The soft mouthfeel of the fruit rose to the top showing its full colors and flavours with the sweet bite. The element of fire found in the chili flakes, combined with salty notes and a rum or sweet wine matured or finished whisky can bring you great results in pairing with food.
Another element, earth, was to be found in Autumn. When the leaves turn into bright colors and the air fills with rich earthy notes, our eyes are used to take all this enjoyment to us. Our bodies want to indulge in sweet and rich notes. The Bunnahabhain 18yo itself is full of warm and rich flavours which match perfectly with the season and food getting back to earthy and rooty flavours.
Top this off with a savoury dish like the biological pizza dough with a fried chestnut mushroom and melted cheddar presented to us, and you might find yourself in the middle of a mountain of leaves. It was creamy and mellow without the whisky and with a sip of whisky there was an explosion of spicy paprika powder and earthy notes in the the front of your mouth.
Sweetening it with combination a piece of gingerbread, a slice of orange and dark chocolate chips, brought out the hidden citrus and spices orange in the whisky, with an enhanced ginger and warm citrus freshness exploding in your mouth.
In the winter the water feels cold, the air a bit bitter, and your ears listen closely to the crispy and crunchy sounds when walking on ice and snow. It all has a mineral feel to it.
In this final season of the year we got treated a 12yo Caol Ila. An meaty and oily whisky that combines well with fish. The whisky itself has some dried fruit and freshness in it, medium-dry peatiness and a bit briny. Match this with a savoury dish like the tinned sardines on a slice of potato with black olives that enhances the oily feel and sweet and earthy notes, and a hint of mineral notes get released.
For the sweet combination there was a citrus salad with orange, grapefruit and lemon with crunches on top of ginger shortbread, toning down the roughness (acidity, if you wish) in the whisky. The sweet and citrus flavours added with this whisky are very exciting and give a totally different feel to it then with the savoury snack.
Peaty whisky goes well with the winter season, and thinking of walking on the beach in the cold weather, the pebbles on the beach, the drizzle outside, and the fireplace back home, combined that with the peat smoke, you get a feeling of standing in a smoking kiln.
Can you imagine that after a masterclass like this we could only walk around with a great smile on our faces having discovered some magic in finding combinations in whisky and food? Walking on to the festival floor we encountered some more food combinations at the Diageo stand of a Singleton Spey Cascade matched with some pieces of beef, arugula, and a delicious BBQ sauce with cress on top. Or what about a Singleton Tailfire with a chocolate cup filled with some good cake and chocolate mousse and chocolate bits? All lovely, although the chocolate was a bit too much for our liking...
On the same day we treated ourselves to a VIP session where we got treated to some more whisky related bites made by Inge like a little sort of creme brulee, a brownie with marsepain cream (with a Bunnahabhain from 2003), a lovely rice pudding with (an undefined) whisky in it and apple and strawberry.
Or what do you think of a Flemish buttercream with coffee and dark chocolate mousse prepared with a 1996 Laphroaig, combined with a ganache of white chocolate prepared with a 15yo Caol Ila, or...
We loved every second of these food and whisky sessions we attended during the festival. The volunteers kept bringing in dish after dish with one combination even better than the other. We will definitely continue the search for more combinations and experiment in the kitchen, there is enough to discover.
Have you ever considered putting ground black pepper through your fruit salads with a whisky enhanced dressing for instance? Or that smoky salmon does not match well with smoky whisky? That beef stew and marmalade do go well with “sherried” whiskies? Bourbon matured whiskies are more flexible when you chill them and match them with seafood (some may even think of this as blasphemy)? There are many combinations you would not think of instantly, but do work very well together.
We have learned there are many whiskies that go with a specific dish, and vice versa. Try not to stick to one whisky or dish but experiment and be flexible in what you put to the table. Some combinations may seem to be a beautiful marriage in your mind, but will fail in horrible divorces when tried, and others will give you unexpected relationships that may last forever in your personal recipe book.
Martine Nouet - releasing a book with recipes in 2015, is a magician when it comes to combining these different flavours. Making the right combinations and knowing that just a little adjustment can make a world of a difference to the whole dish.