Wine and Cheese at the Pierre, 1945

As I mentioned earlier, in 1936 and 1939 The Wine and Food Society of New York held seminal wine and cheese tastings, regarded at the time as novel. Indeed they have no precedent I am aware of. Any similar events held earlier were probably sponsored by an offshore branch of the International Wine and Food Society, founded by gastronome André Simon in London in 1933.

But generally the business of the Society was tasting wine. During the war the New York branch continued this, although seemingly on a reduced scale. Few, if any, wines from France, Italy, and certainly Germany were tabled. Also, the wartime menus, as reflected in the digital menu collection of the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org), appear stripped down. There are few introductory or taste notes, and minimal design features. See for example the (nonetheless arresting) program for a 1944 sparkling wine tasting, here.

 

 

In March 1945, with the war almost over, the New York branch held a Tasting of Red Wines, Cheeses and Cheese Biscuits. The venue: iconic Hotel Pierre, on Fifth Avenue. The Society did not normally pair cheese with wines, not for its regular tastings in the 1940s and early 50s I am aware of.

It held a couple of large-scale, public tastings of wine and cheese earlier as noted above, but its regular tastings in the period did not include cheese, by our canvass.

At most, cheese straws, simple biscuits or crackers might be offered. At Christmas, fruitcakes, mince pies, and similar. Some events did include vintage ham or oysters, though.*

Toward the war’s end the branch started to include cheese in its wine tastings. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, this was starting to happen nationally. The New York Wine and Food Society must be viewed as part of the process, the process by which “wine and cheese” became a staple of national entertaining, or the vernissage, fund-raiser, etc.

 

 

Cabernets and pinots from choice California vineyards were tabled, many with some years of age. Some vineyards still exist or are well-remembered: Simi, Louis Martini, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu. Beaulieu in particular was a progenitor of the prestige boutique winery of today.

Modern-sounding taste notes are offered. A 1939 Fountain Grove (Sonoma) Cabernet was held to be “soft”, with “excellent bouquet and flavor”. An Inglenook Pinot was considered comparable to a good French Burgundy.

Read the menu for these impressions of 71 years ago, and more. It’s the language of modern wine appreciation, and for the main types enjoyed today: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Italian styles.

Most wines were Californian but a couple from other American regions, including Ohio. American winemaking outside California was widespread before Prohibition and some of it came back after Repeal.

The port wines tabled were both American and Portuguese. The Iberian originals were perhaps prewar stock, unless neutral Portugal shipped some wine to America during the war.

The cheeses were American-made or from Mexico, Argentina (a blue), and Canada (Oka Trappist and cheddar, still made, still excellent of their type). Two cheeses bore French and Italian names, Camembert and Bel Paese, but probably were American-origin.

One of the most interesting cheeses, from Arkansas, touted its “mineralized goat milk”. Mineralized how, one wonders. Hopefully from the soil! The taste note is much as would appear today in the food or wine media.

Crackers and cheese straws rounded out an evidently charming evening. What is important for us today is its prescience.

N.B. Argentina still produces blue cheese. One is pictured above, San Ignacio.

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*The Society’s early 1940s beer tastings, on which I have written at length, did include cheese. Cheese however was viewed in that period as the boon partner of beer.

Note re images: The first image above was sourced from the 1945 menu linked in the text, via the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org. The second was obtained from the producer’s website, here.  All intellectual property in each belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.