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 events. Indeed they have no precedent I am aware of. Any similar events 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 said Society was tasting wine. During the war the New York branch continued this, although on a reduced scale. Few if any wines from France, Italy and certainly Germany were tasted. Also, the wartime menus in the digitized menu collection of the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org), are rather stripped down, reflecting wartime circumstances. There are few introductory or taste notes, and minimal design features. See for example the (nonetheless very interesting) program for a 1944 sparkling wine tasting, here.

 

 

In March 1945 with the war almost over, the New York branch held its Tasting of Red Wines, Cheeses and Cheese Biscuits. The venue: the iconic Hotel Pierre, on Fifth Avenue. The Society did not initially pair cheeses with wines, not for its regular tastings in the 1940s and early 1950s that I am aware of.

It held a couple of large-scale public tastings of wine and cheese earlier, but its regular membership events in the period did not include cheese, by my canvass.

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

Toward the war’s end the New York branch started to include cheese for wine tastings. As I discussed before, this was starting to happen nationally. The New York Wine and Food Society must be viewed as part of the process by which the “wine and cheese” became a staple of national entertaining, of the vernissage, the fund-raiser, the suburban party, 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, and Beaulieu. Beaulieu in particular was a progenitor of the prestige, boutique winery of today.

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

Read the menu for these impressions of 70 years ago. It’s the language of modern wine appreciation, and for the main wine types enjoyed today: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and the main Italian types.

Most wines were Californian but a couple were from other American states, including Ohio. American winemaking outside California was widespread before Prohibition and some of it came back after Repeal in 1933.

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, Argentinian (a blue), and Canadian (Oka Trappist and cheddar, both still produced and excellent of their type). Two cheeses bore French and Italian names, Camembert and Bel Paese, but probably were American in origin.

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

Crackers and cheese straws rounded out an evidently charming evening. What is important for us today is its forecasting of the future.

Incidentally, Argentina still produces blue cheese. One is pictured above, called San Ignacio.

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*The Society’s early 1940s beer tastings, which I have described at length, did include cheeses. Cheese however was viewed in that period as a vital partner for 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.