Chez Céline

Never one to pass up the opportunity to nibble on some mature cheese, accompanied by a fine glass of wine (and a Malbec will suffice although I currently remain faithful to 25/5’s La Pampa-grown grape Cabernet Franc, which is meaty enough to stand up to most dishes) I was nonetheless surprised to come across a cheese made with wine.

Lamb cutlets and couscous at L’Atelier de Céline.

Winding my way around the final day of the Rural Exhibition at La Rural on Tuesday, I had set myself the mission of dropping some pesos on some gifts for the folks back home.

So there I am, at La Rural, buying a gift for mum, a cheesy treat for me, a gift for my sister, and a cured sausage for me. And it’s not hard to fall into the spending trap, given all the girls bellowing at you to come closer so they can hand you tiny squares of hams and cheeses on sticks. I buy some bacon and get in trouble at home for forgetting to ask whether it was smoked. (It’s bacon! That was excitement enough.) I buy goat’s cheese which alleges to be Feta-style. (I’ll be the judge of that. It was crumbled into a caramelized onion omelette for Wednesday’s lunch and melted so further taste tests are required.)
Then, as I get to the final stick wielder thrusting food my way from the wooden cabins, my attention is seized by a circular cheese with a reddish tinge to it.

What, I demand, is this? A cheese made with red wine, came the reply. And that, with notoriously lacking amount of information, was that. I’ll take one, I said.

Thing is, I haven’t quite got around to trying it, and may not for a while, after tucking into a secret cheese at L’Atelier de Céline.

It happened like this.

Lille native Céline has been warming up Wednesdays during winter with a rather different approach to wine tasting. Inviting in a different bodega each week, her bistro has been hosting tasting events while taking diners on a culinary Tour de France.

What a grand idea. The last time I went French was at the renowned Le Petanque, but I was hugely let down by the most average steak frites. I learned how to manage my expectations after that lunch…

However, chez Céline, previous three-course Wine Wednesday dinners — one recent one involved a brie salad starter accompanied by dried peaches, walnuts and grilled bacon, a mussels du marché main followed up by a chocolate volcano — are accompanied by three wines, all for 120 pesos. And the bistro owner is happy to top up empty glasses. But instead of drawing from the glass and reaching your own conclusions, a sommelier from that winery hosts the evening, alongside Céline, with the emphasis on holding an open and friendly discussion weighing up the various courses and and wine pairings.

As the lady from Lille said: “People are a bit shy when it comes to the first glass of wine, but by the end of the evening they’re writing novels.”

This past week’s Wine Wednesday was in fact the Tour de France, with Céline guiding a half-French, half-Argentine crowd around her homeland. Hosted by Clos de los Siete, the Valle de Uco, Mendoza, winery part-owned by the esteemed French winemaker Michel Rolland, this was a five-part affair which included two rosés and three reds.

Kicking off with an amuse bouche with a strudel base, this was matched with L’Argentin Rosé, a rather fancy affair made with grapes saved for the Malbec Gran Reserva.

Before the main event, which had me drooling with anticipation, we warmed up with a rather fabulous beetroot and goat’s cheese millefeuille. A vegetable I only started to eat in Argentina, I always astound myself when I lick a plate clean of beet. Apparently this maroon fellow is most popular in France, and when it’s combined with a light melted-of-its-own-accord cheese, it’s a polite reminder why. For me it was a smooth ride from beetroot over to the Clos de los Siete 2009 five-graper, a pungent blackcurrant blend which had a smooth end. Lip-smackingly good.

Although the restaurant had publicized its menu in advance, I was oblivious, so when a juicy slow-cooked duck leg turned up, in honour of the popular tins of confit du cannard, I was in heaven. Like a rabid dog, I may have told you to duck right off had you dared interrupt me. I only ever chomp down the plump little bird when I order it with 24 hours’ notice from Shi Yuan in Barrio Norte so it was a special, unexpected treat, and more so given its succulence — the meat fell from the bone. Keeping up its side of the bargain was another blend, Petite Fleur, also part of the Clos estate.

After the duck I didn’t think any more excitement was possible. Until Céline brought out a brie and camembert test. And seeing that I swallowed it down without breathing, she then brought out the “secret” cheese, which she buys from “someone” who knows “a lot” about cheese. I’ll say. It was a hard one, tangy, and one of the closest things I’ve had to Cheddar in a very long time. I was a very happy girl indeed. But I can’t say any more than that.

Given that there are still a few murky Winter Wednesdays to get through before Spring tosses her pretty little head in our direction, this week sees a Chakana tasting and will be followed up by an Alta Vista one. If the mussels make a return to the menu, I might head down for another French feeding session.

Wining On verdict: A fun tasting with a chance to sample some fine French cuisine, and opine on wine.

L’Atelier de Céline
Carlos Calvo 242, San Telmo
Tel: 4361-1269

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on August 5, 2012
Photo courtesy of L’Atelier de Céline

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