Daily Pampering: The May Fair London offers luxe Champagne parties

Indulgence flows like, well, Champagne, at newest bar program. Aptly titled 150 at The May Fair, (after the magnum, 150cl of liquid) the semi-private bar experience offers a new series of programs where guests can order premium magnums of vintage champagnes paired with a menu of small plates prepared by the new head chef at the hotel’s restaurant, Silvena Rowe.

What would we opt for? The most glamourous offering of them all, naturally! The Dom Pérignon Rose 1998 Experience is a private Champagne party for up to 12 guests.

Priced at £4,400 (approx. $6,800), guests will enjoy four magnums of Dom Pérignon Vintage Rose 1998 paired with four canapés for each guest: seared diver-caught scallops and sevruga caviar remoulade; crispy spiced jumbo prawns with avocado and tahini; West Mersea native oysters with sevruga caviar and szechaun button and pomegranate glazed foie gras.

After that much drinking, we’d suggest you end the night in one of the hotel’s 12 signature suites… or at least with sponsored transportation home.

Get more luxury travel ideas from daily pampering.

European cheeses: holiday entertaining with the taste of travel

I work part-time in a cheese shop, and I’m also a contributing editor at culture, a consumer cheese magazine. I can’t help noticing that, despite a still-sluggish economy, people don’t want to do without their cheese. Especially if they’ve fallen for a specific type during their (usually European) travels.

Not everyone who bellies up to the counter is a globetrotter or a cheese geek, but they’re all eager to try new things and learn about the animals and cheesemakers responsible, and what, if any, cultural role certain cheeses play in their country of origin. It got me thinking: why not show Gadling readers how to do a bit of armchair travel to Europe via their local cheese shop?

Cheese has long been associated with revelry, in part because of its cozy compatibility with beer, wine, Champagne, and certain spirits. With the holiday season upon us, I put together a list of some delicious, versatile, affordable European imports that will make any small party more festive. The best part? You don’t need to be any kind of cheese wunderkind to put together a banging cheese plate (suggestions coming up).

[Photo credit: Flickr user cwbuecheler]

I usually allow about an ounce of each cheese per person, assuming there’s more food. If you’re throwing a big party, it may not be financially feasible to purchase certain products (and there’s nothing wrong with serving a mass-produced Gruyere or Gouda). Note that some styles of cheese are less dense than others, so depending upon price, you can get more dairy for your dollar.

If you can’t find these cheeses at your nearest grocery, Whole Foods (which have generally excellent cheese departments), or specialty shop, try online sources Murray’s Cheese, Cowgirl Creamery, Formaggio Kitchen, and Artisanal Premium Cheese. Click here for a national cheese retailer directory by zipcode.

In addition to picking some of my own favorites, I turned to one of culture’s co-founders, cheesemonger Thalassa Skinner of Napa’s Oxbow Cheese Merchant, for advice:

The Cheeses

Langres (cow): Traditionally served with Champagne poured over it (those decadent French!), this well-priced washed-rind is a little bit stinky, with a dense, creamy interior and tangy lactic finish. From the Langres plateau in the Champagne-Ardenne region.

Ewephoria (sheep): Nutty, rich, with a hint of crystallization, this butterscotchy Gouda will convert even the ambivalent into cheese aficionados.

Appenberger (cow): This buttery Alpine-style cheese from the Schweitzer Mittelland region has a faintly grassy tang. A surefire crowd-pleaser.

Robiola due latte (a blend of cow and sheep or goat’s milk): A rich, mold-ripened number with a slightly sour, mushroomy finish, from the dairy-rich Piedmont and Lombardy regions. Top imports include those by Perolari due Latti, Robiola Bosina, and Robiola delle Langhe.

Leonora (goat): A loaf-shaped, mold-ripened cheese from the northwestern village of León. Creamy, tangy, and delightful, with a blindingly white, dense, chewy interior.

Azeitao (cow): Yeasty, full-flavored, with a slightly bitter finish; a beer-lover’s cheese. From the village of the same name, in the Arrabida Mountains, near Lisbon.

Stilton (cow): Colston-Bassett makes perhaps the finest version of this historic, earthy blue cheese. It’s a classic British holiday treat, produced in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. Stichelton is the equally delicious, raw milk version; it’s a bit more fruity and crumbly. But for another British tradition, go for a robust Cheddar. Keen’s (cow) is buttery, with a horseradishy bite.

Coolea (cow): This dense, buttery, Gouda-style from County Cork has a sharp, grassy finish. Unusual and delicious.

Wavreumont (cow): A smooth, full-flavored, monastic-style washed rind. Trappist beer, anyone?

Cheese Plate 101

K.I.S.S.: This is a fun little acronym I learned in culinary school. It stands for, “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” A foofy, cluttered cheese plate with too many accompaniments just detracts from the headliner. You can keep sides as simple as some plain crackers or a baguette, or add toasted almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts, and some preserves, or honeycomb or dried fruit or grapes or slices of pear or apple (in summer, use stonefruit such as peaches or cherries, or berries).

You can also go the savory route with dry-cured or green olives (Picholine are my favorite) and some salumi (add grainy mustard, cornichons, and a hearty rye bread for a winter supper). Forget the sundried tomatoes, pickled onions, pepperoncini, artichoke hearts, tapenade, stuffed peppers, or whatever else the local deli has in its antipasti bar. It’s overkill.

Stick to three to four cheeses that increase in intensity of flavor. You can do whatever you want: all blues, or all goat cheeses. For a diverse, well-rounded plate, try: One creamy/mild; one semi-soft or semi-firm with some kick, or a washed-rind/ surface-ripened; one hard-aged; one blue or something really punchy (taste this last, because the stronger flavors will obscure your palate). Your cheesemonger can help you pick things out and explain these terms to you, or click here for a glossary.

When pairing cheese with beer or wine, a rule of thumb is to match the intensity of flavor of the cheese to that of the beverage. The following are some suggestions for some of the more tricky, assertive cheeses.

Goat cheese: A good rosé will almost always work, as will a light German beer like Hoegaarden.

Big, stinky washed-rinds: Pair with sweet bubbly; the effervescence will help cleanse the palate and won’t compete with the flavor of the cheese. If you’re drinking beer, go with a light pilsner or lambic.

Blue cheeses: Go for a sweet dessert wine (not Port) or Lambic beer with fruit, such as framboise.

For additional cheese plate ideas, click here.

[Photo credits: Neal’s Yard, Flickr user foodmuse; Gouda, Flickr user manuel/MC; cow, Laurel Miller; grapes, Flickr user lakewentworth; goat, Laurel Miller]

Daily Pampering: Caviar and champagne coffret gifts

It’s time to start thinking about the holidays, and with the holidays comes holiday gifts. But of course, there’s always one person on your list who makes shopping complicated. What do you get the person who has everything?

West Hollywood’s Petrossian Boutique and Restaurant came up with the solution: an awe-inspiring caviar and champagne coffret priced at $490.

Nothing says luxury quite like champagne and caviar. Petrossian’s coffret, which showcases the affinity between champagne and caviar, includes:

  • 125 g tin Tsar Imperial Transmontanous Caviar
  • 2 – 375 ml bottles Louis Roederer Brut Premier
  • 2 – Mother-of-Pearl spoons

Petrossian also offers gifts and customized epicurean baskets including tastes of Caviar, Smoked Salmon, Foie Gras, and French Chocolates.

You have a choice: buy the silly box of socks with Santa’s eight reindeer and Rudolph fully represented, or go for something a little classier, like caviar.

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Daily Pampering: The Lanesborough & Laurent-Perrier Master Class

The Lanesborough, one of London’s most exclusive hotels, is partnering with Laurent-Perrier, creator of unique and elegant Champagnes, to bring guests a dinner they’ll never forget.

On September 28, The Lanesborough will host a unique tasting of Laurent-Perrier champagnes presented by David Hesketh, Managing Director of Laurent-Perrier UK and distinguished Master of Wine. The master class features the world’s finest champagnes including the Grand Siècle prestige cuvée, Laurent Perrier vintages from 1999 and 1993, as well as an extremely rare offering from 1982. In addition, the champagnes are paired with an 8-course menu designed by Michelin starred chef Heinz Beck that includes:

  • Blue Lobster, papaya, mango and avocado, paired with Ultra Brut
  • Langoustine potato and black olive dust, paired with Grand Siècle
  • Risotto with oyster and champagne, paired with Grand Siècle
  • Gnocchi with chive and caviar, paired with Laurent Perrier 2000
  • Cod fillet with “Spellos” beans, paired with Laurent Perrier 1996
  • Composition of turbot, scallops and shellfish, paired with Laurent Perrier 1993
  • Lamb variation, paired with Laurent Perrier 1982
  • Parfait with wild berries, marshmallows and chocolate cannoli, paired with Demi-Sec

The cost to dine? £250 per person (approximately $390 USD) plus service charge
The cost to stay? Nightly rates at The Lanesborough start at £375 (approximately $586 USD)

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Do something quirky and photograph the evidence – Souvenir tip

The word “souvenir” means “to remember” in French, so the best souvenirs are memories. But the best memories are quirky ones.

I once knew a man who had to pour champagne on the cruise ship captain’s head on every single cruise he went on. He did this at the kick-off party for every cruise, but also did it on the night when the crew built the champagne tower — just to see if he could get away with it. This led to some incriminating photos — and captains who smelled like bubbly!