Noumea is known as the Paris of the Pacific. It has been occupied by the French since 1843, and was declared a French territory in 1957.
I have always wanted to visited New Caledonia. I pictured it as a more sophisticated Pacific Island, with upmarket hotels, restaurants and shopping, my image has proven to be correct. We completed the scenic drive around the city and found that it is indeed very beautiful, and it certainly has some of the polish you would expect from the French.
Mr GG & I are taking part in the Noumea Scenic Drive with a Wine & Cheese Tour. The tour was offered by the tour desk on board the Pacific Dawn. I don’t know about you dear readers, but when I have visited France in the past, my main aim is to try as much cheese and wine as I can, and visit all the delicious looking patisseries. Given that I am in the “Paris of the Pacific” naturally this was once again my mission.
I had also been hoping for the opportunity to brush up on my high school French. The residents are French speaking but Noumea is a tourist town and the shop keepers were all happy to use their English… I tried to convince Mr GG that another trip to France would be in order if I am to retain any understanding of the language of love, I don’t know if I have swayed him…
We arrived at the restaurant La Coupole, which is to play host to the event . The tables are set with un pain et trois verres à vin, (a breadroll and three wine glass), so we all take a seat. Sorry! I just had to break out and use un peu de français.
There is a lovely wine display and I am pleased to see that all the wines we will taste, do in fact come from France. Our guide explains that because New Caledonia does not have the right temperature for cheese or wine making, the locals import both of these necessitates from the motherland.
The first cheese we sample is Emmental Francais. Our cheese originates from the Savoie region in France. It is made from unpasteurized cows milk and takes 1-2 years to fully mature. The flavour is mild but still has that slightly pungent nutty flavour I associate with unpasteurised cheeses. It is a firm cheese not unlike a gruyere cheese.
We sample the cheese with the bread and a glass of Manoir du passage Blanc 2009. This wine comes from the Graves area in Bordeaux. It is a dry an aromatic wine made from the Semillon and Sauvignon grape. It is a well balanced when with delicious fruit and citrus flavours. This glass is very much to my liking and I notice that it has been enjoyed by all at our table.
Next we are given a talk about the Brie we are to sample. This cheese originates from Ile de France and is again made from unpasteurized cows milk. I love my creamy, stinky French Brie, with the delicious crust and liquid centre. Unfortunately this cheese has absolutely none of those qualities. I could easily liken the firm textured tasteless cheese to a Coles home brand variety. It was very disappointing to say the least. I also noted that it seemed to have been served straight out of a refrigerator. This is not something I would have expected from a French cheese tour operator.
The wine that was to accompany this cheese was a Manoir du passage Rouge. This was a red wine from the Graves region in Bordelais. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I thoroughly enjoyed the full bodied character of the wine and found the fruity black current taste very much to my liking. Seemed that all at our table were agreeable to this wine and we were permitted a small refill.
The final cheese was the Bleu a Auvergne, or Blue cheese originating in the region of Auvergne. Again the cheese is produced using unpasteurised cows milk; it is then treated with a bacterium to give the distinctive flavour and appearance of the blue veins. The cheese is a semi soft, cream cheese with a powerful aroma and the gorgeous pungent salty flavour you expect from a blue cheese.
The wine we are given to sample with the blue is a sweet dessert wine. Whilst I am not a sweet wine drinker I do like a nice botrytis or white port. I feel that either of those styles would have been particularly nice with the blue cheese we were served. Unfortunately we were given a Bordeaux Chateau Bergerac 2009. Made from the Semillon grape, it was a sweet wine without the tart finish that I look for in a dessert wine. It was not a popular wine at our table.
There was a mixed reaction from the group about the value in the tour. For me, I simply could not imagine doing anything else in Noumea then sample fine wine and cheese and then discussing the merits of each amongst our group.
I would have loved to have visited a second establishment and tried a different selection of wine and cheese, perhaps even forsaking the sightseeing. Mr GG and I would also have like to have more time in Anse Vata Bay or Baie De Citron to experience more of the dining in these areas. We both agree that we will have to come back for a short stay and explore a little more.
After feeling that we had experienced only the briefest smidgen of French New Caledonia, it was time to board the boat ready for our 10.30pm departure. We waved goodbye to the marina and set sail for the island of Lifou.
We are due to arrive in Lifou at 8.45am.