Aftertaste: Cheese & Wine Pairings
You can never have enough cheese or wine for that matter which is why we do a lot of classes centered around both. The more experience you can get thew more well rounded of taster you become and that's not only relevant for the individual starting off their wine tasting journey or the Somm looking for new and exciting pairings to wow their guests with. There are "blueprints' and guidelines to follow, but as with everything we suggest, we encourage that you take the path less traveled and come to your own conclusion/destination. Even with failed pairings there is always something to be learned as was the case with this week's cheese and wine pairing class featuring a few new arrivals from one of our cheese purveyors.
We like to start each class off with a little bubbly and finding a cheese match for bubbles is never a problem. Bubbles but through the fattiness of the cheese and make the flavors pop. This pairing included a sparkling wine from the Loire Valley of France, Henry Varney. Not Champagne, this was made with Ugni Blanc and done in the Charmat Method which is how Prosecco is done. When you taste the wine it is very Prosecco like. Light gentle bubbles, green apple notes, citrus and dry short finish. Good everyday bubbles on it's own or utilized if you're doing mimosas. The cheese, Little Hosmer, from Jasper Hill's Cellars is a cow's milk brie style cheese. This is a mini version similar to their Moses Sleeper. Soft and pliable without being gooey. A little young, but you still get those vegetable notes of broccoli and cauliflower with a thick creamy paste. This is not ultra buttery like a triple creme. Very pleasant cheese that could go another 2 weeks to obtain full ripeness. The cheese blends very well with the sparkling, flavors balance each other other without competing for dominance. Balance is key to everything and this is a good example of such.
Next up, a lesson in pairing savory flavor components. The cheese is from Wood River Creamery, an alpine style cheddar with specks of basil pesto. A plain cheddar can go in several directions as far as pairings. Add in the savory element of basil and you have another layer to consider. Albarino was my first choice considering that the wine will compliment savory herbal notes with ease. Instead we chose one of our favorite new whites Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc of France. You do pick up some grapefruit, stone fruit notes on the nose, but the palate is all minerally like wet stones. This was experimentation on my part to see how versatile this wine is and an alternative to Albarino...really there is not alternative ti good Albarino, but it's nice to find something else in a pinch when there's none to be found. With the pesto flavors being on the mild side the wine worked well. I think if the flavors were a bit more dominant that this wine wouldn't have performed so well. Keep the weight, pungency, etc in mind when picking your wine out. Yet I find this wine and cheese to work really well and it's making me wish for warmer days to enjoy a light fresh basil and Rotini pasta salad
. The next cheese was a last minute change up due to the fact that Sauvignon Blanc is the natural go-to when pairing with fresh goat chevre especially when you're doing chevre from Loire. It's like peanut butter and chocolate. This was a pairing that brings me back to summer sitting on my deck with a glass of Rose and grilling pizzas made with fresh goat chevre. Petit Billy was in rare form this week. It's almost like whipped Philly cream cheese as opposed to the usual "goaty" smell. The consistency is creamier than I remember. The D' Orsay Cote de Provence was dry up front with some peach flavors coming in on the finish. The wine was almost softened by the cheese, toning down the acidic component. Worked well enough, but I think this would've been better with a wine with a bit more acidity, again can't ever go wrong with Sauv Blanc in this scenario. Baked goat cheese on top of a grilled flatbread pizza with fire roasted tomatoes would be better, but alas it's 30 degrees outside.
Let's Bring da Funk!!
Humming Bark is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese produced by Carrigbyrne Farmhouse in County Wexford Ireland, The cheese resembles and smells like a cross between Vacherin Mont D' Or and Epoisses. Strong pungent nose, full-flavored taste with a little bacon resin, aged in spruce bark that imparts some woodsy flavors. Get beyond the smell and inside you'll find a creamy tangy paste. But again that wash rind funk need something that will hold up against it. We chose the Neil Ellis Sincerely Shiraz from South Africa for it's slight hints of smoke, mellow tannins. We didn't want anything that would accentuate the funk, but would rather play off the secondary notes from the spruce bark. A more tannic red would've clashed with the bacteria on the rind and produced a tin flavor. This combo worked, but I my back up choice was a 2013 Vire-Clesse from southern Burgundy. We tried that white wine cheese combo and had the wine been at a more youthful stage then I could see it working. At this moment, the wine is being overpowered. You go into these parings with something in mind, but I do ask around to see what others are utilizing to see if there's a pairing I had not tried yet. This one didn't work, but again it was that Chardonnay at that particular stage in it's life cycle. Try a fresher White Burgundy and you could see different results.
The funkiest pairing of the day! So this is my first experience working with the Dancing Fern from Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee. Dancing Fern is a raw cow's milk cheese inspired by the famous raw milk Reblochon cheese of France. Too say that this cheese is "barnyardy" is an understatement. Have you ever been to the Durham Fair or a farm stable during mid-August? Farm animals tend to "go" anywhere they feel necessary. This cheese picks up every nuance of a barnyard stable floor before it's cleaned up and that's putting it nicely. The wine was the Joseph Drouhin Bellevue Morgon, a whole lot of funk to itself. Funk on funk, low tannin wine with good acidity matched up with a creamy paste. It works. Trick here, like wine, let that cheese breathe once you unwrap it. When you intend to serve this cheese be prepared to be smacked in the face. In all defense the cheese was very young and from conversing with friends at another cheese shop they said it mellows out quite a but after a few weeks. Worth another chance, maybe with an Alsace white wine...
The final pairing of the day. I've come to dislike dessert wine pairings. Not that I dislike dessert wines, but the last few wine dinners I've either attended or participated in by the time you get to dessert you're completely full. The thought of something sweet to drink isn't appetizing. The best thing I've ever had during a wine dinner was a cheese plate as a finisher. Something soothing about cheese for dessert and you can carry over some of the wines instead of going with something cloying and viscous. Blue cheese is always a catalyst for screwing up a wine paring. Case in point, I was initially going to use the Sincerely Shiraz. This is why we taste test everything right before we present it. While in theory, a real fruit forward jammy Aussie Shiraz might have worked with the intensity and sharp edge of the Stilton blue, the Sincerely Shiraz pairing brought out this horrific metallic astringent flavor. Big flavor clash. I think Lambrusco is one of the more versatile wines. Going back to desserts, I've substituted Lambrusco instead of LBV Porto when paired against chocolate baked goods with extremely happy results, This particular Lambrusco is not the standard you should base all Lambrusco on. The Cavicchioli is definitely a more fruit forward style to liking of sparkling Sangria, but it's the wine's fruit forward component that I want to test out against the Stilton. It does mesh well, but I think that the Stilton is at the advantage with it's sharpness over the Lambrusco. Again, I'm over analyzing the entire thing.
Bottom line...Ask you cheese monger what stage of ripeness the cheese is in and likewise for the wine. Taste everything prior to assembling your tasting and then make final adjustments. Leave all the funk and stank for the end. Have some Lactaid pills on hand and a huge bowl of salad to keep yourself in balance. Don't be afraid of smelly, moldy cheese or wine for that matter. Let either breathe and get beyond the initial sensory shock. Your monger should give you the heads up of what to expect.