There was a time when most people seemed to insist on red wines with cheeses, or ports. Then there was a flip-flop and many people insisted that white wines were the only ones appropriate for cheeses. I confess that I may have helped contribute to that trend. I have found many more great matches with whites than with reds, yet there are many red wine pairing standouts.
At last week’s Cheese & Wine 101 the reds beat the whites hands down. The Alsatian Riesling scored well (as Rieslings usually do) but the Vacqueyras in which Grenache was the driver succeeded nicely with each of the cheeses: goat, sheep and cow; soft to hard. The Primitivo scored a couple +2’s: with Le Moulis (vache) and with the aged Gouda. This wine was a bit much for the lovely little Rove des Garrigues but everything else paired well, which is no surprise.
I mentioned how well the Riesling paired (except with the Manchego [not bad but not very good either] and with the Echo Mountain [ditto]) yet it scored a couple +2’s as well: with the Roves des Garrigues and with the Taleggio. You can count on Rieslings of any stripe to flatter the wash rind cow cheeses, as well as most of their goat and sheep expressions.
The big disappointment of the evening was the Verdejo—the Rueda. Lovely wine to begin but it faded fast. Excellent on its own and with the Roves des Garrigues, nice with the aged Manchego, then it was headed for the showers.
Overall scores: Reds 16 Whites 10.
Of course this was only seven cheeses and the selections, though diverse, just happened to be selective partners for these four wines, each in their own ways. Interesting to note: none of the matches was bad; which serves as a reminder: in more cases than not, cheeses and wines do pair well with each other.
Although perhaps not the most frequently asked questions, those centered on how best to store cheese come up often. The short answer to the storage question is: store you cheese in your stomach; and that you purchase the cheese you will consume within a day or two, the same way you purchase fish; leave the long-term storage for the professionals. The way most Americans buy food for home consumption these days, buying only what you need for a couple of days is not an option. We simply don’t have the time to go shopping for our cheese every other day, though you can do that easily using our website. The firmer the cheese, the longer you can store it. The softer cheeses can be considered to be more “luxury” cheeses, or cheeses for special occasions. With the softer cheeses not only do you have shorter shelf lives, you are paying for more water, hence the shortened shelf lives.
So what if you do have leftover cheese, soft or hard? We ship our cheeses in cheese-friendly paper, which allows the cheese to breathe while in transit. This paper is also good for rewrapping leftover cheese, at least while it’s clean. If the cheese paper becomes too wet, or if too much rind remains on the paper, or if it becomes soiled in another way, the paper should not be reused. If it is a larger piece of cheese (say about a half pound) you can wrap it in some other similar paper (parchment or waxed) but this may not be worth the extra effort, or the paper.
I typically drop leftover cheeses into reusable plastic containers. If it is a firmer cheese I often drop them directly into ziplock bags, sometimes more than one type of cheese. Cross-contamination is not a significant concern with the harder cheeses. It would not be a concern for the softer cheeses either except they can ooze into their neighbors. Actually, this might lead to some interesting blends.
If the concern with storage is whether or not the cheese is safe to eat after extended storage, the probability is very high that it is. I would not say that there is a 100% guarantee that the cheese will still be safe to eat after many moons but when a cheese is not really safe, a little nibble will be enough to let you know.
Notice how I did not mention refrigeration? There are advantages and disadvantages to this recent addition to food storage systems. The advantage is that refrigeration preserves cheese in a relatively static state. Retarded degradation and spoilage occurs at lower temperatures. The cooler temperature helps to keep the moisture within a cheese, so long as the cheese is well wrapped. If a piece of cheese is left out it can sweat, then dry out. Butterfats will leach out leaving a relatively tasteless (and less nutritious) cheese behind. The primary disadvantage to cold storage is similar to the problem just cited. Most refrigerated units are relatively dry. The drier environment will draw moisture from the cheese; this can occur even when the cheese is well wrapped. To that point: well wrapped is one thing but cheese needs a little air exchange. Without it the cheese will eventually spoil. Cheese, being a fermented food, requires air to survive. This is why cheese will better survive longer transport and storage if it is wrapped in breathable paper, or some other semi-permeable wrap.
To recap for home or restaurant storage:
Buy less but buy often. (Remember to eat cheese every day!)
Wrapping cheese in cheese paper (such as the paper we send your cheese in) is the ideal but it is not absolutely necessary. Wrapping leftover cheese in parchment or waxed paper is fine, or it can be dropped into a small Tupperware type container, or into a ziplock bag.
It is fine to store cheese in your refrigerator, so long as you leave it out to rise to room temperature before you eat it. Do not store cheese in your freezer!
Cheese can keep for extended periods: the firmer the cheese, the longer the shelf life. If a cheese is too far gone to safely consume a little nibble will confirm this – a little nibble you may choose to spit out.
On our home page tool bar you will find “Beverage Pairings” under the “Entertaining” dropdown. A couple of words about this:
Each cheese on our website is assigned a varietal, just one. However there are often many wine types that pair successfully with a particular cheese. Some cheeses seem to pair well with any wine we throw their way. Isn’t there a name for those types of cheeses? Lush cheeses?
Regardless, one varietal is given – a varietal we agree is a successful match with the cheese in question. We are in the process of adding other varietals in the full description of each cheese so you can check each for additional wine matches.
Pairing cheese and wine is a little subjective yet there are some principles of successful food and beverage pairings that help create great matches. One of the fundamental principles of these success stories is simple: the bigger flavored cheeses pair more successfully with the bigger flavored wines. This is what the CheeseClock™ pairing tool is all about. Conversely, lighter cheeses are generally more successful with lighter wines.
Sometimes it seems that some of the strongest cheeses meld better with the lightest of wines, like a 180º counterweight. Some of the strongest cheeses seem to butt heads with the bolder wines. When this happens the cheese invariable comes out on top. In more cases than not, cheeses and wines do pair well together. The successes arise far more often than the misses. And again, there is a level of subjectivity in this.
So watch for additional wine pairing recommendations to appear in our updated cheese descriptions. You will find entries for beers and other beverages too.
The best wine for goat milk cheeses is Sauvignon Blanc, right?
To lump all goat milk cheeses into the Sauvignon Blanc fiefdom is not something to assume as a given. There are many variables to consider beyond species. The choice of cultures employed in cheesemaking plays a prominent role, both the starter and secondary cultures. How those cultures help influence the pH level, the cheese texture, and more importantly, the aromatic flavor profile, will have major implications for the cheese’s synergies with different wines.
I was reminded of these cultural affairs at our Cheese & Wine 101 class this week. The secondary culture on the rind of Garrotxa, glaucum, leaves an indelible imprint on the aroma within. The Garrotxa lacks the typical tart flavor of the better known cheeses of France’s Loire valley. The coating of geotrichum and/or alkaline ash on those styles influences synergies differently from the way candidum (as on Humboldt Fog) does. There is the glaucum on the Garrotxa, and the roqueforti in the rare goat milk blue, as well as many other combinations of cultures for a cheese maker to use.
During our 101 we tasted a perfectly ripened Garrotxa with a Sauvignon Blanc and everyone seemed to agree that it was a “nice” pairing. After a water rinse and a palate-cleansing bit of baguette we tried the cheese with a Chardonnay. The group thought it was a better matching. One woman said that she does not usually care for Chardonnay but the Garrotxa pairing improved the wine.
These are the types of pairings that are especially illustrative: when either the wine or the cheese is “elevated,” and even better, when both are.
We must admit that not all Sauvignon Blancs are the same. One of the main differences in how this varietal pairs with cheese is determined by the type of barrel in which the wine is aged. A Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak (as in Fumé Blanc) will better balance certain cheeses than one aged in stainless steel.
Early in my cheese career I took particular note in how well Garrotxa paired with Chardonnay compared to how well the cheese paired with the goat-to varietal, Sauvignon Blanc. The cheese finds synergies with many other varietals, reds included. This is partly due to its mild flavor; Garrotxa is always pasteurized. This has the effect of neutralizing aromatic conflicts with many wine players.
All this is intended to convey: beware of pairing dogma, such as goat always pairs best with Sauvignon Blanc.
The rosé we enjoyed in last night Cheese & Wine 101 class was from the Languedoc region of southwest France. Like many rosé wines of the region it was made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. The other wines were delightful: a white Bordeaux, a Lodi Chardonnay, and a vin de pays Mediterranée Merlot-dominant red wine. I had a good idea of how all these wines would pair with each of the cheeses but I was far less certain about the rosé. It was the prettiest wine among the four and it was a wine that could be enjoyed on its own. The best cheese match for it was a Robiola Castagna. Also nice with the Garrotxa, the Royale and Le Moulis, its best partner was the mixed milk cheese from Italy’s Piemonte, the prettiest cheese on the plate. Might this be part of the logic of successful cheese and wine pairings? Pretty wine likes pretty cheese? Mixed milk cheeses tend to be more versatile with different wine types. The Robiola Castagna has all three primary dairy animals’ milks in its recipe: goat, sheep and cow. The blend of grapes (something the French have mastered so well) gives blended wines enhanced versatility with different cheeses too. The limitations for this cheese and this wine could be largely attributed to the overall “size” of flavors in each. The rosé held up with each of the cheeses pretty well, until we got to the alpine cow cheese, the delicious Flösserkäse, and the gorgeous four year old Gouda, and the fabulous Fourme d’Ambert. Conversely, the Robiola Rocchetta was nice with the white Bordeaux and the California Chardonnay, not bad with the red wine, but stunning with the rosé. This was one of those “impress-your-date” cheese and wine pairings. Memorable.
We start off our summer classes at Alison Eighteen in just a few hours. Our temporary classroom is looking very nice, in the restaurant’s downstairs private dining room. The address is convenient too, at 15 West 18th street, just west of Fifth Avenue, in the Flat Iron District and close to parking and public transportation, far more convenient than our former address on Tenth Avenue (unless you happen to live in Hell’s Kitchen). We are competing with the All Stars’ Game tonight at Citifield, as well as an oppressive heat wave, so we have a small group attending this first session — a Cheese & Wine 101.
Alison and I selected the wines last week, wines we thought would fit the weather forecast: a white Bordeaux, a Chardonnay, a Minervois rosé, and a Mediterranean vin de pays Merlot blend. All the cheeses are southern European (except for the lick-smacking delicious aged Dutch Gouda) a delightful mix of cheeses to taste with these wines, twenty eight combinations to try. Oh my! We look forward to finding some new cheese pairings for these summer wines and we will report the top picks later.
I already had my fruits and nuts this morning; this evening’s 101 will be my dinner.
This morning’s NYC weather serves as a reminder of the influence of weather upon our appetites. Cooler than it has been (for July especially) our cheese cravings may be greater today than they were a couple days ago when it was much hotter and more humid. We might even allow ourselves a glass of chilled white wine later in the day, or for those of us that only drink reds, perhaps a lighter red wine, slightly chilled perhaps. I can’t say that rosé wines serve as gateways from red wines to whites, especially since many die-hard red drinkers would never drink a pink-colored wine regardless.
I recall a warm and humid afternoon in Catalunya a few years ago when almost everyone was drinking red wines, except for some of the women who were choosing chilled whites. There was a bottle of rosé that no one else was trying, made from Garnacha (known as Grenache across the border in France) a rosé that I recall enjoying in Madrid the year before. It was as though this rosé was an uninvited guest that slipped into the cooler.
In this part of the world (as well as most parts) the few guys who do drink rosés drink them with a certain confidence, with aplomb. I chose it not only because I recall how much I enjoyed an almost identical Garnacha in Madrid, but also because the white wines were less appealing (can’t recall which ones they were) and the weather being what it was, the reds were even less appealing, especially without any food around.
There are similar wines produced in southern France that are made from Grenache, or from a blend of Grenache and other varietals. These wines, from either side of the border, can be enjoyed on their own. This is often the case: these rosés are unaccompanied. This is not to say that many foods (cheeses included) do not complement these wines.
It is only July, so next week’s temperatures will likely reach back up into the 90′s; our appetites may subside. But doesn’t a glass of rosé sound nice? Next Tuesday we will be tasting a Grenache-based Minervois rosé in our first Cheese & Wine 101 of the season. The weather forecast is partly cloudy with a high of 92. Chilled rosé sounds great. Among the seven cheeses we will be tasting, which ones will pair best with it?
Dateline: Sea Day, Amalfi to Civitavecchia
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
It may not look like a great distance to sail: the final voyage from Amalfi to Civitavecchia. It was a great enough distance to allow for a lovely sea-day – a day during which it appeared we might be sailing around lazily in circles, far from Italy’s western shore. From our window table in the Grand Dining Room I noticed how the ship’s wake curled around behind us, never quite straightening out. With the sun almost directly overhead it was too difficult to tell if this was really happening. There were no land masses or other ships to be able to gauge this, only the relatively placid sea below. Time slows down in the middle of the sea, especially on a warm sunny day.
This was the first and only day that my seminars did not have a port to compete for the passengers’ interest. Many of the Europeans spent most of the cruise under the sun, or so it seemed. Most of the American passengers were interested in the culinary theme of the cruise: a few foodie shore excursions, the afternoon wine tastings, the cooking demonstrations in the Bon Appétit classroom, as well as my sessions on cheese and wine.
This final tasting included some of our favorite Italian cheeses: Robiola Bosina, Pecorino Sardo, Taleggio, Piave, and Gorgonzola Cremificato. The white wine was a Vernacchia — the same varietal we had enjoyed a few days earlier in Olbia but from a different producer, and for the red: a Valpolicella — a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. As sprightly and fresh as the Vernacchia was, the Valpolicella was berry-layered and lush. I remembered enjoying the Vernacchia and Pecorino Sardo pairing a bit better in Olbia than I did here though these two expressions still made a delicious blend. The earlier success could be partly attributed to the “being-there” factor as well as Pietro’s warm hospitality, yet also because the Pecorino Sardo I had in Olbia was younger and fresher than this one. Not that I don’t enjoy an aged Pecorino Sardo; it is that the younger fresher-tasting Vernacchia makes a better match for the younger versions of this great cheese.
The session’s beginning cheese, the Robiola Bosina, also paired well with the Vernacchia, but was even better with the Valpolicella. I do not doubt that the cow component in the Bosina made this a factor. Vernacchia is generally a far better wine for goat and sheep milk cheeses (or their blends) than it is for cow cheeses. The Vernacchia met its match with the Taleggio so after the Pecorino it was finished for the day, all the other cheeses made from cow milk.
I recall one of my first “real” Italian restaurant experiences years ago when you could find a nice bottle of Valpolicella for well under $10.00. In a restaurant! I recall how delightful it paired with all the foods we had, and how it was perfectly delightful on its own. This one matched each of these different cheeses beautifully.
We returned to our stateroom to pack for our early disembarkation the following morning. By this time our ship had straightened out and we continued sailing northward. We still had more cheese left in our refrigerator, as well as unfinished wine. Oh my!
Dateline: Amalfi, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
Last night’s quick cruise brought us to Amalfi early this morning. The early arrival allowed time for me to give a presentation to the ship’s many sommeliers, dining room captains, and several members of the officer staff. The executive chef of the ship, arranged a tasting for the crew with a few cheeses and a couple of wines. I prepared a one-page document as collateral that listed ten important things to know about cheese—things that would apply especially well for the crew of a luxury cruise ship such this one.
At the end of this seminar we headed ashore on one of the ship’s tenders. Amalfi is not a large enough port to dock a ship of this size; even yachts were anchored away from land. If Sorrento appeared to be precariously perched above the sea, then Amalfi looked like part of it had already slid into the sea, with another thousand meters of vertical landmass ready to crash into the sea at any time. As it turns out a huge part of this city had done just that only a few centuries earlier. What once was a major port city in the western Mediterranean was suddenly reduced to a thin sliver. I had to wonder why anyone would choose to live here, no matter how beautiful. The British upper classes made Amalfi one of their favorite holiday destinations in the 1920’s and 30’s. I suppose it might be worth a visit if the climate in your home country was typically cold, gray and wet.
The small town seemed to be piled on top of itself, with narrow roadways dug through buildings and mountainsides, and with pedestrians and cyclists taking their chances with seemingly oblivious drivers. Early July is high season for this town and the midday sun made it seem even higher. Unlike other much sleepier towns we had visited, most of the shops were open taking in whatever business was offered.
Our destination that afternoon was Ravello, a little town almost directly above Amalfi. I was warned that the drive to this town was narrow and treacherous, with no solid guardrails on the sides along the ravine. The ride to the town was not so bad; one just had to place one’s faith in a driver who had probably made this trek hundreds of times. On the drive up we passed a number of lemon trees – the lemons for which region is partly famous, and the lemons from which Limoncello is made. From the mountaintop where Ravello is situated the views of the sea were amazing. It is said that the blue of the Mediterranean is not found in any other body of water.
One of the small town’s prettiest hotels is Hotel Villa Maria, built on an outcrop overlooking the ravine directly below and the sea to the southwest. The path to this little hotel passed another one where D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover. We worked up an appetite on our way up the stone path, so the outdoor restaurant with its wisteria canopy and magnificent view was simply irresistible. Pasta is not my food of choice but I suspected that the linguine dish would be delicious with a glass of the local Ravello white wine made from the Falanghina grape. We finished our lunch with a chilled little glass of locally produced Limoncello. The “being-there” factor is always helpful.
The bussed are scheduled every half hour going back and forth but I am certain we waited for well over an hour. As it was getting late and concern about catching the last tender to ship was growing, I thought that there were far worse places to be stranded. Finally our bus arrived. On our way back down to Amalfi I kept expecting to find dairy goats, the vertical topography seemed like it might suit goats okay. Instead there are lemon trees and vineyards hugging the hillsides, with the occasional house built directly against the road, some of them with marks indicating frequent scrapes from passing vehicles.
It did not seem to matter that I had not had any cheese while in Amalfi or Ravello. Thankfully there was still plenty in the ship’s galley, as well as in my stateroom’s refrigerator.
Dateline: Livorno, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
When we sailed into the old port of Livorno early in the morning, the evidence of extensive bombing during World War II remained, even after extensive rebuilding. Yet Livorno is still a major port so whatever restoration took place may not be so evident today. The region surrounding Livorno was relatively untouched, including some of Italy’s favorite destinations: Pisa, Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Like Sardegna, the region has more sheep than people.
The Bon Appétit chef on board, Kathryn Kelly, invited us to join her on an excursion to the main market in Livorno, then to a Tuscan winery where we would make pizza, focaccia and biscotti in a wood-burning oven. The idea was to stock up on all the ingredients at the market, and to pick up picnic snacks for the bus ride.
The market had also been mostly destroyed during the war (couldn’t we spare the market?) but was rebuilt almost exactly to its original design in the fifties. Each member of our group was assigned a food to buy. Naturally I got the cheese shopping task. There were at least a dozen stalls focused entirely on cheese, each one specializing on one variety or several. I was only shopping for about twelve people but I couldn’t help myself; I bought enough to cheese to last for days.
I found that young Sardinian goat cheese in Livorno, the one I meant to buy in Olbia. This was the first cheese we shared on the bus ride, and it was sublime. The first taste was faint, but it opened up in the mid-palate, then lingered beautifully creamy in the finish. The other picnic items simply did not measure up. My compatriots helped me finish nearly a kilo of this rustic farmhouse cheese, all of it – including the rind.
I saved the Mozzarella di Bufala for after we got off the bus, just a little too messy for consumption on a fast-moving vehicle. It had just been made earlier that morning, the way we use to receive at Picholine years ago, and just the way it is meant to be eaten. The cheese would have been made outside Naples that morning, then it would be flown to JFK, then we had it to serve to our restaurant’s patrons the same evening.