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Posts Filed Under The ‘Cheese and Wine Tastings’ Category

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Master Series

The first Master Series of 2014 will be offered here at our new facilities in Long Island City, February 23rd & 24th. The series will be intensive, covering various aspects of the cheese world, all the way from cheese making to pairing with wines. This series promises to be a special one, as students will witness some of the final stages of assembly of our new facilities.
Back when we opened our old plant on Manhattan’s west side we were at the cutting edge in the industry: with our five cheese-maturing caves, production facilities, and our lovely events & education room. The industry has evolved and what was state-of-the-art in 2003 is now only sufficient, at least as far as affinage (cheese maturing) is concerned. Our production area was suitable too, yet only for the first couple of years after opening. It soon became apparent that we would require more space to work with our cheeses, larger caves, in order to keep up with the rising demand for our high-quality cheeses.
I often recommend that tight spaces are best for cheeses, up to a point. It is far easier to maintain cheeses in smaller spaces than larger one: the proper humidity, temperature, air exchange and microflora. I recall seeing the cheese caves in restaurants around the US in the early aughts; almost all of them were too large for the sizes of those operations. It is valuable to keep in mind that a little bit of cheese goes a long way. So our own fully packed cheese caves worked relatively well, the biggest problems were their ventilations. Certain parts of each cave had excessive air exchange while others were practically “dead.” The area outside those caves, the production area, was a little tight too, especially during busier weeks.
Bottom line: Now that we have been at it for over a decade, added to the years working out of the restaurants Picholine and the Artisanal Bistro, we have learned a lot about how to operate a cheese facility of this type. How to get the right product mix, find the top quality in each category, cure the cheeses to their optimal levels of ripeness, wrap them expertly, ship to our customers in good packaging, and provide the best customer service possible (which includes education).
It seems that there are a myriad of facets to the cheese industry so we will do our best to cover the essentials in this two-day series. We will also be eating quite a lot of cheese. Yum!
Max McCalman

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

The Mediterranean Sun

photo 1 e1383866904359 The Mediterranean Sun

Just got my cholesterol levels checked. HDL 106, LDL 51. Great genes, certainly, yet all the cheese I am consuming does not appear to be hurting. The Mediterranean diet that I prefer may help: more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, cheese (definitely) and less red meat. We often hear about that Mediterranean diet but somehow cheese is not usually mentioned as one of its parts.

Cheese most certainly is a part of that “diet.” The highest per capita cheese consumption occurs all around the Mediterranean and on many islands within. We tend to try to bring it down to one or two things, like fish and red wine, and the same holds true with explanations why certain nutrients, like vitamin C, accomplish their stated claims. Most nutritionists recognize that many players are involved in the success of the Med diet.

The 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival ends this weekend and our cheese series closes with a Mediterranean theme, which of course means there will be some goat and sheep milk cheeses, as well as one cow cheese, all of them from within and around that wonderful sea.

Just wanted to make sure we got a full complement of those delicious nutrients.

A part of what makes that “diet” succeed is the pace at which one enjoys the foods and wines. The pace in central Florida is a bit slower than the one here in New York, though not as slow as the Mediterranean. This weekend is not going to be that slow however. The Epcot festival’s Saturday morning cheese and wine tasting will be sandwiched between a pairing session Friday night at Orlando’s La Femme de Fromage and an early afternoon Flying Fish Café luncheon, complete with its own cheese course.

This time of year the Mediterranean sounds wonderful – the thoughts of warmer, sunnier climes replete with Mediterranean cheeses and wines. So if you’re not headed that way, or to central Florida either, we have a couple of classes planned for you: Italian Cheese and Wine this Saturday, and French Cheese and Wine on Sunday, the 17th. Both classes will be held at Alison Eighteen, 3:00-5:00.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Mickey Likes Cheese

Viva Italia e1380135902940 Mickey Likes Cheese

Boy does he ever! The first time I was invited to speak at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a sell-out, with people lined up around the outside of the Odyssey hoping to squeeze in. What seemed like it might be a routine Cheese and Wine 101 ended up being a major production for the Disney cast. A wine tasting alone is merely that: a “tasting” of wine. When you throw the cheese into the mix the fun (and the work) begins. Cast members who were more familiar with the small pours a wine tasting requires needed a little encouragement. As we know, cheese has a way of bringing out the thirst. While I was busy in the back helping prepare the plates of cheese, the wine was being poured in one ounce portions. This was rectified.

Meanwhile the cheese display on the dais was set up beautifully, with cameras ready to close in on their various textures, ready to relay those close-ups onto oversize monitors. All was coming together fairly well, until the lights came up. Within the first half hour the cheeses were starting to droop; I could see it happening, very distracting. By the end of the tasting even the aged Gouda was looking a little Raclette-like.

The festival gets rolling again this coming weekend and I will be there Saturday morning conducting the first cheese and wine seminar of the 45-day festival. The first week’s cheese and wine seminar will highlight the cheeses and wines of France – a popular session. I return the following weekend for a session focusing on cheeses from here in the U.S. (where most of the cheese excitement is occurring these days) paired with beers – a first for the festival. I have wanted to feature a cheese and beer session for a while (knowing how devoted those beer lovers can be) so we are now able to include one, and in October!

My colleague, Erin Hedley, will present the cheeses of Spain accompanied by Spanish wines on the third Saturday, October 12th. From that weekend on up to the closing day of the festival November 9th, each session will feature wine with the cheeses, each week themed a little differently. The cheeses and wines of Italy will be featured October 19th. Then to include other important cheese countries such as Holland, England, Switzerland and Portugal, the next weekend will feature “old world” cheeses and wines. The United States gets a second session on November 2nd, this time pairing some other great cheeses with Napa valley wines. The final session features cheeses and wines of the Mediterranean, an appealing thought – the Mediterranean – as the evenings become brisk, even in central Florida.

With all these many years of practice you can be assured that there will be no drooping cheeses on the dais and the wine pours will be generous.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Rosé Verdict

Glass of rosé e1374075938919 Rosé Verdict

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.

- Max McCalman

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Comté, s’il vous plaît

The Comté Cheese Association has invited me to come by for a visit. This will be my first visit to this land of cheese royalty so I am particularly excited; this mountainous region is home to heavenly cheese. The name is virtually synonymous with “fromage;” Comté is what many Frenchmen think of when they think of cheese. Were we that lucky!

Edward Behr, publisher of the excellent the Art of Eating called me down for not including Comté in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. This was a gross oversight of course. Maybe I took Comté for granted; the flavors may be quite familiar if it is a cheese that has been widely imitated. Yet if you close your eyes and take in all that a morsel of Comté can deliver, those flavors and aromas can resonate distinctly, delicious all the way through to the “finish.” Each wheel is unique, which is part of the beauty of this cheese – it would be difficult to ignore the differences among wheels of Comté, some more subtle than others. These variations make it a little difficult to generalize about what kinds of wines work with Comté; then again it also makes it a little easier to recommend a wine: try any of your favorite wines and see what happens when you pair it with Comté.

I recall experiencing more successes with white wines, more than reds, with Comté. I believe this is due to the many flavor/aroma dimensions of Comté; elevated tannins in the red wines can be a bit fussy with all that complexity. The white wines can be a little more tolerant of those layers of flavor; the tannins do not get in the way.

Comté is used extensively in cooking, able to add a profound accent on many dishes. The cheese can be enjoyed on its own, which is the way I have had Comté most every time. I recall seeing an older woman walking up to a cheese stall in a market in Nice. The fromagère knew exactly what her customer wanted – 100 grams of a young Comté. Today, many cheese lovers have acquired a taste for the more aged versions; the younger cheeses may seem to lack that “wow” factor.

On another occasion I witnessed a couple of Bordeaux wine makers snacking on Comté and fresh baguette. They were not having a glass of their lovely red Bordeaux with the cheese and bread; these two young ladies were having a soft drink instead. I thought it would have been lovely to see how the cheese and wine paired, right there by the vineyard. Then again it was early afternoon.

The A.O.C. rules define Comté rather strictly; the production rules are some of the strictest ones of France. You might think that they would all taste the same. It is precisely those rules that help give wheels of Comté their uncompromised and rather individual signatures.

Max McCalman

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Fans of Scotch and Cheese are Rewarded

When we first contemplated the idea of pairing Scotch whisky and cheese we were optimistic that it might succeed, though I admit we had reservations. It was not some zany new idea that had never been experienced before; after all, when the purity of water available was questionable, Scotch would serve us well. Or adding a little Scotch to that water might kill off some of the pathogens.

Eating savory cheese elevates thirst. Be careful slaking thirst with Scotch. Know your capacity! However, if you have a hard time appreciating Scotch you may want to try a little artisan cheese alongside it. Cheese has a special way of softening the jolt.

In a recent Single & Blended Scotch with Cheese class, we were impressed with the pairings: not a bad match among the 28 combinations, and several of them were remarkably delicious. The quality of the whiskeys had something to with this of course, and the selection of cheeses had at least as much to do with the many good matches.

The Isle of Arran 10 y.o. Single Malt was the leadoff Scotch – pairing well with Royale, Laguiole, Prima Donna, Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar, and exceptionally well with Sbrinz.

For anyone who insists that it be single malt, the blended 12 y.o. Isle of Skye was a little better with the Royale, and very nice with the Laguiole, Prima Donna, Sbrinz and the bold Prattigauer.

We were able to detect nuances in the cheeses by taking small sips with each of the whiskeys. Adding just a little water to each Scotch helped open up the flavors. It seemed that everyone in the class was in agreement about the relative successes, more so than in most wine or beer classes.

The star Scotch of the evening was Chieftain’s Glen Moray 18 y.o. from Speyside, which scored exceptionally well with most all of the cheeses including the Berkshire Blue. Only the Laguiole fell a little flat, not bad, but not nearly as thrilling as all the others. The Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddarwas a little dominating with this beautiful blend.

The Islay Smokehead single did not disappoint with any of the cheeses, and showed best with the two strongest cheeses in the group: Prattigauerand Berkshire Blue.

Conversely, the cheese standout partners for these various whiskeys were Royale and Sbrinz. These two cheeses have proven to be reliable partners for just about any beverage we have thrown their way, often yielding those elusive “marriages-made-in-heaven.”

The first time you try pairing Scotch with cheese you may miss some of the finer points of the exercise, especially if you guzzle the whisky. Having more than one Scotch helps to distinguish the cheeses one from another, just as having more than one cheese helps distinguish the whiskeys.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Sangiovese, Nice and Easy

Sangiovese is a varietal we often overlook; it could be partly because there were many inferior wines produced from this grape in the past, or because it is often blended with other high-pedigree varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, diluting its own characteristics. It has been blended with other varietals to yield some delicious wines. However part of the appeal of Sangiovese is its easy-drinking character, its graceful acceptance of other varietals in the mix, and its harmony with many foods, cheeses included.

Some Sangiovese successes have been noted recently in Napa yet the grape does not seem to grow quite as successfully much of anywhere else outside Tuscany, so it may also suffer from a lack of recognition on the worldwide stage. We are offering Sangiovese wines in more classes here at the Artisanal Cheese Center, not only the classes focused on Italian cheeses and wines, but in other classes too. This will allow us to pair our cheeses produced outside Italy with several Sangiovese wines. As the weather warms up, Sangiovese is sounding rather appealing, like a nice bottle for a picnic, accompanied by a little cheese and a crusty baguette.

Fortunately, some of the many cheeses that happen to pair well with Sangiovese make good picnic cheeses: goat, sheep, cow and mixed milk cheeses; from the lighter styles all the way up to and including some blues. These are some cheeses we have enjoyed with this varietal recently:

Abbaye de Belloc, Barely Buzzed, Cantalet, Cremont, Garrotxa, Gorgonzola Piccante, 4 y.o. Gouda, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoja Santa, Ibores, Manchego, Le Moulis, Pecorino Foglie di Noce, Pecorino Sardo, Roncal, Roquefort, Scharfe Maxx, Terraluna, and Vacherin Fribourgeois.

Considering how easy Sangiovese is on the pocket book you may want to add an extra wedge of cheese to your picnic basket. There is a good chance that it will make a nice match.

Max McCalman

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Valpolicella: Unusual and Versatile

I recall enjoying a Valpolicella at a northern Italian style restaurant several years ago. What is northern Italian style food, you may ask? Whether you are speaking of the cuisine of the Veneto where Valpolicella is produced, or you are speaking of the cuisine of the Piemonte, or the Val d’Aosta; whichever region: you will find a broad mix of locally produced agricultural products, cheeses and wines included.

The “king” of Italian wine varietals is Nebbiolo, the noble grape whose juice goes into the production of Barolos and Barbarescos. This “king” status for Nebbiolo (Barolo in particular) makes these wines a little pricey. For a more “every-day red,” the more affordable Chianti Classico (made from Sangiovese) makes for a familiar style of red wine – nice, though technically not “northern” Italian. Somehow I knew that the Valpolicella would make a more suitable wine for the delicious food we selected; or was that the waiter’s suggestion?

The first sip of Valpolicella may catch you off guard, especially if it is a little aged. The more aged ones such as Ripasso della Valpolicella offer more depth than the “nouveau” styles, though they are not nearly as massive as the Amarones. The lighter Valpolicelli are easy-drinking and are relatively low in alcohol. In the production of Ripasso the wine maker adds the leftover grape skins and seeds for extra maceration. This makes for a “bigger” wine, a type that can hold up to many of the more assertive cheeses.

A large part of the success of Valpolicella must be credited to the winemakers, whose blends of the grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) shape the flavors of their wines. The blended wines often succeed as partners for cheeses, more often than the 100% varietal wines. Kind of like the “best-of-both-worlds” in cheese making: cheeses crafted from mixed milks are usually successful with a broader variety of wine types.

We found several lovely matches for a Valpolicella Ripasso recently: Formaggio Capra, Pecorino Sardo D.O.P., Fontina Val d’Aosta, Capra Ubriaco al Traminer, Ubriaco Prosecco, Piave, and Gorgonzola Piccante.

Max McCalman

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Riesling, the Sommelier’s White

Many people dismiss Riesling, some people refuse the noble grape. It reminds me of how some people feel about goat cheeses, the number one no-no I hear from people contemplating a selection of cheese. They will accept any type except for goat. Not that some people may have an aversion to Riesling the way some people have an aversion to goat cheeses, yet many people skip right over the Riesling section of a wine list and choose any other white wine instead. This aversion could be partly due to the many inferior versions produced from this grape; most of them produced in the past, thankfully.

One reason Riesling is often called a sommelier’s grape is because of its versatility with many foods, cheeses included. When few other wines make suitable matches for the different courses served to a party of four, Riesling may be the right call.

As with other varietals, it is a grape that can yield different styles, though in the case of Riesling especially, they will be recognizably “Riesling.” Rarely found in blends, it is aged in stainless steel more often than oak barrels. This gives a more recognizably “Riesling” aroma and flavor to the wines. The leaner vinifications will have their successes with lighter cheeses, while the bigger and botrytized versions will pair better with the bolder cheeses. Regardless, Riesling will come through for you more often than not.

Some recent cheese successes include Alp Drackloch, Appenzeller, Beaufort, Beermat, Comté, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, La Peral, Le Moulis, Manchego, Morbier, Mousseron Jurassien, Pawlet, Piave, Pecorino Foglie Noce, Swiss Raclette, Sainte-Maure, Sbrinz, Scharfe Maxx, Selles sur Cher, Stanser Rotelli, Tarentaise, Thomasville Tomme, Toma Maccagno, Tomme Fermier d’Alsace, Tomme de Savoie and Vacherin Fribourgeois.

By the way, if you happen to be someone who is not so fond of Riesling, try one of those stinky wash-rind cheeses with the orange rinds. No other varietal will match this family of cheeses nearly as well. You may become a new fan for Riesling.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Zinfandel, an Easy Cheese Partner: Many Successes, Few Misses

Picholine restaurant’s guests who were considering a cheese course usually wanted to try a variety of cheese types (with my encouragement) and they usually wanted to try several (ditto); the average number being about five. Some people would have as many as nine or more cheeses, while a few guests wanted only one or two. Once the selection was determined the question arose, which wine to have with their cheese course. I recommended certain cheese types if they had wine in their glasses, or if they indicated a preference for a particular wine type. Usually however the focus was on the cheese selections, with wine as an after-thought. This was how most people approached this course – with the cheese selection preceding that of the wine.

This happens in other situations: the wine “person” counterpart asks me which cheeses I want to use at an event so they can select the wines around my choices. I let them know that the wines should be chosen first, as diplomatically as I can, that the wines should “drive the bus.” Besides, the cheeses tend to show up when they want to, whereas you can secure the wines well in advance.

A few Picholine diners asked for an appropriate “dessert” wine: port, Sauternes, Madeira sweeter Muscat, etc. Most people chose to stick with table wines, and if they did not already have a glass of something else they would usually ask for a red. Whenever this happened (which was very often) I would look over the several cheese types and think: that cheese pairs well with most Pinot Noirs, that one is better with Merlot, that cheese is nice with Cabernet Sauvignon, and that one does not work with any red, except maybe a Zinfandel. Ah yes, a Zinfandel, which would actually hold up well with all of those cheeses!

Zinfandel became the default red wine partner for those mixed groupings of cheeses. As I looked over my catalog of cheese and wine pairings, I found successful matches with a full range of cheese types: fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, goat, sheep, wash-rinds, bloomy rinds, Goudas, and blues. Several pairings were outstanding and only a very few disappointed.

Its twin sister, the Primitivo of southern Italy, has similar successes with cheeses, though not nearly as many as the California Zinfandels. This follows the relative successes for other varietals, those of the New World and those of the Old. The more austere styles of the Old World are just that, a little more austere compared to the more gregarious wines of the New.

Some recent successes we have enjoyed with our Zinfandels include Manchego, Idiazábal, Appenzeller, Gorgonzola Piccante, Gruyère, Mahón, Le Moulis, La Peral, Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave, Prattigauer, Quicke’s Cheddar, Stanser Rotelli, Taleggio. The Gamay grape is another red varietal that marries well with many cheeses, though most people seem to prefer reds with a little more backbone, like a Zinfandel.

Max McCalman