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Posts Filed Under The ‘Quicke’s Cheddar’ Category

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

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Pinot Noir, in all its Guises

When we think of noble grape varieties, there are few that surpass the expectations demanded of Pinot Noir. The range in textures found in Pinot Noir is wide, the perfume is variable, yet the typical “Pinot” flavors are a little more predictable, flavors being flavors.

Pinot Noir has been called a sommelier’s grape. This is partly because it makes for a pleasant wine in most cases and it agrees with many foods. To “agree” with many foods is one thing, to “love” a food is quite another. And so it is with cheeses. Pinot Noirs seem to get along fairly well with many cheeses (except for most goats and most blues) yet it rarely falls head over heels with any type. Might it be said that this grape is comfortable in its own thin skin?

Some of the fruitier wines of this grape have greater success with the more assertive cheeses but a Pinot Noir that can stand up to a blue cheese is a rare sighting. I urge caution with that exercise; you will not want to shatter your gorgeous Pinot Noir with a bossy blue cheese. Once you have introduced that blue in the mouth, your wine will never be the same. However if you want to grow your catalog of successful cheese pairings for this varietal I recommend that you experiment with as many cheese types as you can find, keeping in mind that the pairings are more about the synergies between the cheese and the Pinot Noir, and less about the assessment of either partner. Putting cheeses and wines together can dramatically alter one’s appreciation for a cheese or a wine. The pairing principles apply to Pinot Noir no less than they do to other varietals: balance of fruity and savory, harmony of acidities, relative “size” of flavors of each, the complementing textural components, and the confluence of aromatics.

There are some notable cheese surprises to be realized with Pinot Noir. One blue cheese that actually performs rather well with a Burgundy Pinot is Roquefort. Granted, the Roquefort is outstanding and most Burgundy Pinot Noirs are no slackers either. The salt in the Roquefort contributes to the success of this match. Salt has a distinct way of highlighting the fruit in wines.

Another surprise I discovered with Pinot Noirs years ago was how well they paired with cheddars. Some say that cheddar is best paired with beer. Would that be because wines (Pinot Noirs included) did not have successful plantings in cheddar’s native land, southwest England? A little shortsighted, I say.

Pinot Noir marries most successfully with cow cheeses, young to well-aged. The bloomy rinds like Camembert and Pierre Robert can balance this varietal well, and the younger wash rinds such as Epoisses and Taleggio are good matches too. Again, the salt content in these helps flatter the grape. The pressed firm cow cheeses such Le Moulis and Tomme de Savoie find good synergies; Cantalet and the aforementioned Cheddars pair very well. The aged Alpine styles such as Tarentaise, Beaufort, Hittisau, Hoch Ybrig, and Prattigauer; all make good partners. The extra-aged 4 year old Gouda and Sbrinz dovetail nicely with most Pinot Noirs.

There are a number of successes to be found with the sheep milk cheeses, such as the Ossau Iraty, and with the mixed milk cheeses that include sheep milk, such as the Robiola due Latti.

Remember to be careful with the goat cheeses and the blues! These families of cheeses can take the fun out of your Pinot Noir. This likable varietal finds its preferred cheese partners in the middle part of the CheeseClock™.

Max McCalman

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Merlot, no Wallflower

Merlot had been largely relegated to the role of blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, even though it is the most widely planted varietal in France today. The varietal suffered from an identity crisis for many years, and it still does, to an extent. California has been planting more Merlot lately, to the point that it will soon be one of the largest growing regions in the world for this varietal. Notable successes of varying weights are coming from Napa alone.

As with most grapes, the Merlot has its unique demands from its growing regions, or you could say that it yields different styles depending on the qualities of the terroir where it is grown as well as the goal of the wine maker. This is why lighter Merlots pair a little better with some cheeses and the bigger Merlots line up a little better with others. Regardless of the resulting styles, Merlot in all its dimensions marries very well with many cheese types and it clashes badly with only a few. That being said, Merlot should not be taken lightly, even though it has a “light” red wine reputation. When the rare cheese clashes occur with Merlot it is important that we do not “blame” the cheese. The wine may be delicious and the cheese may be delicious but sometimes they do not get along. Like a great guy and a great gal, they are simply not compatible. People can easily blame the cheese. This is one reason why it helps to first assess cheeses and wines on their own.

Merlot is no pushover. The grape should not be taken for granted. Looking over our cheese pairings we find that 100% goat milk cheeses do not make the Merlot cut, though there are a few cheeses with some goat milk in the mix that pair okay. It would be interesting to see if the “no-goat” cohort among cheese lovers might also be Merlot fans. The blues can also challenge the Merlots somewhat. The elevated butyric acids in blues are part of the problem. Merlot wines are not noted for their acidity – sufficient acid to harmonize with the acid levels in most blues. The more fruit-forward Merlots can match some of the mellower blues nicely but even those matches are rare. On the other end of the pH scale, the thistle rennet sheep cheeses do not balance the Merlots so well; those cheeses (Serpa, Torta del Casar, Azeitão, Serena, etc.) have a little bitter note which the Merlots do not. This suggests that Merlots pair better with the cheeses that are more middle-of-the-road on the pH scale. Relative acidities influence the success of cheese and wine pairings.

The traditional rennet sheep cheeses such as the Ossau Iraty, Pecorino Sardo DOP, Abbaye de Belloc, Idiazábal and Royale; all of these make excellent partners for the Merlots. Bloomy rind cheeses such as Lillé and Chaource, cheese types that can be especially challenging to other wines can pair nicely with the Merlots. Among the cow cheeses, some of the wash-rind cheeses can pair well with this varietal, Dorset among them. The basic pressed and cheddar-style cow cheeses make good candidates for Merlot: Windsordale, Cantalet, Brazos Cheddar, Le Moulis, and Tomme de Savoie (another cheese that can be challenging with many wines). The huge-flavored 4 yr. old Gouda and Roomano dissolve nicely with Merlot, tyrosine crystals and all; as well as most of the Alpine styles: Comté, Appenzeller, Hoch Ybrig, Gruyère and Scharfe Maxx. It is interesting to note that Merlot is one of the few successful red varietals grown in Switzerland. Then there is the majestic Sbrinz; that cheese gets along with most wines, reds and whites.

If you happen to find a little Merlot left in your glass at the end of your meal, try a couple of these cheeses alongside it. The finish will be memorable.

Max McCalman

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Pilsner Picks Cow

Originally Posted at BrewingSomeFun.com

We may consider Pilsners to be on the light side of the beer spectrum but this does not mean they should be taken lightly. When it comes to pairing them with cheeses the Pilsners can hold their own with some of the big guns, stinky cheeses included.

cow 1 Pilsner Picks Cow

The water used to produce the best Pilsners is softened; this helps give them clarity and it allows the hop aromas and flavors to come forth. These distinct aromas and flavors is what give Pilsners their heft, while the alcohol contents of most of them remain moderate. This hop-forwardness of Pilsners can present pairing challenges to some of the milder goat cheeses, whereas other less flavorful lagers can meld pretty well with that family of cheese types.

Not to over-analyze it but we want to mindful of the potential for mismatches, particularly when they occur with goat cheeses. The goat cheeses can clash with some beverage partners, while on the other hand, the good goat cheese matches can be sublime. When the clashes do occur we just want to make sure that we don’t blame the goat! Goat cheeses have been much-maligned long enough. As I have noted over the years, the first no-no I get from people contemplating a selection of cheeses is the avoidance of goat.

The second no-no we hear when people select their cheeses is to skip the blues; almost as many people shy away from the blue cheeses as those that skip the goats. On the blue (strong) end of the cheese spectrum is where the Pilsners may also falter. For most cheese categories in between these two bookend cheese types, the milder goats and the big bad blues, Pilsners perform admirably. To savor the finer qualities in a Pilsner you may want to skip over the blues.

If we skip the mild young goat cheeses and the blues (but do not entirely write either of them off) we can find a broad grouping of cheeses that are Pilsner friendly: most cows, some sheep cheeses (which tend to be versatile with more beverages anyway) and some mixed milk cheeses. The pressed sheep milk cheeses such as the Bianco Sardo, Ossau Iraty, or Stella Royale have their own full aromas that can balance the aromas in the Pilsners.

The wash-rind cow cheeses pair especially well with the Pilsners, younger to older. The meaty aromas in the cheeses provide the balance to the beers. This should be no surprise since these cheese types have long been produced in the regions where the Pilsners first flourished:Czechoslovakia and Germany. When you are enjoying some of these stalwart cheese types, you may look for something refreshing in your beverage as a counterpoint, like a Pilsner. Of the more aged ones, try the Andeerer Schmuggler, the Appenzeller, the Hittisau, the Prattigauer, and the Uplands Pleasant Ridge. For the younger, stinkier cow cheeses, try the Abbaye de Tamié or the Edwin’s Munster.

There are a couple of other cow cheese categories that fit the bill: the cheddar types and the cooked curd or Gouda types. The success with the Pilsners can be attributed to the “sharpness” in those cheeses: the acid, the salt, as well as the texture. When you have all these pronounced qualities in cheeses a chilled Pilsner can be just the ticket. The Gouda, 4 y.o.; the Roomano; the Terraluna or the Quicke’s Cheddar; any of these leave a happy ending in the mouth and tummy.