Hello, my friends! Can you believe the holiday season is upon us? I can scarcely believe it myself. But you know what holiday season means? LOTS OF CHEESE. I had the great opportunity to guide and plan a very special wine and cheese session last week, and I wanted to share the results with you! Hopefully you can snag a few of these pairings for your own holiday festivities!
I knew my audience was not familiar with the wonders of American artisanal cheese, so I limited myself to just American cheeses for the evening. The person in charge of the wine chose all his favorite wines from primarily France and the US. Here’s what we put together!
Alemar Cheese Blue Earth + 2014 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc
Alemar Cheese Company’s Blue Earth was born from its older brother Bent River, when cheesemaker/proprietor Keith Adams used some larger cheese forms on leftover Bent River curds. Now, Blue Earth has come into its own. It’s got a light, creamy texture, and a butter, hay, and slightly mushroom flavor. The wine, with 65% Viognier, offered a delicate blend of a citrus, apricot, floral nose, well-balanced body, and long finish. As soon as I tasted this combo, I knew the rest of the evening was going to go very well.
Capriole Goat Farm Sofia + 2012 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge
Sofia, as you may know by now, is one of my favorite cheeses made in America. Its velvety, smooth texture and flavor full of umami, earth, citrus, and a bit of pepper makes me so happy. We paired it with this lovely, Syrah-heavy Côtes du Rhône that featured a well-rounded body, lower levels of tannins, and notes of strawberries and blueberries, along with a slightly peppery finish.
Landmark Creamery Anabasque + 2014 E. Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph Blanc
Anabasque is made in Wisconsin, but is inspired by Ossau Iraty—that famed French sheep’s cheese made in the Pyrenees mountain region. It has a beautiful texture–slightly biting, but largely smooth and rich, and notes of toasted almonds, sweet grass, and a little bit of duskiness. Our wine pairing was gorgeous. Its bright, sunny color gave me a hint to the rest of it. Its nose contained notes of toasted nuts, lemon zest, pear, and peaches, and honeysuckle. It was much more full-bodied than the first wine, but was not overwhelmingly oaky. Yes, please.
Jacobs & Brichford Ameribella + 2014 Le Roc La Folle Noire d’Ambat
Ameribella is a smelly, creamy beauty of a cheese. I love the slight bite in the rind, and the lactic, salty, umami notes in the paste. We paired it with this wine from the Fronton region in Southwest France. It has dusty, dusky notes of dark cherry and flowers—like roses and freesia. The nose was pretty incredible, bordering on mind-blowing! It had smooth tannins and a lingering finish.
Spring Brook Farm Ashbrook + 2014 Château de Javernand “Indigène”
Ashbrook is one of my go-to party cheeses, and I was glad to share it with this crowd! Spring Brook Farm is linked to Farms For City Kids, a non-profit organization that introduces the farm life to urban-dwelling kids. The cheese-making was developed as a way to support Farms For City Kids’ mission. Ashbrook is made in the style of Alpine style cheeses—in large format wheels, 20 lbs. each. It has a slight peanut buttery note to it, along with a bit of earth. I love this cheese, and can easily eat a 4 oz piece for snack time! We paired it with a lovely, unusual Beaujolais with an intense floral nose with notes of lily of the valley, peonies, and berries. I immensely enjoyed the fine mouthfeel, well-roundedness, and elegant finish.
Uplands Cheese Rush Creek Reserve + 2014 Varner Bee Block Spring Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Cruz
Knowing the gourmand persuasion of my audience, I decided to break out the Rush Creek Reserve for them, that rich, bacony, beefy, raw milk, spoonable, seasonal cheese all the cheesemongers lunge for. The crowd went wild, and all was well! We paired it with what may well be the best American chardonnay I have ever tasted. It went perfectly with the cheese, too, featuring a well-balanced, full flavor that never descended into the oaky kitsch of so many American Chards. Like all the other wines of the evening, it was well-balanced, but with a considerable body to stand up to such a meaty cheese. I got notes of pear, apple, stone, brambles, and a bit of oak on the nose. Do yourself a favor and try this pairing!
Rogue Creamery Rogue River Blue + 2005 Clemens Barsac
To finish the tasting on a sweeter note, I included Rogue River Blue, a seasonal blue cheese by Rogue Creamery in Oregon. Aged for 15 months, it is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in pear eau de vie. I love the flavors of this cheese—at once complex and fruity, with notes of blackberry, pear, spices, and a bit of a peppery finish. The wine was a rich, sweet wine with notes of honey (lots of honey), candied fruit, and a slight nutty finish. This is the dessert cheese tasting to finish 2016 on.
By the end of the tasting, everyone was appropriately full and jovial. It was a great start to the holiday season for me! I got to learn some new wines, and share some of my favorite American cheeses with a welcoming crowd!
You can purchase the cheeses at Cheese Plus in San Francisco, as well as your local fine cheese shop.
You can find most, if not all, of these wines at K & L Wines.
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