There Is No Good Day Without Cheese .. and a Glass of Wine!

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There Is No Good Day Without Cheese .. and a Glass of Wine!

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home." ~Edith Sitwell

Years ago I was on a great trip to Bordeaux, France. It was one of those super-hot summers in July and one of the strong memories that will last a lifetime. Amidst hotel rooms without air conditioning, blue steak (beyond very rare meat) interspersed between news of Mad Cow Disease, and the fantastic 2000 vintage barrel samples at top chateaus, were the many amazing cheeses that we had after every meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were topped with amazing cheese selections. I gained a pound or two but had a marvelous time.

What made me think of this? Merliance (a.k.a. the Long Island Merlot Alliance), organized a fantastic wine and cheese degustation at Artisanal Cheese called "Meet the Winemakers." Hosted by the fabulous fromager master and author Max McCalman and enriched by winemakers Russel Hearn (Suru and T'Jara Vineyards), Gille Martin (McCall Wines and Sherwood House Vineyard), John Leo (Clovis Point) and myself representing Wölffer Estate.

It was a fantastic tasting of 7 wines – each from a different member of the Alliance – including the new 2010 Merliance, the combined blend of six different merlots from six Long Island wineries.

It was very interesting to taste the differences in each wine and what was even more interesting was to see how the wines showed with the six different cheeses that Max had chosen. The cheeses where arranged on plates according to flavor intensity on the Artisanal CheeseClock. We were told to start at the six o'clock position on our plates with the softest and mildest cheese, progressing in a clockwise direction to ever intensifying flavors and texture, finishing with a powerful blue cheese.

This was a great way to put all the wine and cheese pairings on a level playing field and keep your palate from becoming overwhelmed and fatigued.

I highly recommend such a tasting in your own home. It is fun and educational and really forces you to focus on the cheeses and wines in an order that heightens the tasting experience.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the cheeses that you buy/serve are at a perfect ripening level and have warmed up to a nice room temperature.
  • Follow the idea behind the Artisanal CheeseClock, working your way from mild to strong.
  • Create each cheese platter by arranging a slice of each cheese leaving each part of the wedge intact to feature each cheese's appearance.
  • I recommend serving lots of fresh bread/baguettes.
  • Make sure the wines have had a chance to breath and are not too warm - slightly below room temperature; red wine is often served too warm and white wine is often served too cold.
  • Make sure you have tasting notes for the cheeses and the wines. It's fun to compare your own notes with that of the wine or cheese maker.

When you're done tasting, follow up with a good green salad, fresh fruits, and how about a classic cheese fondue?! This can be accompanied by either some light refreshing white wines or a rich, lush red (both from Long Island of course!).

And remember, whoever loses their bread in the fondue has to tell a joke, sing a song, or have another prearranged task/punishment that the group previously agreed to. It makes for a fun night!

Cheese Fondue

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Gruyère cheese, coarsely shredded
  • 1/2 lb. Emmentaler cheese, coarsely shredded
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup dry Long Island white wine
  • 1 oz kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • Crusty bread cubes for dipping, and hard salami and small dill pickles, for serving

Directions

In a bowl, toss the Gruyère and Emmentaler with the cornstarch. Rub the inside of a cheese fondue pot or medium, enameled cast-iron casserole with the garlic, then add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese mixture all at once. Using a wooden spoon, stir over moderately low heat just until the cheese is melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the bread, salami, and pickles.

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