Welcome spring! We saw you creeping around the corner in March and couldn’t wait for you to arrive. Now, blossoms are bursting out along El Camino Real and in local neighborhoods.
Travel outside of town, and the evidence of spring is all the more apparent. On a recent drive through west Sonoma County, fields were dotted with lambs and kids, reminding me that one of the most exciting things about spring is the arrival of fresh milk on goat and sheep farms in Northern California. Which has me thinking – it’s time to talk wine and cheese pairings.
Pairing wine and cheese is as classic as it gets. There is great culinary joy in experimenting with how wines and cheese complement and contrast with one another. When a wine and cheese match, they elevate their congruent characteristics. Chardonnay is great with Brie, for instance, because of their shared creamy qualities.
When the pairing is made because of the ways the food and wine differ, they create balance and highlight nuances. A great example of a contrasting pairing is the way Zinfandel cuts the richness of Double Gloucester.
Cheese board bliss
A tasty way to bridge the seasons between winter and spring is a cheese board dinner that spotlights winter vegetables, spring berries, pickles and cheeses. Sparkling wines will go the distance when you put them up against a diverse cheese board. The carbonation and high acidity of wines with fizz provide palate-cleansing benefits when paired with all manner of soft, blue and hard cheeses. I like De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut (under $15) for its petite but charmingly dense bubbles. Peach and limestone attributes make the sparkler ideal for every item on my spring cheese board.
For a very specific cheese and wine pairing to try this spring, head to Draeger’s Market in Los Altos and pick up wine department manager Emmett Welch’s recommended pairing, which he served during an Italian wine lesson.
“The 2013 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($40) paired with Pecorino Toscano Stagionato (aged pecorino cheese from Tuscany), with some Malvasia delle Lipari Passito poured on top, is a pairing I’ll never forget,” Welch said.
Making the cheese
Learning about the cheese-making process is a surefire way to take your cheese game to a new level.
The Beginning Cheese Making Course offered by Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz (growbetterveggies.com) teaches students how to make chèvre, mozzarella and feta. After completing the course with friends, I marinated homemade chèvre in olive oil, Meyer lemon, thyme and peppercorns and served it with a 2016 Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc ($12). The ripe citrus aromas of the wine paired beautifully with the briny and fresh marinated cheese.
Nicole Easterday is a true cheese sherpa, helping urbanites navigate the path to home-farmers and fermenters through her East Bay business FARMcurious (farmcurious.com). For her truly delightful Hands-On Brie-Making with Sommelier-Led Wine Pairing course, Easterday partners with Silicon Valley-based sommelier Melissa Smith, who orchestrates a stunning bloomy cheese and wine pairing session while students wait for their curd to set.
Smith, the woman behind the sommelier services business Enotrias (enotrias.com), considers the milk the cheese is made from and the aromatics added to the cheese to create her palate-exploding pairings. The 2016 Cascina Alberta Langhe Nebbiolo ($20) she paired with a pungent soft cheese was a standout for me.
When my bloomy cheese was ready to eat after five weeks of fermenting in my fridge, we enjoyed it with another of Smith’s picks – Idlewild Wines’ 2016 The Flower, Flora & Fauna Mendocino County Rosé ($20) – and were so happy we did.
Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.
Meyer Lemon Marinated Chèvre
• 4 ounces chèvre
• 1 1/2 cups olive oil
• Zest of Meyer lemon (take wide strips with a peeler, being careful not to remove pith)
• 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme
Cut cheese and place on small board. Set in refrigerator uncovered overnight to dry out slightly. Place cheese cubes into medium-sized mason jar. Add all other ingredients and allow to marinate at least eight hours but ideally overnight.