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Traci Lee
September 8, 2011 | Traci Lee

Contrasting Flavors: A Bright Italian Red with a Washed Rind Pecorino

I love the combination of two opposite flavors that are enjoyable alone, but taste better together.  Over the weekend, I found an incredible Italian pair: Pecorino Ginepro, a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese paired with Quattro Mani Barbera, a juicy red wine from Piedmont.

Quattro Mani Barbera Piemonte 2010 is a red wine from the Italian grape variety Barbera.  This grape is known for its deep color, low tannins and high acidity level and this bottle appropriately captures each traditional quality.  On the nose, this wine has an aroma of sweet plum and light spice, and is youthful, fruit-forward and extremely approachable on the palate with a bright acidity, plum, and blackberry flavors, and a soft finish.

The producer, Quattro Mani, translates to "four hands", and consists of a few celebrity-status Italian winemakers, each with a strong tie to the land and a comittment to substainable farming practices.  Collectively, they produce Barbera, Montepulciano, Tocai, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco.  Quattro Mani Barbera is produced by the skilled winemaker Danilo Droco who was described as "One of the Great Names of Piedmontese Winemaking" by Robert Parker earlier this year. 

Pecorino Ginepro, a truly beautiful cheese from the Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, is tangy and zippy, with a dark, woody rind.  It is a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese is aged 4-6 months and washed in balsamic vinegar and soaked with crushed juniper berries (ginepro is Italian for juniper).  The powerful rind on this cheese is delicious, which in itself, is a great compliment to the softer, salty heart of this Pecorino. 

Paired with Quattro Mani Barbera, the Balsamic flavor of the rind is intensified and the red fruit of the young wine partners with the cheese to soften the acidity, and together, the wine tastes as though it has experienced a few years in the bottle.  The salty cheese's juniper flavor is mouthwatering, and does not overbear the wine's best qualities, creating a very smooth flavor profile. Absolutely outstanding.

Time Posted: Sep 8, 2011 at 5:49 AM Permalink to Contrasting Flavors: A Bright Italian Red with a Washed Rind Pecorino Permalink Comments for Contrasting Flavors: A Bright Italian Red with a Washed Rind Pecorino Comments (1)
Traci Lee
August 1, 2011 | Traci Lee

What is Cheddar?

Over the years, I have been asked an uncountable number of quesions about Cheddar.   Unfortunately, the question is rarely about the country of origin, milk type or even a wine that pairs best.  The most asked question is usually presented in a soft voice that suggests I’m-embarrassed-to-ask, but... “Is cheddar cool?” The answer is always the same, YES! Cheddar is super cool, but it is widely misunderstood. 

The concept of Cheddar is often based on the yellow/orange, grocery store stuff we were introduced to as kids, but true English Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. The name “Cheddar Cheese” does not have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the European Union, however Cheddar produced from local milk within four counties of South West England may use the PDO name "West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.”  Basically, this means the cheese was never legally defined, resulting in an unbearable number of undeserving cheeses using the name on their label. This has created confusion for genuine and delicious British Farmhouse Cheddar, and often an un-cool personality in the minds cheese shoppers.

The Real Stuff
This cheese originates from the village named Cheddar, located in Somerset, in South West England and is produced from local raw milk, using the cheese making method of “cheddaring,” which is cutting the curds into blocks and strategically stacking, by-hand, to eliminate whey. After large format wheels are created, the slabs are bandaged in a cloth wrap, and then aged for at least 11 months (often much longer) in high temperatures and humidity.  This creates a firm texture, that literally melts in your mouth and typically yields a hint of sharpness, as well as a mild and elegant flavor.  Cheddar is often crumbly, and may have a slight crunch on the tongue due to large crystals of calcium lactate formed during the aging process.  Personally, I call the crystals cheese diamonds, as they are found in perfectly aged cheeses!

Below are two of my favoite Cheddars, and a few pairing wines. Email me when you try the wines, the cheeses or the pairings, I would love to hear your feedback!

Keen’s Cheddar – The Moorhayes family have been producing this award winning Cheddar in Somerset, England since 1899 using raw milk and the same recipe for generations. This cheese is distributed in the US through Neal’s Dairy Yard, I point this out, as this name is often listed on menus! Keen’s Cheddar has a slight sweetness, along with a complex nutty flavor.

Wine Pairing: Sherman & Hookers Shebang Red North Coast, from California’s North Coast. Sherman & Hooker is a project by Morgan Twain-Peterson, the son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson. He also produces wine under the cult-ish Bedrock Cellars label. It is a blend of 80% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Marsanne/ Roussanne/Grenache Blanc. This wine is full of red fruit flavors, that pair incredibly well with Cheddar, and it's a great value!

Quicke's Cheddar – Mrs. Mary Quicke manages a farm of 340 grass-fed cows in Devon, England and produces raw milk wheels of firm, creamy, yet sharp cheddar.  Order this cheese online at Murray's Cheese!

Wine Pairing: Chateau Helene Corbieres Penelope Rouge Tradition 2009 is a fresh, aromatic red blend of 40% Syrah 30% Grenache, and 30% Carignan from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. This wine is organically produced and aged in concrete vats, and offers dried fruit and earth on the nose, while the palate is full and ripe with plum, raspberry, spice and smoke. The acidity is a perfect balance to the creamy texture of Quicke’s Cheddar.  With our mix-and-match discount, this wine is a steal at $11.89!

Time Posted: Aug 1, 2011 at 1:02 PM Permalink to What is Cheddar? Permalink
Traci Lee
February 22, 2011 | Traci Lee

A Favorite Pairing

Domaine Constant Duquesnoy Vinsobres is from a leading producer in the Cote-de-Rhone village of Vinsobres and offers a beautiful pepper and violet aroma as soon as the bottle is opened.  This domain was established in 2004 by a Belgian businessman who had long dreamed of becoming a winemaker and was granted appellation status in 2005. This wine is made from 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah and offers a much higher quality that its price tag would suggest.

I typically enjoy a deep, dark wine such as this with full-bodied dishes, such as chili or stew, but find that they are often difficult to pair with an artisanal cheese because the weight and texture dominates the flavor.  However, when this generalization is proved wrong, it tastes just right! 

Roomano, a cow's milk cheese from Holland displays similar characteristics to an aged Gouda, but contains less butterfat than Gouda's required 48%, making it sharp and crunchy.  Distinctly salty with flavors of butterscotch, carmel and toffee, this cheese is perfect for grating over a crisp salad, shredded over chili, or sprinkled on popcorn!  I can't think of another cheese that literally pairs with everything, and is the perfect snacking cheese.       

Paired together, a distinct contrast of spice, sweetness and salt balance on the palate, with a strong intensity and great finish, creating one of my favorite pairings to date.

Time Posted: Feb 22, 2011 at 7:42 PM Permalink to A Favorite Pairing Permalink Comments for A Favorite Pairing Comments (1)
Traci Lee
January 18, 2011 | Traci Lee

A Balanced Pair

I opened a bottle of Conn Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Prologue to enjoy with a wedge of Spring Brook Tarentaise, both medium-to-full bodied, with fruit-forward notes and a long finish. I made the assumption this would be a balanced pair based on the weight and flavor characteristics shared by both the wine and the cheese and it worked. In terms of pairing, I always seek balance, meaning all the attributes are in harmony, with none either too prominent or deficient.

This Cab is bold enough to stand up to the swissy, Alpine-style cheese without overbearing its flavor, creating the desired balance. I love the wine, and I love the cheese, but they are actually better together, rather than on their own. Hands down the best pairing of the week!

Founded in 1983, Conn Valley Vineyard is located where Conn Creek flows out of Howell Mountain. This wine, hailing from California's North Coast, sees 18 months in 60-gallon French oak barrels before bottling. The oak is only a minor influence, which supports bright blackberry and currant fruit, cedar, and a touch of chocolate on the long finish.

Produced in Vermont, Tarentaise has a gruyere-like taste and an inspiring story: 

Spring Brook Farm learned the Tarentaise recipe from friends John and Janine Putnam, of nearby Thistle Hill Farm in Pomfret, VT and created a similar, yet distinctly different version to support a hands-on educational farm, enabling city kids to have a glimpse of country living. The organization, 'Farms for City Kids' offers hands-on learning, team and character building skills to the kids that work between the dairy barn‚ small animal barn‚ greenhouse‚ garden and dormitory. Their efforts result in traditional, well maintained dairy farm, which produces over 600,000 lbs. of milk each year, which is made into the tasty Tarentaise Cheese.  

Time Posted: Jan 18, 2011 at 2:00 PM Permalink to A Balanced Pair Permalink