Last Saturday I attended The Big Cheesy, an event to discover and vote on the best artisan grilled cheese in New York City. Seven vendors prepared their version of the much-loved grilled sandwich, in hopes to win this year's title. Upon arrival, I received a ping pong ball and my choice of a local brew from the event's sponsor, Six Point Brewery. Don't get excited, no beer pong here, the ball equals one vote, gathered into a large glass container by each vendor, and the one with the most, wins.
First up, Casellula's Griddled Fondue Sandwich with Pickled Pepper Relish, homemade garlic-nutmeg butter spread on Rye bread, with a combination of shredded cheese - 2 parts Scharfer Marx, 1 part Emmenthaler, and 1 part Gruyere, grilled until golden brown and topped with Pickled Pepper Relish. This combination of cheese, named for its perfect fondue-ability, is shredded for easy melting, and to blend the hearty flavors of each cheese. Try this at home! Sweet butter, spicy relish, great bread, mountain cheese - I'm having a hard time holding on to my ping pong ball... (email me for the butter and relish recipes!)
Next up, the quirky diner, Big Daddy's, has created Grilled Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon. In true Big Daddy's style, they have topped their sandwich with a traditional mac and cheese, threw on some bacon and have it held together with an oversize toothpick - and then they handed me a Jell-O shot. Woah. Moving on...
The Melt Shop, a new midtown restaurant dedicated to grilled cheese, serving not 1, but 3 varieties to taste: #1 - Sharp Cheddar with 12-hour braised pulled pork, McClure's pickels, and homemade bbq sauce on sourdough, not a grilled cheese, but a killer sandwich. #2 - Fontina and Goat Cheese with roasted wild mushrooms, and parsley pesto on sourdough. Delicious, but not better Casellula. #3 - Blue and Cheddar Cheese, cranberry pepper jam, Neuske's bacon on sourdough, good, but I can't really taste the blue cheese, and if we've had a cheese conversation, you probably know how much I love blue cheese.
Tartinery, a fantastic spot on Mulberry Street. Known for their French-style sandwiches, so I'm not surprised they have an open-faced creation: Croque Monsieru - Bechamel sauce, a fried egg, ham and Gruyere cheese piled on Poilane bread, with sprinkles of chopped scallions. I believe Tartinery makes one of the best breads available in NYC, and the ham is mouth-wateringly delicious - awesome! But again, it's not really a grilled cheese, so I'm taking my ping pong and going to...
Lucy's Whey, an American cheese shop located in East Hampton and NYC's Chelsea Market. Lucy's sandwich appeared simple and elegant, and that is exactly how it tasted. This grilled cheese is perfect, Prairie Breeze Cheddar with fig jam and olive oil, all in complete balance. This is the kind of grilled cheese I crave, and would love to have at home (and pair with an equally elegant Oregon Pinot Noir, such as Maysara Asha)! I have a couple more to taste, but I'm certain nothing will top this sandwich.
I make my way to our friends at Murray's Cheese, and appreciate the "ohh, make sure you get that one" tip, from a Cheesemonger. The Atomic Bomb - Braised Short Ribs, Taleggio, Caramelized onions, Piri Piri, fire roasted Jalapeno peppers, McClure's spicy pickle relish, and arugula on Pullman bread. Wow, this is a phenominal sandwich, and I will add this to my must-go-back-for -lunch list, but I'm having a hard time calling this a grilled cheese, it's a BBQ specialty!
Last one - Little Muenster, which has the longest line of them all. Intriguing. While waiting, the vendor passed out tastes of delicious tomato soup and Pinot Grigio, which was a nice touch, but I was so full, I could barely enjoy the accoutrements. Gruyere, Taleggio, Fontina, Membrillo (quince paste), and Prosciutto on organic bread, this is a solid grilled cheese, but the flavors don't pop out as much as I had hoped. However, their menu looks go enough to make a trip to the restaurant ASAP!
It's a tough decision, but my ping pong is definitely going to Lucy's Whey - simplicity has won my vote! After an afternoon of incredible flavors, I realize a perfect grilled cheese is up to your imagination. And just like wine, or all types of food, for that matter, your sandwich should fit your taste, and your ocassion - whether that means breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Suit your sandwich to your tastes, and you'll never go wrong.
If you have a favorite grilled cheese recipe or restaurant favorite, please post it in the comment section below!
Last night we partnered with O'Connells American Bistro for an outstanding seasonal Winter Wine Dinner, featuring five very creative courses, paired with hand-selected wines. Chef O'Connell's knock-out menu had a Southern, low-country theme and the wine pairings worked well with each dish.
The evening began with Montsarra Cava, a sparkling wine, produced from a careful blend of native grapes in Penedes, Spain, along with passed hors d'oeuvres, including Outerbanks Crab with spicy slaw and aioli, Braised Pork Shoulder with creamed corn, crispy onions and Crispy Fried Chicken, arugula, cowboy caviar (a tasty bed of beans). The bright, small-bubbled cava did a good job of refreshing the palate for the wide variety of flavors.
The atmosphere of O'Connells Bistro is warm and inviting, as well as stylish and sophisticated, which is also a great description for Chef O'Connell's menu - familiar foods with a twist. As we found our seats, the second course was served - "The Buffalo Fish Fry", paired with Chateau Musar Musar Jeune Blanc 2009. Let's start with the wine. This incredibly aromatic white wine from Lebanon is made of 40% Viognier, 30% Chardonnay, and 30% Vermentino. Musar is legendary, one of the most written and talked about wine producers in the world today. The wine is greenish-yellow in color and has an intriguing nose of peach, apricot and pineapple. The palate is dry, but has a subtle hint of sweetness from the stone and tropical fruit flavor. Musar Jeune is a food wine, and its medium-body worked well with the Fish Fry - a tempura dipped wild salmon, over a butter poached lobster hash with smoked nova salmon tartar sauce. As I was eating this dish, I had a hard time deciding which I enjoyed better, the salmon or the lobster hash, because a new favorite flavor came out in every bite!
The third course, Southern Style Grilled Duck paired with Castell'In Villa Chianti Classico 2008, arrived on the table and Eric Genau, our Wine Director, described his recent visit to this estate in Tuscany. It is a village, not a winery, at the southern edge of the Chianti Classico zone, owned by Princess Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. The estate has been in existence since the 13th century and much of her land is used primarily for hunting game and the region's famously delicious wild boar, which they serve in the village restaurant. The vines here are incredibly low yielding and Princess Coralia releases wines only when ready to drink, which is not common in the wine world today. The Chianti is big, with earthy flavors, which is a perfect match for Southern Style Grilled Duck, a sausage and roasted mushroom "stuffing", house sausage gravy & duck rinds. This dish is awesome. The seasoning and salt in the stuffing surround the duck, while bits of sausage jump out like flavor diamonds. The rustic, primative qualities of Castell'in Villa shine through this pairing, and I am magically transported back to Italy, tasting the local environment where this wine comes from.
Next up, Grilled Beef Tenderloin paired with White Rock Vineyards Napa Valley Claret 2007. Certified grass fed, hormone free, Montana range beef, bacon, green chili, dry cheddar grits, creamed greens and aioli, paired with a highly-rated wine from a small family estate located in the southern foothills of the Stag's Leap Range rising above the Napa Valley. Wow. White Rock's Claret has a distinct Bordeaux-like personality, which is not surprising since this is a classic left-bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The wine is smooth, sophisticated and approachable. It is a big, powerhouse wine, but it is really well-made and balanced. The well-intergrated tannins melt into the Beef Tenderloin and the earthy flavor marries the bacon, cheddar grits and greens elegantly.
Just when I thought I reached my limit, the All American Cupcake changed my mind - double sweetgrass valley chocolate and bacon cupcakes, with a peanut butter and maple mousse filling, and creamed peanut butter frosting. I expected the cupcake to be very dense and extremely rich, but it was actually quite light, with just the right amount of sweetness. We paired this decadent treat with Ferreira Tawny Porto, from the largest (and most popular) producer in Portugal. This tawny Port resembles a Ruby more than Tawny, offering a nice balance of fruit, oak and spice. Absolutely delicious.
If you joined us at the dinner, please comment on your favorite dish, wine or pairing! And if you missed this event, we hope to see you at another soon. For the most up to date schedule, check out our Monthly Events Calendar.
Monday evening, I sat in on The Harmony of Wine & Cheese class at Murray's Cheese, and enjoyed not one, but six successful, and delicious pairings. Eric Genau, our Wine Director, selected the wines and taught the class alongside Murray's Education Director, Sascha Anderson, who selected the cheese for the evening.
The great thing about this class is that the wine and cheese are chosen by pairing principles, and the first time the combinations are actually tasted together is during the class. This can lead to wine & cheese bliss, or a miss, but the experience is the best way to learn what you like, and don't like, which is the ultimate goal. When you are sitting in front of six wines and six cheeses, you have the opportunity to follow the rules or taste whatever you think might work well together. If you're eyeing the cheddar while sipping the bubbly, give it a try, you might find a new favorite!
We all have different palates and set of experiences that reflect what we believe tastes good, or bad. This is as simple as the preference of chips and salsa, over chips with a creamy dip. Maybe your taste buds enjoy the combination of salt and spice, or maybe you recently experienced the best salsa of your life while vacationing in Mexico, and ever since, the taste of salsa transports you to the beach, relaxing under the sun with great food and an ice cold beer in your hand - that personal state of happiness can make anything taste better.
Wine and cheese pairings work the same way, its about finding what appeals your taste buds and creating memoriable experiences. I list all six pairings of the night below, but let me tell you about my favorite...the third pair in the evening's line-up: Glatzer Grüner Veltliner 2011 and Winnimere.
Glatzer Grüner Veltliner is an aromatic white wine, produced by an extremely nice guy named Walter Glatzer, in the Carnuntum region of Austria. This wine has a golden straw-yellow color and an incredible fragrance. It is fresh and light on the palate, with a medium body and clinging finish.
Going back to my chips and salsa reference, this wine is really delicious, but it begs to be paired with something to make it better, it is truly a food wine. This is the same way I think about a salty tortilla chip - I enjoy it on its own, but it is better with a dip! Lucky for me, I'm sitting in cheese heaven, staring at a gooey dollop of Winnimere, from Jasper Hill Farms. This handmade, washed-rind, raw cow's milk cheese from is from Vermont and it stinks. The nose is dirty and woodsy, but don't let that scare you, the flavor is mild and harmonious. Winnimere is washed with a locally brewed beer and wrapped in a binding of spruce, which is handcut from a tree on Jasper Hill's property.
Much like salsa, my palate believes washed-rind cheese should part of a pairing - on a baquette, in mac & cheese, on a grilled cheese sandwich or with a beverage hearty enough to partner with the strong scent, without overbearing its subtle, creamy flavor. Glatzer's wine is a winner! Like any great pairing should, each component tastes better together, than it does alone.
The bright freshness of the white wine rounds out the sweet cream flavor of the cheese without making it too fatty, and the cheese exemplifies the fruit in the wine - making me want to enjoy more of both! This cheese is wrapped in heavy tree spruce, you can literally cut off the top of the round and dip your bread right into this gooey-goodness, while sipping a glass or two of Glatzer's Grüner - pairing bliss!
Here are the pairings we tasted at Murray's. If you are interested in hosting a wine and cheese evening with your friends, let us know, we would be happy to help make your selections!
Jean Louis Denois Brut Blanc de Blanc NV (France) with Brunet
Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini 2010 (Greece) with Tomme Chevre Aydius
Glatzer Gruner Veltliner 2011 (Austria) with Winnimere
Maysara Vineyards Pinot Noir 3 Degrees 2009 (Oregon) with Tarentaise
Castell'in Villa Chianti Classico 2008 (Italy) with Pecorino Foglie Di Noce
Ferreira Tawny Porto (Portugal) with Colston Bassett Stilton
I'm very excited about my first wine and cheese pairing of 2012, because both components are complex and flavorful: suberb on their own and marry together in a super surprising (and delicious) way - which is the #1 goal when creating a perfect pairing!
2010 Pighin Pinot Grigio Collio is a beautiful golden color and very aromatic with hints of hazelnut, white fruit and subtle spice. The palate is delicate, but expressive with layers of flavor, literally each sip brings out something new - if you don't think of enjoying white wine with food, give this a try! It is rich and earthy, medium to full-bodied and has a hint of peach, a ton of minerality and a textured mouth feel that is a very different from many Americanized, flat/light Pinot Gris you may have tasted and said "yuck". Azienda Fratelli Pighin is a magnificently beautiful family-owned estate located in the prestigious D.O.C Collio zone of Grave-del-Friuli, in northeast Italy, and they remain a benchmark producer for Pinot Grigio.
After enjoying a few sips of Pighin, I pick up a piece of very stinky Grayson, a gooey, golden, washed-rind cheese from Virginia. Meadow Creek's Grayson looks like Tallegio and smells like feet, which is great, considering this cheese is produced by the Feete family. This cheese smells dirty and straight from the barn, but tastes mild and amazing. It is creamy, with a thick paste that coats your mouth and I immediate think of using it in mac + cheese. The flavor is deep and hearty with onions and meaty beef on the palate, it could be a meal. The taste tames the scent and although it does smells like feet, Grayson will knock your socks off.
Once I have covered all of my tastebuds with the cheese, I take a hearty sip of the wine. It tastes like banana! In a good way. Thankfully I'm tasting with a number of others, confirming the banana burst and full-bodied tropical fruit that I find within this wine and cheese combination. The hazelnut flavor in the Pinot Grigio is also amplified when paired with the cheese and the meaty character of the cheese is humbled by the layers of fruit in the wine.
While both the Pighin and the Grayson are outstanding on their own, this pairing truly brings out the best of each other, while creating a new flavor together. That being said, a perfect pairing like this is able to work because 3 tasting principles are at work: the weight - each component is similar, medium to full bodied, with big aromatics, that greatly play into the what you experience while tasting. The texture - the wine and cheese "feel" similar in your mouth, they coat your tongue with creamy, smooth layers. Finally, the flavor - the wine is hearty and earthy, which is a great clue that the taste will be enhanced with food. The cheese is tastes like a meal itself, and of course, meals are always better with wine - I can't wait for you to try this combination! When you do, please post your thoughts here or share with our Facebook community!
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.
Last night I opened a bottle of Mas de Gourgonnier 2009 from Les Baux-de-Provence, a small village within Provence, in the south of France. As I tasted this delicious wine, I wondered about its home and decided to do a little research. First, I learned the village got its name from the aluminium ore Bauxite, which was first discovered there in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier.
But before I get too far into the region, let me tell you about this wine...
Mas de Gourgonnier 2009 offers sweet plum on the nose, with a hint of juniper and is a beautiful shade of raspberry red. Blackberry jumps out on the first sip, and lavender (typical of Provence wines) is introduced as the wine opens up. It is really well balanced, with a fresh acidity, a medium bodied structure, and a long finish.
This wine is a blend of 48% Grenache, 21% Cinsault, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Mourvèdre, and you can really taste each of the varietal components. The winemakers, Luc and Lucienne Cartier, have been farming in this picturesque countryside for years, and in addition to grapes, they produce olives, fruits and vegetables. It would pair wonderfully with a French goat cheese, such as Valencay, smoky cured meats and a variety of dishes, including the peppered grilled chicken that I prepared for dinner. The pepper flavor brought out a more herbaceous quality in the wine, that made this pairing very desirable. Eric (our Wine Director) has always said that this is one of his all-time favorite under-$20 wines. I understand why. This is the kind of everyday table wine that keeps you reaching for the next sip. Even better, Mas de Gourgonnier 2009 is only $13.59 with our mix-and-match discount!
About the Region
Located in the heart of Provence, in southeast of France, Les Baux-de-Provence gained AOC status in 1995 and is located within the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence AOC. This area has become a popular tourist destination, near the well-known cities of Arles, Avignon and Nimes. The village is home to many gourmet restaurants and charming hotels.
The climate is very hot, but thankfully the vineyards are centered on the village hilltop, providing perfect exposure to the cooling and drying mistral winds. Les Baux-de-Provence is the first French AOC to require all vineyards to farm biodynamically, which has become part of the terrior’s identity. Red wine accounts for 80% of the regions wine production and the most popular grapes include: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon often used, but can only account for 20% of a blend.
The Baux Valley is also olive-growing land and is considered the most beautiful in all of Provence. Three olive products are entitled to AOC designation – olive oil, cracked oils and black olives.
Wine Producers of Les Baux de Provence
Domaine Olivier d’Auge
Mas de la Dame
Mas Sainte Berthe
Domaine du Pas de l’Aigle
Domaine de Lauzières
Mas de Gourgonnier
Domaine de la Vallongue
Domaine de Terres Blanches
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! firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
Spending a romantic afternoon dining outdoors is one of my favorite summer activities, and having the right wine, food and cheese is always on top of my priority list. I think living in New York City has forced me to perfect my picnic-ablity - meaning packing just the right amount of outdoor accessories,
proper disposable dining supplies and a smart amount of food and drink, without carrying a kitchen-sized beach bag into the park.
When I first tasted Château Roquefort Côtes De Provence Rosé Corail 2010, I mentally began rearranging my perfectly-packed-picnic bag to fit 2 bottles, instead of one. This crisp, refreshing Rosé is aromatic, fruit-forward and lively, but also displays an elegant softness with sweet hints strawberry and raspberry. As I swished the wine over my palate, I imagined rays of sunshine glistening off the crystal clear water, as I sipped this perfectly pink wine, aboard a sailboat in Provence…ok, back to reality…
Over the weekend, I opened up a bottle of Corail to enjoy in the warm weather, after stopping by Murray's Cheese for Crottin de Chavignol, a classic French chevre. At only $5.99 a nugget, I expected a nice, enjoyable pairing, but was given much more! This little French round is only a bit larger than a marshmallow; with a similar pillow-like rind and a lushious, gooey inside. Big flavors of salt and lemon tang are packed in this small, goat’s milk cheese, with a rustic, yet mild flavored white rind. A sweet and salty characteristic is drawn out when the two are paired together – the salt from the cheese becomes a perfect partner for the sweet berry flavors of the Corail (which is an equally perfect picnic value at $14.44 with our 6 bottle mix and match discount!) – what a sensational pairing!
As the unofficial kick-off to Summer, this Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to uncork a crisp, refreshing bottle of Saracina Sauvignon Blanc, to pair with Chabichou du Poitou, a dense, chalky, French goat cheese that melts in your mouth.
Saracina Sauvigon Blanc 2009 is extremely elegant, offering aromas of ripe pear, sweet melon and white peach. It displays a traditional Sauvignon Blanc acidity, paired with a flinty minerality and vibrant depth. This wine offers an unexpected medium-bodied melon flavor that literally tastes like a relaxing day in the sun. The crisp freshness cuts directly through the weight of Chabichou, which is best enjoyed from May through October, when the goats produce the best milk.
This cylinder shaped cheese is produced in the very limited geographic area of Poitou, halfway between Paris and Bordeaux. Chabichou is decedent and tangy and peppered with small mold rounds that are formed with careful aging. Amazing alone, but undeniably delightful paired with Saracina Sauvignon Blanc.
Saracina is a 600 acre bio-diverse property in Hopland, CA. Consisting of three ranches, the main ranch is home to Saracina Vineyards, a small-production, state-of-the-art, California Certified Organic (CCOF) winery and the first wine caves in Mendocino County, carved out of solid rock over a two-year period. Saracina offers varietal-specific wines, with limited production Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel.
Sunday afternoon's forecast of all-day rain provided the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and bake two of my favorite comfort foods - cheesy macaroni and chocolate chip cookies. And since baking is more fun with wine, I set my oven to 350 degrees and poured myself a glass of 2007 Nigl Sekt Brut de Brut, a beautifully produced dry sparkling wine from Austria. Yes, it would have been a perfect time of day to mix a Mimosa, but this sparkling begged not to cover up its bright, crisp green apple flavors and I happily obliged. Nigl Sekt is made from estate grown grapes, consisting of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Grüner Veltliner and displays characterists often reserved for a much higher priced wine, what a fantastic value!
With a refreshed palate, I boiled macaroni noodles and began to whip together a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars, based on a recipe I discovered in Food & Wine Magazine. I say "based on" because I didn't exactly plan for a day of baking, which yielded a few substitutions. I swapped the pecans for a 3/4 cup of sliced almonds, which I toasted in a pie pan for approximately 8 minutes before adding, and 3/4 cup dried cranberries. (Dried cranberries proved a perfectly sweet pairing for the Nigl Sekt!) I also used all-purpose whole-wheat flour, instead of pastry flour, which worked fine.
As the newly created recipe of Chocolate Almond Cranberry Cookie Bars started to bake, I refilled my glass, drained the macaroni noodles and buttered the bottom of a casserole dish. Sans recipe, I created my Four Cheese Macaroni by combining the noodles with 3 of my favorite cow's milk, semi-soft cheeses: Taleggio, Fontina and Doux de Montagne. (Tip: a meltable cheese is one that is easily squishable between your finger and your thumb. If it breaks, rather than softly mashes, larger pieces of cheese will not melt well in your dish.) A little milk, salt, pepper and a topping of freshly shredded Parmesean was all this perfect Mac + Cheese required!
Four Cheese Macaroni
Serves 4-5, Time: 30 minutes prep, 3 hours total
1/2 lb. small elbow macaroni
1 T. unsalted, softened butter (I love Cabot's VT Butter)
3/4 lb. of semi-soft cheese (I used 1/4 lb. of each - Taleggio, Fontina and Doux de Montagne, you can use 1 cheese or as many as desired.)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup shredded hard, nutty cheese (I used Parmesan, but a Gruyere style cheese would also be delicious!)
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (don't forget to pour yourself a nice glass of sparkling!) and cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Cut your semi-soft cheese into cubes and set aside. Butter the inside of a casserole dish and pour in drained, cooked noodles. Add milk, all of your semi-soft cheese and top with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
Shred your hard cheese to be used as a topping. Remove the dish from the oven, uncover and let settle for a few minutes. Spread the Parmesan over the top of the pasta and place the uncovered dish back in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until the Parm starts to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour before serving. This allows the cheeses to cool down and regain their full-flavor profiles! Warm to serve and enjoy!
Suggested Wine Paings
The freshness of an unoaked Chardonnay compliments creaminess, and would be a great match for any Cheesey Mac - here's an excellent one to try: 2007 Alain Roy Montagny Premier Cru. If you are in the mood for wine red, try an fruit-forward Pinot Noir from Oregon, such as Evening Land Blue Label.