Part of the bounty of Northern California is its plethora of artisanal cheeses, which are featured proudly alongside the traditional European choices in shops and farmer’s markets. You might see the parallel with our local wines. Are the local cheeses better? We have the happy cows after all, and maybe the happy goats. As with wines, a happy compromise is to agree they are simply different styles. At Lodi’s 9th Annual ZinFest last month, a popular wine festival held on the grounds of Lodi Lake, part of the Mokelumne River and the network of deltas that bring cooling winds and marine influence from San Francisco Bay, I was fortunate enough to have been tasked with pairing local wines with cheese: “Secrets of Wine & Cheese Matching with grape goddess® and Cheese Central”, Lodi’s premiere artisanal cheese retailer with the incredible talented Cindy Della Monica at the helm.
The playing field was Lodi wines, and any cheese Cindy had in stock. She widened the field by telling me she could get just about anything from anywhere in the world. Where to begin? Local wine expert Randal Caparoso helped me narrow down the pool of wines, and Cindy sent me a large assortment of her best cheeses. After an intense session in the lab, and with taking Cindy’s excellent recommendations into consideration – she knows her local wines – the shop is surrounded by 30 wineries after all – we came up with these pairings:
2011 St. Jorge Winery Verdelho Seco Lodi
and Fleur Verte France
From a Portuguese family, the wine was rich with baked apple pie and lemon crème notes, and had a lovely starfruit tartness to the finish. The thyme, tarragon and pink peppercorn-coated Chevre (goat) was creamy, tangy, and slighlty sweet with the wine. It enhanced the wine’s fruit and mirrored its silky textural quality. The wine cleansed and refreshed the palate.
2012 McCay Cellars Rosé Lodi
and Ossau Iraty France
This Rosé of old vine Carignane had notes of watermelon, quince, lemon peel, strawberry, cherry and yellow rose and had a hint of residual sugar. The medium firm sheep’s milk cheese was earthy, almost barnyard-like, a note toned down by the bright fruity personality of the wine. The wine also intensified the nuttiness and dairy characters of the cheese, and kept the flavors of the cheese on the palate longer.
2010 Stelline “Chiara” Old Vine Zinfandel Estate Grown Lodi
and Barely Buzzed Beehive Creamery Utah
I have to say I was intrigued from the get go with the name of this cheese – Barely Buzzed. I love also the way this pairing illustrated both the “contrast” and “bridge” elements of pairing. The wine was rich, almost intense, with a raisined, port-like fruit concentration and a hint of pepper spice. The sweet cream and coffee bean smoke of the semi- firm cow’s milk cheese was a nice contrast to the fig and port notes of the wine. Espresso bean slivers and lavender in the rub formed a bridge to and mirrored the wine’s butterscotch and caramel oak notes, and, to top it all off, the cheese supercharged the fruit of the wine, bringing it to a whole new level. Buy on apples, sell on cheese, Stelline, this cheese.
2012 Sorelle Muscat Canelli “Sogno Dolce” Lodi
and Pepato Petaluma
This pairing is all about contrast. The pleasantly plump, soft, fragrant and delicately sweet Muscat, “Sweet Dreams”, with notes of orange blossom,honeysuckle, and red delicious apple, worked wonders with the semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese, which was generously studded with whole peppercorns, Sicilian style. Like a grizzly old man who lives alone, it was a bit pungent, especially when crunching down on the peppercorn. Then, out of the blue, comes a naturally beautful young woman, whose hair has the scent of spring blossoms, and whose smile lights up the room. The wine enhanced the creamy, buttery notes, played down it’s roughness, and left the palate with a subtle sweetness.
Cindy was a wonderful co-host, though she took me to task for mentioning “Velveeta” in one of my stories. She said firmly and with great emphasis, “Catherine, that is not cheese.” Cindy also invited everyone in the audience (and you for that matter) to come visit Cheese Central and taste as much as you like (www.cheesecentrallodi.com). I gently reminded her she was inviting a tent-full of more than barely buzzed folks for free cheese, but hey, it’s Lodi, and they sure are friendly here!
Do happy cows make happy wine and cheese pairings? How about that Lodi hospitality?