Bob's Cheese and Wine Blog

My world of cheese and wine

Making some changes

Posted by fromagebob on May 24, 2011

Dear readers!
Over the next week or so, it’s very possible that you’re going to have some errors when trying to access this blog. We’re in the process of moving it to a new platform, and although these things are supposed to be seamless, they never are. If you are using the direct URL ( to get to the blog, it may NOT work; you can still access me via


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Anatomy of a wine dinner: part 3

Posted by fromagebob on April 5, 2011

Peter Figge

On April 12th, Società Dante Alighieri of Miami  will present what should be a stellar evening of wine and food pairing at Por Fin Restaurant in Coral Gables. Stellar, because unlike many wine dinners, Steve Stein, the wine director of the Dante, along with several willing volunteers (including this writer) gathered at Por Fin to taste the wines with the planned menu. It was a worthy exercise that resulted in a number of excellent combinations.

The wine chosen for the evening is made by Peter Figge, of Figge Cellars, in Monterey, California. Figge makes five wines: two Chardonnay, two Pinot Noir, and one Syrah. The Chardonnay is closer is style to Burgundy than California, while the other two varietals are more true to their terroir.

In my favorite pairing guide, What to Eat with What You Drink, the following are suggested pairings for these wines:

For Chardonnay, the suggestions cover a rather broad range – as do Chardonnays. Some of the suggestions include chicken in any form (baked, grilled, etc.), crab, white fish, lobster, salmon, scallops, shrimp, veal, and vegetables. Rich dishes, such as those with cream sauce, or buttery sauces, fare better with typical oaky California chards. Dishes that are more flavorful, especially grilled foods like salmon, scallops, and chicken, do better with a Burgundian style.

Pinot Noir is more appropriate for protein-based dishes, such as cheeses, beef, chicken, duck, mushroom dishes, pork, salmon, lamb, and tuna.

Syrah (one of my favorite wines) is a robust wine, and needs robust dishes, like barbecue, aged cheeses, grilled meats, mushrooms, sausages, and so on.

For the wine dinner menu, Chef Quant suggested the following:

  • An appetizer course of Fried Quail Eggs with Serrano ham and Truffle Oil, to be paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano, and passed to diners as they arrive.
  • A second course of Grilled Octopus atop Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree, paired with a Chardonnay
  • The third course of Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with a Pinot Noir.
  • A fourth course of Braised Short Ribs with Mahon Cheese Crust and Red Wine Sauce, paired with the Syrah.
  • A dessert course of a simple tropical fruit sorbet.

We started by trying the wines. Figge’s Chardonnays come from two vineyards: one from the Peilo vineyard, the other from the La Reina vineyard. The Pelio shows pineapple, light mineral, a hint of petrol, some mango, and tropical fruits on the nose, and was citrusy, flinty, and bright on the palate. It had a medium-long finish that was juicy and pleasant. The La Reina had a nose of light talc, vanilla, flint, pineapple, with a light floral note; on the tongue, we found orange peel, grapefruit, flint, white peaches and pears in a medium-long finish. Both wines had a good balance with nice acidity. Of the two Chardonnays, our favorite was the Pelio. More and more, wines are being regarded for their “cocktail” potential as much as for their food pairing potential, and quite often, the decision as to which wine to use with food comes from the cocktail, not the pairing, perspective.

Then came our first course: the grilled octopus. We started with the Pelio; it did not work well with the octopus. The food took on a bitter, slightly metallic flavor that was not pleasant at all. It turned out that the La Reina didn’t work well, either, but it paired nicely with the rice/sofrito/pea puree. In fact, the green pea puree was very good on it’s own with the La Reina; with the dish, it acted as a catalyst, pulling the ingredients together and creating a great compliment for the wine. A suggestion was made to substitute a grilled scallop for the octopus. The chef complied, and a pairing was made. The result was that our favorite of the two wines – the Pelio – was great on its own, but did not work in the pairing. La Reina became our choice.

We next tried the two pinots, one from Paraiso vineyard, the other from the Pelio vineyard. The Paraiso  showed cherry, smoke, a little earth, and some cardamom. On the palate, it gave cherries, tobacco, menthol, dark fruits, and some dried cherries. It had a medium finish, good acidity, and mild tannins. The Pelio was more towards the earthy side: smoke, forest floor, chocolate, and faintly herbal on the nose, with dried cherries, pepper, strawberries, and a hint of licorice in a medium-long finish.

Of the two we liked the Pelio best, and it turned out to pair best with the Salmon. The Paraiso went very well with the Potato Crisps, but the winner of the pairing was the Pelio. We expected there to be some clash with the olive drizzle, but that addition turned out to add a very nice note to the flavor profile of the pairing. Grilled salmon is a classic Pinot Noir pairing, and it certainly lived up to that billing in this combination.

Our final dish was the short ribs. Our task was slightly easier, given that there was only one Syrah, but we forged ahead: The Syrah is from the Sycamore Flat vineyard, and showed chocolate, dark berries, a hint of tobacco, and some slight herbal notes on the nose, with black raspberries, cherries, and plums on the palate. The body was light, with a good mouthfeel. Syrahs can have a fairly wide flavor profile, and an equally varied body. I felt that this body of this wine was on the lighter side.

The short ribs were delicious, but the initial presentation of a manchego cheese crust did not really compliment the wine; the suggestion was made to try a Cabrales blue cheese sauce, but that turned out to be a bit strong. The final combination that won us over was when the chef altered the sauce a bit, combining honey with the Cabrales; that toned down the sharpness of the cheese, and brought the dish into harmony with the wine.

It turned out that the fact that the Syrah had a ligher body fit in well with the fattiness of the short ribs, and the richness of the sauce. Blue cheese is one of the recommended pairings for Syrahs, and the combination of the honey and the cabrales (which tends to be a fairly strong blue) worked quite well.

The final menu became:

  • Tataki de Atun: Seared tuna, charred scallion, romesco sauce, paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano
  • Arroz Negro con Vieras: Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree served with a seared scallop, paired with 2009 La Reina Chardonnay
  • Salmon con patatas, tomate y kalamata: Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with 2009 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Costillas De Res: Por Fin’s famous short ribs served with carrot puree, sweet potato crisps, honey cabrales and red wine sauces, paired with 2006 Sycamore Flat Syrah
  • Sorbet de Coco con Espuma de Maracuya: Coconut sorbet served with passion fruit foam and mint granita

The next step will be the dinner! On April 12th, at Por Fin in Coral Gables. If you’re in town and you’d like to render your own opinion about our pairing prowess, please contact the restaurant at 305.441.0107, and join us! Otherwise, check back here later that week for what our diners thought of our efforts.

Read part 1…..

Read part 2…

Posted in California Wines, Wine, Wine and food pairing, Wine dinners | 1 Comment »

Anatomy of a wine dinner, part 2

Posted by fromagebob on March 28, 2011

Wine dinners are usually focused on a particular winery or winemaker’s wines. The idea is to showcase the food of a chef or restaurant in conjunction with the wine in a series of pairings that join a course with a wine. As with any pairing endeavor, the goal is to bring these two elements together, and create an experience that either transcends the original, or takes one of the components to new heights.

The basis for the pairings of wine and food often grow from a conceptual foundation; there are “rules” of pairings that guide the decision as to the foods to prepare, that – when combined with the specifics of a particular wine – present a probable dish that can be created to achieve the desired results.

In many wine dinners, though, the chef doesn’t have access to the wine itself, but only to the winemaker or the winemaker’s notes, or (at the very least) the pairings that are usual for the wine. The logistics and costs involved in supplying wines are often difficult to overcome, and the chefs often lack the time (or inclination) to go through the exercise of deciding how to modify their dish to match the wine. Ultimately, it’s the dish that has to give in, and that’s not always an achievable result.

In the case of the Figge wine dinner, it was possible to sit with several tasters, try the proposed pairings, and make suggestions back to the kitchen as to what adjustments might “adjust” the food to the wine, without sacrificing the quality of the food or compromising the chef’s vision. We also had the option of several different iterations of the wines; same vintage, but different vineyards, to further tune the experience.

The proof, as they say, will be in the “pudding…”

Read the previous entry…

Read the next entry…

Click over to our wine dinner page to check out the menu, or (better yet) to make reservations to join us!

Posted in California Wines, Wine and food pairing, Wine dinners | 2 Comments »

Anatomy of a wine dinner: part 1

Posted by fromagebob on March 21, 2011

Figge Cellars

Wine dinners are designed to give a winemaker the opportunity to showcase their wines paired with dishes prepared by a chef who wishes to showcase his or her talents. It’s not always an easy task; in many cases, the chef does not have the opportunity to try the wines in order to “tune” the dishes, relying instead on the particular style of the wine, the wine’s profile, and feedback from the winemaker as to the intended dishes.

The results are almost always interesting, sometimes with good results … and sometimes not.

The Societá Dante Alighieri of Miami, in conjunction with Por Fin restaurant and winemaker Peter Figge, are hosting a wine dinner at Por Fin restaurant on April 12th, 2011. I have had the unique opportunity to be one of the tasters, working with the wines and the chef to create pairings that really highlight the wine and the food. I’d like to share that experience with you!

Peter Figge is what I call an “accidental winemaker.” Trained as a viticulturist, Figge’s life was centered around helping growers in the Central Coast region of California grow great grapes. As with many sourcing vineyards, the families that Figge worked with had high hopes. But one of the difficulties of becoming a source for grapes is that without a track record, it’s hard to command attention, much less premium prices.

One of the vineyards asked Figge to make wines from their grapes, in order to “put them on the map” of premium vineyards. His first reaction was caution; his métier was growing the best grapes for others to use, but after some pressure from the family, he decided to give it a shot, and in 2004, using begged, borrowed, and rented equipment, started making wines. He’s still a grower at hard, but as you will see when you taste his wines, his artistry has encompassed a whole new dimension!

Read the 2nd part…

Click over to our wine dinner page to check out the menu, or (better yet) to make reservations to join us!



Posted in California Wines, Wine, Wine and food pairing, Wine dinners | 2 Comments »

South Beach Wine & Food Rave

Posted by fromagebob on February 27, 2011

Crowd at the 2011 SoBe Wine & Food Fest

I went to my first South Beach Wine and Food Festival event (ever) this past Friday. It was the “trade tasting” event that is ostensibly a venue for wine makers to present their wares to the wine trade and media. Since one of the major sponsors of the event is Southern Wine, most of those in attendance have some presence in the local market; there’s nothing worse than finding a great wine, only to find it’s not available. Unfortunately, the crowds at the event precluded even a modicum of research. If I had to pick one word to describe the event, it might be “zoo,” but that doesn’t adequately describe the chaos. Rave, maybe? Wine mosh pit?

Speaking with some of the wine makers who attended, most expressed disappointment with the event, as there was no possible way that any kind of conversation about the wines could take place. The crowd was a mix of every age group, from those barely over drinking age, to a number of rather elderly participants. In addition to the wine tables, there were tables dispensing everything from food to liquor to mixed drinks to books. I managed to visit about 10 tables, far below what the norm would be in a real trade tasting.

Violet Grgich

I understand that blogging probably falls on the fringe of “wine media” but I like to think that I make a contribution (albeit a small one). That’s my justification for getting in to the trade/media portions of the events. The public portions often become something akin to an open bar, with only a passing resemblance to a wine tasting. That was illustrated most aptly when, during a conversation with Violet Grgich, I was shoved aside by a fellow who thrust his arm out – with two wine glasses clutched in his hand – and demanded “two cabs” (sans ‘please…’). Ms. Grgich accommodated with a pained smile.

Even getting in was a bear. We stood in a huge line for over 1 hour. We got into the event at about 2pm, with an even larger line behind us. As we approached the main entry to the glass tent, there was a steady stream of line-cutters barging in with no control. The tent dispensing the glass and sample bags was understaffed and not equipped to handle the people passing through. And, once in the village, it became a wine rave. Not to mention far too many people wandering outside scalping tickets (to a free event). That really bothered me; the only way to get the tickets was to be in the trade – a wine shop or restaurant. That meant that some rather unscrupulous players got the tickets representing that they would attend, then turned around and tried to profit. Sleazy. I was hoping for the undercover squad to get them.

Despite all of the sweaty bodies, there were some real gems. I followed a strategy of looking for producer names I did not recognize and tables with no drinkers. Using that technique, I was able to try wines from the Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina. They produce a passable Chardonnay in North Carolina, along with wines from California bottled under their direction and label.

Brazin Lodi Zinfandel

Here are some of the other wines I found that are definitely worth a second look:

  • Muscadet Sèvre st Maine 2008, a Loire wine bottled by Remy Pannier
  • A 2009 Vouvray from Moreau & Fils, in Chablis
  • A Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé from Langlois
  • An interesting 2008 Chinon, from Marc Brédif
  • A red Sancerre of Pinot Noir, from Château de Sancerre
  • From Bernardus Winery, in Carmel California, a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2008 Chardonnay, and a 2008 Pinot Noir, all from Monterrey County, and their Marinum red blend, from Carmel Valley
  • Brazin Wines, from Lodi, offered to nice Zinfandels: a 2008 Lodi Old Vines, and a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vines.
  • Summerland Winery, from Santa Barbara, showed a 2009 Santa Barbara Chardonnay, a 2008 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, a 2008 Monterrey County Sauvignon Blanc, and a 2005 Santa Ynez Syrah.

In addition, I had the opportunity to try several delicious wines from Grgich Hills, including their Stellar 2008 Fumé Blanc, their 2007 Chardonnay, their 2007 Zinfandel, their 2006 Merlot, and their 2006 Cab (which made me almost want to stop drinking for the rest of the day, just to see how the wine evolved). I managed to spend a few minutes with Brian Loring (who I was able to speak at length with at Sunset Corner’s Pinot party the next day – more on that later).

All in all, it was a beautiful day on South Beach, great showcase for the city, moderately so for the winemakers. But it looked like the attendees had fun.

Posted in Wine, Wine & Cheese Fairs | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eating History by Andrew F. Smith

Posted by fromagebob on January 7, 2011

I’ve been reading quite a bit of “food history” lately; it’s quite fascinating to dig in to the meat and potatoes of how and why we eat what we eat (sorry…). “Eating History”,by Andres F. Smith, focuses on American Cuisine, in a series of “30 Turning Points in the making of American Cuisine” according to the author. Some of the vignettes are very interesting, and provide some fascinating insight into the development of the American food scene.

Some of the things that I found fascinating included the impact the Erie canal had on the distribution of food in the US. It allows the midwest to become the chief producer and supplier of grains to the East coast; that is something that most people know. The other effect was to provide the basis for New York to become a financial center; the canal was the largest public work undertaken, and required the sale of bonds to finance it’s construction. Because most of those bonds were sold in New York, it really strengthened the city’s financial industry.

Another chapter dealt with the impact that Delmonico’s restaurant had on the eating habits of New Yorkers, and then on the rest of the country. Giovanni Del-Monico started by opening a wine shop in New York, in 1824. Unhappy with the business – American’s weren’t big wine drinkers at that time – he sold the shop, and opened a cafe and pastry shop late in 1827, under an americanized version of his name. He expanded the cafe into a French restaurant in 1830, which became the model for the American restaurant industry.The side effect was that because Delmonico’s created such a demand for French food, it was widely imitated, to the detriment of other styles of cuisine that were also becoming popular at the time.

The most fascinating chapter was that on Thanksgiving. Basically, everything we “know” about this holiday came not from the Pilgrim’s getting down with the Indians, but from a fictionalized portrayal of the event. The author was Sara Josepha Hale. In 1827, she wrote a story about the first Thanksgiving dinner that described the meal as an elaborate feast. That account became quite popular, and moved from being a story into the mainstream of american lore; in 1870, the fiction found its way into history books, where it remains today.

If you’ve ever wondered how the microwave was invented, or how the vegetarian movement got started, or the backstory about Julia Child, this is the book for you.

Posted in Book Review | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »


Posted by fromagebob on December 26, 2010

Rennet is the generic name for the family of enzymes used to coagulate milk in the cheesemaking process. Rennet is derived from one of three sources: Animal, microbial, or vegetable. All introduce similar action in the milk; the enzyme causes a chemical reaction that separates the milk proteins, separating the milk into curd and whey. Once the initial action of the enzyme is completed, the traces of the enzyme remaining in the milk play a role in the aging process, and the creation of various aromatic and flavor profiles.

Animal rennet is derived from the fourth stomach (abomasa) of an unweaned ruminant. The stomachs are dried and either powdered, or cut into pieces for later use. The enzymes found in animal rennet are chymosin (80%) and pepsin. The young animal uses the enzymes to coagulate the milk in the stomach for better digestion.

There is no clear indication of when cheesemaking started; the earliest evidence dates back about 5,000 years, but it is very likely that the use of milk as a nutritional component extends much farther back in time, to the period when man moved from a hunter-gatherer (nature-provided) form of food generation to an agricultural / pastoral form.  Evidence of herding dates back some 30,000 – 40,000 years, so it is likely that the use of milk in the diet extends back almost as far.

Milk, when left to sour, naturally separates into solid and liquid, as the acid level of the milk increases. Given that the origins of man place us in the Middle East, and that the climate there was quite arid, it is likely that the souring of milk, and the use of the liquid and solid was common. It is not much of a stretch to imagine man figuring out that draining the liquid extended the life of the solid material, and then to using some form of pressure to force more liquid out.

When rennet came to be used as a coagulant is not known. The popular “creation myth” for rennet is that of a nomad galloping across the desert, his milk ration hanging from the saddle in a stomach being used as a container. Although that has a nice, romantic “ah-ha!” feel, it is far more likely that the discovery of rennet’s coagulating properties was a mundane accident. Given that early man would have made use of all of the parts of the animal, cooking stomach (tripe) in milk is the more likely source of the discovery. It is likely that the realization that combining milk and stomach took some time, as it had to be the perfect storm of events: the correct stomach, in milk, at the (reasonably) correct temperature. Speculation would say that the use of rennet as a coagulant probably occurred over several thousand years. I checked on-line for recipes using tripe and milk, and found quite a few. Here’s one from Gordon Ramsey…

In addition to coagulating the milk, rennet also plays an important part in the development of the flavor of the cheese. The biggest difference in the impact of rennet on flavor is found in cheeses made from thistle, or Cardoon, rennet, especially those from Portugal. Thistle-rennet cheeses often have more pronounced vegetal aromas and flavors, and are not as prone to the “piquant” or peppery feel of animal or microbial rennet cheeses.

When looking at the ingredients list of cheese, it is sometimes difficult to discern which rennet was used in the making of the cheese. For vegetarians, this is an important consideration. The obvious labeling shows the cheese as being vegetarian, but if that is not included, you must look at the ingredients list. Clues are “microbial rennet”, “vegetable rennet”, and “thistle rennet.” If the labeling is “animal rennet or “traditional rennet” then animal rennet was used. The problem comes in when the labeling simply says “enzymes” with no reference to the type used. Some manufacturers will include “no animal rennet used” on the label, but for others, you would have to contact the cheesemaker directly.

Cheeses made in Europe use mainly animal rennet, while cheeses made in the US use mainly microbial. Most Portuguese cheeses are made with vegetable rennet.

Sources for information in this article: American Farmstead Cheese, by Paul Kindstedt, Brined Cheeses, by A.Y. Tamime, and The Wisconsin Center for  Dairy Research publication, Dairy Pipeline, October 2000, Volume 12, Number 3.

Posted in Cheese Basics, Cheese Education | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Posted by fromagebob on December 9, 2010

Start a discussion about history, and you’ll be mining a rich topic that runs the gamut of the human experience: battles and conquests, migration and survival, kings, queens, religion – you name it. One topic you probably won’t touch on, though, is beer. Or wine, coffee, tea, spirits, or Coke, for that matter.

It turns out that those six beverages (or at least the first four), had a huge impact on our survival and the development of our civilization. “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage, is a great look at how beverages that we take for granted today were at the foundation of our development as a people. Beer and wine were accidental discoveries that provided the basis for early survival. Coffee took the place of beer as the morning beverage of choice, and tea laid the foundation for the English empire. But all of them played a fundamental role in the story of us, and how we became who and what we are today.

As we moved from hunter-gatherer to more urbanized settlements, one of the big problems became the disposal of waste and the subsequent contamination of water supplies. When you’re hiking through the jungle, any stream will do to quench your thirst, but as the population became more urban, drinking downstream from the neighbor created some real issues.

Beer was one of the earliest non-water beverages that was safer to drink than water. The fermentation process, and the alcohol content, negated the contamination that was very common in the population. Plus, it contributed to the nutritional well-being of the imbiber, which helped to improve general health. Wine also became an important beverage for the same reason – it was safer than water, and also provided benefits to the drinker in the form of polyphenols, anti-oxidants, and more.

The more fascinating of the four were coffee and tea. Because beer and wine were safer than water, and because they were fairly easy to produce, they were the drink of choice for a very long time- up until the late 16th century in Europe. Coffee originated in the Middle East, and became a fairly common drink in the 15th century. Up until that time, it was very common to start the day with a watered-down glass of beer, and to imbibe beer or wine as a beverage throughout the day.

Coffee changed that; as it became popular in Europe – especially in England, coffeehouses began to appear, and became the center of science, finance, and industry in a fairly short period of time. The reason (as we know today) was simple – a cup of coffee is stimulating, where a glass of beer is not. Men began to congregate in coffee houses to discuss business and the news of the day; coffee houses began to specialize in a particular area of knowledge, such as finance, marine affairs, science, and so on. Lloyds of London started in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house. The London Stock Exchange started in Jonathan’s Coffee House on Exchange Alley. In France, Joseph Priestly (“The Invention of Air”) met Benjamin Franklin and other notable scientists and philosophers in a coffee house.

Because coffee was made from boiled water, it was safer to drink than plain water, and because it stimulated rather than sedated, it became the drink of choice of business men and the intelligentsia alike.

Tea also played an important role in the rise of civilization and the foundation of our country; like coffee, it was safer to drink than water, and like coffee, it provided stimulation from its caffeine content. Tea played a large economic role in the rise of England to power, because it was such a valuable commodity. In the cities, women were not permitted in coffee shops; their venue of choice became the tea parlor, and the custom of afternoon tea became quite common. As the production of tea became more widespread, the cost came down, and it became the beverage of the workingman in England.

This is a great book for anyone interested in the minutia of history – of those things and events that played an important role in the rise of man, and the development of civilization. We tend to think of history as a grand movement from level to level, but – as this book aptly shows – history is more of a series of accidents and opportunities, from which greatness may (or may not) arise.

Best part of the book for me was finding out the truth about Coca Cola! Read it for yourself, and see.

Posted in Book Review, Wine and Cheese History | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Grand Cheese Tasting

Posted by fromagebob on November 18, 2010

The Tasting Table

I visited New York over the weekend of November 5th, and attended my third Murray’s Cheese Boot Camp. This time I went to work – I signed on as an intern to get a better idea of how behind the scenes of an intensive cheese class would go. I did get educated! More on that in another post.

As always, I hauled back a bunch of cheeses – 13 of them, this time, and gathered fellow wine-and-cheese lovers at the house for a grand cheese tasting.

Organizing a cheese tasting is a lot of fun, especially when you’re loaded with cheeses that no one has tried before, that you love, and that you think will be interesting. It’s a great way to get people together, and – when you bring in  the wine – to start some rather interesting debates about the merits of the cheese, the wine, and the pairing.

I should not have been surprised, but my plethora of palates armed themselves with multiple glasses to try multiples of wines with the cheeses. I did make sure they knew they had to put a glass down to pick up a cheese – no teeth allowed. I labeled each plate with the specifics of the cheeses, and arranged them in order from mildest (upper left of the photo) around the table to the strongest. For the most part, everyone followed the flow, and (from what I could tell) had a great time!

Featured (in the order of presentation) were:

  • Oma, a raw, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Von Trapp, in the hills of Vermont
  • Pawlett, a raw washed rind Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Consider Bardwell Farms, in Vermont
  • Landaff, a raw cow’s milk riff on Cornish Yarg, from New Hampshire
  • Capello del Mago, a raw, natural rind goat’s milk from the town of Fobello, in Piemonte,  Italy
  • Noble Road, a raw, bloomy rind cow’s milk cheese from Calkins Creamery, in Pennsylvania
  • La Beola, a natural rind, raw cow’s milk cheese, from the town of Fobellow, in Piemonte, Italy
  • Amanteigado, a washed rind, raw sheeps milk cheese from Lisboa, Portugal
  • Puits d’Astier, a natural rind sheep’s milk cheese from the Auvergene region of France
  • Ascutney Mountain, a natural rind Jersey cow’s milk cheese, from Vermont
  • Comte d’Alpage,  a raw cow’s milk cheese, aged for 18 months, from France
  • An Aged Goat Gouda, from Holland
  • St. Pete’s Blue, a delicious blue cheese from Minnesota
  • Colston Basset Stilton, from England

The most popular cheese was the Noble Road. It had a wonderful, mush-roomy, beefy, creamy flavor that knocked everyone’s socks off. It was the only cheese that disappeared (not that a serious dent wasn’t made in the rest of the selections!).

The surprise of the tasting was one of the wine pairings. We had a variety of wines, from a Susana Balbo Torrontes, to a Masi Amarone, with quite a mix in between. The surprise was that the Torrontes went with almost every cheese! Even those that it did not work well with, it was more along the lines of the cheese overwhelming the wine (like the blues) as opposed to the wine and cheese fighting it out in your mouth.

My favorite pairing was the Colston Basset Stilton with some 1979 PX Sherry. The ports we had couldn’t stand up. The Amarone did OK, but the PX was just wonderful. Unfortunately, we only had a little to go around, so I will be looking for another bottle, and another chunk of cheese, to test this out further!

Stay tuned – over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting tasting notes for all the cheeses. None are currently available in Miami, but they are all available from either Murray’s Cheese or Saxelby Cheese, in New York. Worth the trip to try, worth the expense to buy – trust me on that!

Posted in Artisanal Cheese, Cheese tasting, French Cheese, Italian Cheese, Portuguese Cheese, US Cheese, Wine & Cheese Paring | 2 Comments »

Origins: The beginnings of cheese

Posted by fromagebob on October 21, 2010

Pompeii Bakery

I find myself increasingly fascinated with the originals of cheese – how did man figure out what it was, how to make it, and what the heck to do with it. I decided to start writing a series of short articles to share some of the information I’ve gleaned, along with my own unscientific, utterly unqualified (but hopefully interesting observations) with the process.

What I found is that the answers – or more accurately – the questions, come out of anthropology and archeology. Written history does not exist before about 5,000 BC. Before that, the knowledge of man and our development comes from observation of what was left behind. The scientists that explore and review develop theories that are tested, and contested, over years of study, until a consensus is reached (or not, as the case may be).

What we consider “modern” man emerged around 150,000 years ago. The term ‘emerged’ is interesting as it seems to indicate that BANG there we were, but there’s no clear start to modern man, even though we seem to be working hard on a finish. We and our ancestors were hunter-gatherers; survival was determined by the proximity of food, whether it was meat animals or vegetable. Early man followed the game over the years, establishing a pattern of camps and settlements that were more often transient than not.

One of the things I both learned and observed is that in trying to interpret history – either myself or a particular scientist or historian – there is a natural tendency to interpret events in light of our personal experiences. I once read that all fiction is rooted in fact, because the writer has to draw on personal knowledge and experience to create his characters. I find that the same applies to the literature about early man. There is an obvious attempt by scientists to maintain a separation, and to convey their findings and conclusions in an impartial manner. I find that reading multiple sources about the same period of history yields different impressions about that period, and in many cases, it’s the influence of the writer that is conveyed.

No matter. I will sin as well, using my own biased knowledge to try to create an impression of how cheese began (isn’t that arrogant!!!).

Given that man has the ability to observe and conclude, the fact that animals could be herded – mammoths over a cliff, or deer into a ravine – would have given someone the idea of trapping or managing a herd to the benefit of the tribe. Cooperation was key, since man banded together for survival. It would be reasonable to assume that various talents emerged in these groups; the best hunter, the best spear-maker, the best mammoth meat cooker, and so on, creating rudimentary specialties within the groups.

The other factor in all this is that the term “man” covers a lot of territory – we are genus homo, which includes habilis, Neanderthal, and offshoots of the family tree, and there is a very good chance that all of us co-existed at times, and shared knowledge.

Next time: Bones….

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