Perfect Pairings in Wine and Cheese

What’s a wine writer doing, writing about cheese? Talk about perfect pairings…I had a great educational session over-the-counter at the Cowgirl Creamery store in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Cheesemonger Adam Smith patiently looked at my list (Marsanne, Pinot, Red Blend, Malbec, Syrah) and painstakingly gave me tastes and explanations until we found perfect pairings. Here they are…

Montagne du Jura cheese comes from the Jura Mountains, the same region as does Gruyere cheese. This is a full bodied cheese, with a nutty flavor. The high fat content helps to mellow the mouthfeel of high tannins in wine such as Syrah.

The Coolea cheese is hand made from pasteurized cows milk, imported from the mountain farm of Dick and Sinead Willems in Coolea, County Cork, Ireland.. The cheese has flavors which are carmelly and toffee-like, and a lovely richness. It will pair magnificently with a Red Blend wine and also with a Malbec.

The Humboldt Fog cheese, a ripened goat’s milk cheese made by Cypress Grove Cheve in Arcata, California, is an elegant, soft, surface ripened cheese. The texture is creamy and luscious with a subtle tangy flavor. Each handcrafted wheel features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash along its center and a coating of ash under its exterior to give it a distinctive, cake-like appearance. It will pair perfectly with Marsanne.

Marsanne also pairs well with California Crottin, made in Sebastopol by Redwood Hill Creamery. This enterprise started as a farmstead, and was a pioneer in goats milk cheeses. This artisan cheese is made in the traditional French-style . It has a wrinkly, geotrichum candidum rind, a fluffy texture and robust, earthy flavor.

The Appalachian cheese from Meadow Creek in Galax, Virginia, has a supple straw color paste and a white mould rind with glimpses of pink showing through. The flavor is mild and buttery with a spicy finish and just a hint of mushroom. Meadowcreek Dairy, perched in the misty, cool emerald reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, operates a seasonal Jersey dairy at an elevation of 2,800 feet where the water is pure, the air is bright and clean, and the soils are rich and untainted. A great pairing with Pinot.

Another great Pinot pairing is Vermont Ayr, produced by the Crawford Family Farm in 1 and 4 pound wheels using French cheese vats and slow aging. The edible rind gives an earthy contrast to the creamy sweetness of the interior of the cheese. This cheese is named for the Ayrshire cows from which the milk comes. I enjoyed the information from the website, which talks about “terroir”, a term that’s usually reserved for discussions about wine: “We succeed in revealing the complex flavors of our “terroir”—the land that the animals graze. “

By the way, if you want to do your own wine-cheese pairing party at home, cut fresh baguettes into ½ inch pieces, and purchase quince paste as a tasty spread under the cheese. Make the pairing special by adding marcona almonds! You can use regular almonds of course, but marcona almonds are worth the extra price. Marcona almonds solo are a perfect pairing with sherry, too.

You can find Cowgirl Creamery cheeses at good local wine bars in the Tahoe area, such as Uncorked in Squaw Valley and Tahoe City. Cowgirl Creamery has several retail stores: Pt. Reyes and San Francisco, CA, and Washington DC. You can visit the Cowgirl Creamery cheesemaking facility in Pt. Reyes, and a second creamery in Petaluma, California opened in 2008, where you can take a tour. Or, order on the internet at, where they offer both individual cheeses as well as a selection as Party-in-a-Box.
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© 2011 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of
The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in February 2011.

Book in Process: " Pioneers in Wine in the Sierra and Its Foothills".

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