The culture club
BUBBLES, TRIPLE CRÈME CHEESES—AND CHOCOLATE?
Pairing food and wine is simply finding a balance of flavors.
Sparkling wines, triple-crème cheeses and chocolate, all holiday favorites, share a lexicon of potential descriptors including creamy, buttery, sweet, spicy, luscious, luxuriant, nutty, robust, acidic, salty and umami.
The processes for crafting all three also share similarities. Cacao beans are often fermented using the same species of yeast used to ferment wine grapes (and beer, for that matter). Yeast is also at play in some cheesemaking, helping to form the white fluffy rind on the surface of soft ripened cheeses.
So, why not enjoy them together this holiday season? We think you’ll be glad you did.
Some of my favorite sparkling wines are made by Sonoma County’s Iron Horse Vineyards. I especially like their Estate Bottled 2010 Sparkling Iron Horse Rainbow Cuvée. As with Iron Horse’s first vintage of Rainbow Cuvee, the 2009, the label bears the colors of the rainbow flag, and the winery’s website proclaims that the sparkler is “meant for everyone who believes in love, justice and equality…” And who doesn’t?
The 13.5% Blanc de Blancs sparkling is made from 100% estate-grown Chardonnay grapes, plus a dosage (reserve wine and additional sugar added after disgorgement and before aging). A light straw color with lots of fine bubbles, this wine is beautiful served in a tall flute. On the palate, the wine is crisp and refreshing, with hints of green apple and pear and pronounced citrus notes. Dry yet rich, it pairs very well with an array of triple-crème cheeses and artisan crafted chocolates.
Our first suggested pairing with the Rainbow Cuvee is Poco Dolce’s Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Chocolate tiles and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam bloomy rind triple-crème cheese.
Kathy Wiley, head chocolatier at San Francisco’s Poco Dolce, handcrafts her wildly popular chocolates using local Guittard chocolate. The burnt caramel variation, the company’s biggest seller, offers a burnt caramel toffee center surrounded by bittersweet dark chocolate and sprinkled with grey sea salt. This chocolate is perfectly balanced, not overly sweet, making it an inspired partner for Mt Tam’s buttery, earthy sumptuousness. Made with 100% cow milk from Straus Family Creamery, this cheese should be on everyone’s holiday table. Pairing it with chocolate takes the experience to a whole new level of decadence.
Our second pairing is newcomer Volo Chocolate’s 62% dark milk chocolate bar with brown butter and almonds and Andante Dairy’s Picolo triple-crème cheese.
Jeff and Susan Mall, former owners of Zin restaurant in Healdsburg, recently returned to Wine Country after a stint as executive chefs at a resort in Mexico. While south of the border, the couple fell in love with Mexican-grown cacao and the ancient fire-roasting technique still practiced by some of Mexico’s chocolatiers. Fire roasting imparts a unique depth of flavor to Volo chocolate bars, and the addition of brown butter and roasted almonds plays brilliantly with the nutty, slightly sweet Picolo.
Andante’s brilliant cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan adds crème fraîche to the curd while crafting this Jersey milk cheese, giving it a creamy, but never bland, mouthfeel and taste. The stone-ground chocolate and almonds serve as an exciting contrast to the creaminess of the cheese.
Finally, we recommend pairing Iron Horse’s Rainbow Cuvee with Volo’s 73% Deep Dark Chocolate and Marin French Cheese Company’s Triple Crème Brie.
Volo sources its cacao from the mountainous Chiapas region of Mexico, and the 73% packs a powerful flavor punch. Fire roasting, then the addition of sea salt from Baja California and unrefined sugar, adds to the richness of character in this bar.
Petaluma’s Marin French Cheese Company crafts its rich, smooth brie with a mixture of Jersey, Guernsey and Holstein cow milk from local dairies. No wonder it was named Best Brie by the World Cheese Awards in 2005, the first time an American cheese had bested the French in an international competition for brie. And it repeated the same feat in 2010.
The ultra-creaminess of this brie is the perfect foil for the ultra-rich depth of the deep dark chocolate.
Cheers and happy holidays!