Oh, the mouth-watering pleasures of something as basic as a classy cheese paired with a fine wine. Just the thought of these unique gastronomical experiences can titillate the taste buds and cause the knees to wobble in anticipa-tion of enjoying yet another nibble of a delectable ?fromage? (cheese in French) and a sip of a well-selected white or red wine to wash it down.
Throughout Europe, these unique sensory experiences are specialties of each region: a bite of hearty Aged Pecorino with a glass of Chianti Classico in Tuscany; a small circle of mature goat cheese with a crisp chilled Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) in France?s Loire Valley; and a slice of classic Manchego with a bold Spanish wine from Rioja or Ribeira del Duero. As the locals explain, it?s all about the culture!
Here in America, these regional pairings are a bit more limited. After all, when was the last time you had a wine from Wisconsin worth mentioning? Or, for that matter, a great cheese from Napa Valley? Luckily, in Petaluma we have the best of both worlds thanks to the rapid development of a fantastic artisan cheese community and an exciting new wine culture ? two important segments of the culinary world that have merged together over the past 20 years.
On the cheese side, this movement started in the late 1980s with the conversion of small picturesque pastures to provincial country estates where the goal is to produce world-class farmstead cheeses with fresh milk provided by cows, sheep, and goats that live on the property. Needless to say, it?s been a smash hit ever since for local producers that include Spring Hill Cheese, Achadinha, and Marin French Cheese Company (Petaluma); Bellwether Farms (Valley Ford); Bodega Goat Cheese (Bodega); Cowgirl Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company (Point Reyes Station).
In the 1990s, a new emphasis on wines began with the first significant planting of vines in this region following Prohibition by modern-day pioneers that included the Corda family in Chileno Valley, Hoot and Linda Smith on Kastania Road and Keller Estate on Lakeville Highway. Today, these vineyards and many other family-owned wine-growing operations are part of the Petaluma Gap Grape and Wine Alliance, an association of local vintners and growers dedicated to producing delicious high-quality wines with chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir, syrah and other intriguing grape varieties that grow well in the cool-climate conditions the Sonoma Coast appellation is known for.
Yet despite all these wonderful accomplishments and the growing enthusiasm for local products in the marketplace, there is still a lingering sense of intimidation about how to pair these tasty cheeses and wines together. But there is no need for alarm: for not only is pursuit of these great flavor sensations fun and enjoyable, but it?s also easier than you might think!
To begin with, each artisan cheese has its own unique texture, subtle nuances, and distinctive flavor profile. These categories include: fresh and creamy cheeses (Fromage Blanc, Brie, Teleme, Fresh Mozzarella); young and tangy cheeses (Fresh Chevre, Crescenza); tangy and salty cheeses (Soft Creamy Blue, Triple Cream and Young Cheddar); and the more extreme cheeses that are more complex and mature (Carmody, Strong Blue, Sharp Cheddar and Pepato).
Much like wine, each one of the specialty products has a different level of intensity and needs to be paired accordingly. For instance, the smooth and creamy Classic Brie from Marin French Cheese Company matches nicely with the Copeland Creek 2002 Chardonnay, a smooth, fruit-driven white wine with a nice touch of oak. Whereas, the tangier Capricious, a semi-hard goat?s cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company on Chileno Valley Road, works much better with the Keller Estate 2005 Oro de Plata, a crisp, bright, and cheery unoaked chardonnay with notes of mineral and fresh citrus.