While in Kelowna during the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival I attended a special event entitled All You Need is Cheese . . . and some Wine! Organized by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, who joined forces with the Okanagan wineries, the focus was to present Canadian cheeses paired with Okanagan wines.
Upon arrival, the venue showed promise for what we anticipated would be a fun and informative evening. We entered the Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel in Kelowna BC, situated on the shores of beautiful Okanagan Lake, as the sun was starting to lower in the sky. This was a beautiful sight indeed on a mild October evening.
The participants, seated at large round tables, were quiet with anticipation; taking time to absorb all that sat before them. In addition to the expected frosty pitcher of water and glasses, each place setting held 14 wine glasses, each containing a different wine, as well as 12 small plastic containers, each nesting a diverse cheese. I quickly settled in to learn more about my favourite pairing . . . cheese with wine!
Our presenters were well qualified. Rainer Wilkins, Brand Manager & Sommelier with Gray Monk Estate Winery, would guide us through the wine portions. Wolfgang Stampe, a certified Chef du Cuisine and former Culinary Instructor at SAIT Polytechnic, would educate us with respect to the cheeses. These two gentlemen were as beautifully harmonized as Port wine and Stilton cheese.
Rainer began the evening with a full-bodied approach; he asked a few questions to those present to determine our general wine knowledge. What wine varietals are used to make a Bordeaux wine? What area of France is famous for its sparkling wine? What area of the world is famous for its Port wines? How is Port made? At first several participants seemed daunted but once humour was introduced, the mood sparkled with relaxation and fun.
Regarding the actual tasting itself, Rainer recommended several options when pairing cheese and wine:
- Engage the intensity of the cheese with the intensity of wine;
- Match the weight and texture of the cheese with that of the wine;
- Contrast the flavours (acidic with creamy or sweet with salty);
- Compliment the flavours (sweet with sweet or creamy with creamy)
A classic example of contrasting flavours would be pairing the sharpness of a Roquefort cheese with the fruity smoothness of a Sauterne wine. An example of complimentary flavours would be pairing a soft and creamy Camembert with the buttery richness offered by a malolactic fermented Chardonnay. What about a creamy, salty cheese like goat cheese? Try pairing it with a Sauvignon Blanc.
When tasting wine and cheese, Rainer recommends ‘making a sandwich’: sample some wine, then sample some cheese, and finish with another taste of the same wine.
Rainer then reviewed the 14 wines that sat before us, briefly providing us with information regarding the fruit, tannins, and intensity of the wines:
- Meadow Vista Joy 2008 Sparkling Honey Wine
- St. Hubertus Oak Bay 2007 Pinot Noir
- 3. Lake Breeze Seven Poplars 2008 Pinot Noir
- Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery Oldfield Series 2006 Merlot
- Hillside Estate Winery 2008 Cabernet Franc
- Desert Hills 2007 Malbec
- Fort Berens Estate Winery 2008 Meritage
- Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt 2007 Meritage
- 9. Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Ovino Winery 2009 Marachel Foch
- 8th Generation 2008 Syrah
- Painted Rock 2007 Syrah
- Hester Creek Estate Winery 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc
- Gray Monk Estate Winery Odyssey III NV Port-Style Wine
Wolfgang took a mild and smooth approach. Did we know that it takes 8 to 10 litres of milk to make a single kilo of cheese? Did we know the number of cheeses made in Canada (an impressive 400, if case you didn’t).
Prior to commencing the tasting, Wolfgang educated us that there is a particular method to tasting cheese, just as there is in tasting wine. Below are some guidelines:
- Prepare the cheese prior to tasting. Allow the cheese to warm to room temperature (recommended time is 1 to 2 hours) so that its aromas and flavours are at their maximum levels.
- Engage your sense of sight. Take in the color; look at the texture; notice the rind.
- Next, use your sense of smell. Don’t be shy about smelling the cheese (just as you would wine). Is the aroma delicate, sharp, or pungent? What aromas are you able to identify?
- Taste milder cheeses first and progress to the stronger flavored ones, leaving blue cheeses till near the end and tasting “stinky” cheeses last.
- Taste each cheese at its center first and then work your way to the outside where the cheese is most aged and stronger in flavor. Taste the rind/skin last.
- When putting a piece of cheese in your mouth, simply close your mouth for a few seconds. (For softer cheese, press you tongue to the roof of your mouth.) Then commence tasting, starting from the tip of your tongue working towards the back of your mouth. This takes advantage of all of the taste receptors in your mouth and brings the cheese in contact with of all of the sense areas: sweet, salty, acidic, and bitter.
- While tasting the cheese, notice the following characteristics:
- texture — smooth, hard, elastic, sticky, grainy, crunchy.
- density/weight — how compact the cheese feels in your mouth.
- intensity — how flavorful is the cheese.
- acidity — tartness, lemony.
- duration/finish — how long each of the characteristics last.
- fruit — fresh dairy tones, sweetness.
- flavors — earthy, nutty, roasty, toasted, musty, mushroomy, meaty , etc.
- Swallow the cheese; close your mouth and inhale through your nose to again define the aromas in terms of quality, intensity and duration.
Wolfgang explained that during the course of the evening we would taste 12 different cheeses; made in different areas of Canada, stretching from Vancouver Island to Prince Edward Island and parts in between. Wolfgang then went over the 12 cheeses presented before us, providing us with a brief description of each.
I have listed them here for your interest; each descriptor provided by either our presenter and/or the cheese makers.
Okanagan Double Cream Camembert from Poplar Grove Cheese (Naramata, BC)
This cheese is a creamy, luscious cheese with notes of white truffles. It is brine salted, then aged for three weeks. Soft cheeses from Poplar Grove are hand-lipped twice a week to ensure an even growth of its characteristic lovely white coat.
Nostrala from Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co (Creston, BC)
Nostrala (meaning: “of this place”) is a firm cheese with mild earthy notes, a subtle creamy texture, and pale golden interior. It does resemble an Italian Fontina (which is often referred to as the Italian cousin of French Gruyere). This cheese is cave-aged for a minimum of 60 days.
5-Year Old Cheddar from Clover Leaf Cheese (Calgary, Alberta)
This cheese is fully matured at 60 months and has a sharp flavour with a dry, but rich, crumbly texture. It does exhibit a sharp aroma and will exhibit salt granules and crystals.
Boerenkaas from Natural Pastures Cheese Co (Coutenay, BC)
Boerenkaas is the Dutch word for “farmer’s cheese.” This is a rich tasting semi-hard cheese known for its slightly zippy taste and lovely seasonal flavours.
Provolone from Tre Stelle (Ontario)
This cheese has a mildly tangy and fruity personality that becomes more engaging over time. Provolone is often hung to age in twine netting. Provolone is unmatched as an appetizer, particularly with Italian food.
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from Cows Creamery Factory (Charlottetown, PEI)
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is the result of using a Scottish cheese recipe and combining it with the clothbound cheddar process. Wrapping cheese in cloth (coated in lard or butter) protects the cheddar, keeps it moist, and helps to retain its shape. The clothbound cheddar is still able to breathe, allowing it to ripen and develop complex flavours and a natural rind. Maturing time is 12 months.
1-Year Old Cheddar from Clover Leaf Cheese (Calgary, Alberta)
This young cheddar offers a full, pleasant cheddar flavour. This cheese is a popular compliment to white, red and rose wines.
Dofino Havarti from Arla Foods (Ontario)
Dofino uses the original Danish recipe and traditional craftsmanship in making its havarti cheese. The cheese is smooth and buttery in texture with a mild yet full flavour.
Alpindon from Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co.
Alpindon (meaning “Gift of the Alpine”) is a firm cheese carefully modeled after French Beaufort d’Alpage. Following centuries old tradition this cheese is hand-rubbed (for a minimum of 90 days) and made only with milk from summer pastures. It has a smooth nutty flavour. The rich golden interior is protected by a dark textured rind.
Verdelait with Cracked Pepper from Natural Pastures (Courtenay, BC)
This cheese is semi-firm and creamy; spiked with a slightly warm, premium, cracked black pepper.
Benedictine Blue from Benedictine Abbey (Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, Quebec)
Bleu Bénédictin is a Canadian blue cheese made, since the year 2000, by the monks at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, Quebec (150 km from Montreal). The cheese is a semi-soft, whole milk blue cheese deeply veined with the Roquefort Penicillium mold. The Bleu Bénédictin stays in the ripening room for three months and the blue mould rind is kept on. A wheel of this cheese weighs 2 kilograms and has a whitish-grey coating. The aroma of the cheese is reminiscent of mushrooms and has a creamy, delicately salted flavour. The middle of the cheese wheel is especially creamy.
Tiger Blue from Poplar Grove (Naramata, BC)
This blue has some teeth – a rich blue veined cheese with a nice bite. The Tiger Blue’s intense flavour is developed through the blue veining found throughout the cheese. This cheese matures in Poplar Grove’s ‘Blue Room’ where it is flipped and pierced weekly for 5 weeks before being wrapped.
Fully informed and anxious to get started, I followed Rainer’s advice and chose to ‘make a sandwich’. Firstly I tasted the Meadow Vista Joy 2008 Sparkling Honey Wine. I was disappointed in the lack of sparkle, but reminded myself that the wine had been pre-poured some time prior to my tasting it. The wine provided a very delicate honey flavour. Deciding to compliment the intensity of flavours, I chose to taste the Okanagan Double Cream Camembert from Poplar Grove Cheese. I followed the cheese tasting instructions provided by Wolfgang. It was smooth and creamy and delightful in my mouth. I completed the tasting with a finishing taste of the Sparkling Honey Wine. What a surprise! The acidity of the Sparkling Honey Wine not only cleansed my palate but the smoothness of the cheese brought out the full honey flavour of the wine that had previously been hiding. The experience was certainly enhanced by combining the cheese with the wine.
Another enjoyable pairing was the Desert Hills 2007 Malbec with the Boerenkaas cheese from Natural Pastures Cheese Co. These two were nicely matched in weight and texture and the combination brought out a bit of a smoky flavour to the palate.
The Painted Rock 2007 Syrah combined nicely with the Verdelait with Cracked Pepper from Natural Pastures. The peppery flavour of the wine complimented the peppery flavour of the cheese.
The taste of Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from Cows Creamery Factory was a fabulous new experience. If you have an opportunity to taste this cheese, with or without wine, I recommend you do so. It was one of my favourites of the evening.
The top contenders for the title of “my personal favourite” however were both of the blue cheeses. I found the Benedictine Blue from the Benedictine Abbey enjoyable with both the Hester Creek Estate Winery 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc as well as the Gray Monk Estate Winery Odyssey III NV Port -Style Wine. My favourite pairing for the Tiger Blue from Poplar Grove was limited to the Gray Monk Estate Winery Odyssey III NV Port-Style Wine. It would have been nice to try the Tiger Blue with an Okanagan Ice Wine, had one been available; another time perhaps.
Of course, these are only a few of my personal observations and experiences. I urge you to go out and pick up some of your favour wines, visit a well-reputed cheese maker to select a variety of cheeses, invite some friends over and experience your own cheese and wine pairings. All you need is cheese…. and some wine!