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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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04.16.07

The (American) Cheese Stands Alone

Bites: News and Miscellany


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Back in 2000, when Laura Werlin told her friends she was going to write a book on American cheeses, they were incredulous. “People thought I was crazy,” said Werlin. But three books — a fourth one is slated for September — and two awards — “The All American Cheese and Wine Book” won a James Beard Award, while her first “The New American Cheese” received an IACP award — later, Werlin has shown that artisan American cheeses have nothing to do with the familiar processed plastic wrapped singles from Kraft.

Werlin offers more proof: A few years back, there were 300 cheeses submitted to the American Cheese Society’s annual competition; last year there were 1,000.

Bringing her gospel of American cheese to the masses, Werlin teamed up with Brian Duncan, BIN 36’s wine director extraordinaire also up for a James Beard award this year, for an informal interactive seminar last Tuesday evening at Bin 36. The event featured a pairing of nine of Werlin’s favorite American cheeses with four of Duncan’s recommended wines.

If you weren’t one of the lucky 60 to snag a spot at the sold-out event—or if you just want a sneak-peak of Werlin and Duncan’s presentation at the upcoming Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June—read on for some highlights:

First things first “Cheese interferes with the flavor of wine more than the other way around. You need to taste the wine first,” said Werlin

Confused? You’re not the only one “This is a new frontier for us,” said Duncan. “There was a huge learning curve when we installed the Cheese Bar here at BIN 36.” He recommends that people think about the texture, weight and intensity of the cheese when choosing a wine. You should echo the flavor of the cheese with the wine —for example pair a nutty Manchego sheep’s cheese with a similarly flavored Oloroso sherry. Alternatively, it pays to use contrasting flavors as well, say fruity sweet sparkling wine with a salty style cheese.

Tiny Bubbles Both Werlin and Duncan agree that pairing sparkling wines with cheese is a safe bet, especially with softer cheeses. “The bubbles lift the creaminess,” said Werlin. Duncan also recommends Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs, saying “Higher acid wines help keep the palate fresh and make the taste buds stand up to attention.” . (For the record, there was only one red wine served at the event, a Zinfandel from California, and it seemed to be the least favorite wine pairing. The sparkling from France, Riesling from Germany and Oloroso from Spain were the most preferred.)

Keep It Simple
Think fresh sliced fruit is a perfect plate partner for cheese? Think again, said Duncan, who believes the sugar and acids of fruit work against the cheese. Better options: olives, nuts or dried fruits. Said Duncan: “The cheese should tell you what accompaniments should come with it.” Duncan also says of those people who like to layer their cheese with bread and other garnishes, “They don’t like cheese, they like sandwiches.”

What’s that smell? “Stronger smelling cheeses aren’t necessarily stronger tasting cheeses,” said Werlin, who thought Rogue River Blue from Central Point, Oregon, had a “gym-socks quality” to it “and that’s not a bad thing,” she said.

Where did that come from? For both Werlin and Duncan it’s the unexpected that makes for the perfect wine and cheese pairing. “The ideal cheese and wine moment is when you have flavors brought to you that neither (the wine or the cheese) produces on its own,” said Werlin.

One basic rule “If you don’t like the cheese or the wine, you won’t like the combination of the two,” said Werlin.

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