Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SF Chefs 2010: Slam Dunk Cheese and Wine Pairing

SF Chefs 2010 is an exciting event held in San Francisco. It features San Francisco’s premier food, wine and spirits and is produced by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Visa Signature offers discounts and access to special events throughout the event. My long time friends and fellow foodies, Monica and Jeanna  along with myself, attended the “Slam Dunk Cheese and Wine Pairing” seminar yesterday that we had signed up for a while ago. The seminar featured Laura Werlin, a well-known expert on all things cheese. She was accompanied by Karl Wente, fifth generation winemaker from Wente Vineyards in Livermore, which is approximately 45 minutes from San Francisco. To round off this impressive panel was Christie Dufault, who is the sommelier from Michael Mina’s RN74 in the millenium towers.

{ Me, Monica and Laura Werlin }

We rode over on BART bright and early to allow enough time to grab a latte up the street from the Westin St. Francis where the seminar was being held. Monica quickly spotted Chris Constantino from Incanto and Chef vs City whizzing through the revolving doors to get the Anolon Chef Challenge with Jennifer Biestly against Tyler Florence and Elizabeth Falkner. On another side note, after the seminar, we enjoyed lunch at Scala’s and Elizabeth Falkner got seated right after we did. She is the owner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco and is an amazing chef who does both sweet and savory. The seminar room was set up beautifully with plentiful cheese plates, five glasses of wine and one glass of beer. We will get to the beer a bit later. Being Visa Signature clients had its advantages since we enjoyed phenominal seats.

{Karl Wente, Me and Monica }

The impressive panel introduced themselves along with their credentials and then the journey through a cheese and wine paradise started. The seminar focused on “old world cheeses and new world wines”. Wines from the united states and cheese from Europe. It was ten in the morning and wine doesn’t typically appear for me that early, unless it appears in the form of a mimosa. We had our tasting note sheet in hand and were ready to learn.

If you do not already own Laura’s book, I would highly suggest you add this to your collection. As part of the seminar, we received a signed copy of her book.  The information is invaluable and she makes understanding the world of cheese simple. One of the most important things to realize when enjoying wine and cheese together, is to understand that “what rose (grew) together pairs together”. Taste your wine first, then the cheese and then together. You will appreciate each one alone and then how they marry together.

We began with Queso Lenora which is a goats milk cheese from Leon in Spain and paired it with the 2009 Wente Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, Louis Mel from Livermore Valley. Goat cheese and Sauvignon are one the most natural and perfect pairings. The wine is fresh, lively and has hints of minerality. The acidity, peach, delicate floral and grassy qualities marry with the goat cheese. Our second cheese was a goat cheese called Vare from Asturias Spain. Different from the first one, it has a slightly grainy mouth feel along with a nutty and creaminess. We paired it with the Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay. The chardonnay is “fruit on a pedestal” and has an addition of 3% Gewürztraminer. The butter and oak qualities of the chardonnay balanced this goat cheese and were a marriage for your mouth and senses.

{ Labeled the cheeses that we tasted clockwise beginning at twelve o'clock }

Gres de Champenois from Champagne France was our third cheese and had the addition of crème fraiche. This cheese was magic. Enjoying this creamy and rich cheese with the rind, adds a harmony to the cheese along with pairing it with the chardonnay. Switching the chardonnay for a sparkling wine would be a great alternative to the chardonnay. Next we tasted a sheep milk cheese called Petit Agour from Pyrenees (Basque region) in France. It was a very earthy and savory cheese with a similar look of manchego. The outside of the rind is brushed with paprika when creating this lovely cheese. It will often produce a shiny look on the outside due to the milk fats coming to the top as it comes to room temperature.

The Petit Agour was paired with the 2008 Zarzuela from Murrieta’s Well in Livermore. My husband and I actually got married at Murrieta’s Well and will celebrate our twelve year wedding anniversary next month. The Zarzuela is an expressive wine with hints of cherry, spice, cranberry and ripe blueberry on the note and palate. A splash of crushed black pepper comes through along with orange blossom. As it opens up, the wine is even more delicious. As Christie said after tasting - "it is need I say, another slam dunk" and she was right on the mark.

Now for one of the more unique pairings we had. Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar, a cows milk from County Cork in Ireland was paired with Telegraph Brewing Company's California Ale from Santa Barbara. The smooth aged flavor of the cheddar along with the barley and hops from the beer made this a natural pairing. The beer accentuated the cheese profile and was quite a nice pairing. We paired this with another wine, the 2007 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier from the Carneros region in Napa. This wine has such delicate fruit flavors with plum and cherry. It was quite angular on the mouth with an elevated acidity and a ting of white pepper flavors came through with this quite versatile wine.
Our next cheese was L'Amuse Signature Gouda which is a cow's milk from Beemster Holland. The flavor in this cheese was incredible and quite unique. Notes of coffee, butterscotch, burnt caramel, cocoa and slight whiskey tones came through. Since being aged, it develops slight crystals and a very hard texture. We tried it with the chardonnay and then the Pinot Meunier. As Carl noted, it was an intellectual process and quite a conundrum between the pairing of the chardonnay and the cheese.

Winding down our tasting, we enjoyed a Comte (Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine) from Jura France which we paired with the chardonnay. This cheese is only made during specific times of the year and the wine brings out the nutty, creamy and spicy flavors of the cheese. Christie made a great statement about this pairing - "This wine is the cheese's wing man". One of my favorite cheeses was next on the tasting menu. Epoisses (Fromagerie Berthaut) from Burgundy France is a wash rind cows milk cheese. If you enjoy Redhawk from Cowgirl Creamery or Taleggio from Italy, you will savor this cheese. It is a quite pungent and stinky cheese, but oh so delicious. It possesses a saltiness and creamy texture. We paired it with both the chardonnay and the pinot meunier. The chardonnay was the clear winner for me with this pairing.

Last but not certainly least, we had a Verde Capra from Lombardy Italy and is a goat blue cheese. This cheese is profoundly flavorful and intense. A true powerhouse in the cheese family. It was paired with a Zinfandel Port from Peltier Station in Lodi. As in the true Zinfandel style it was jammy and had red raspberry and black cherry undertones. The pairing was spectacular and the contract of the salty, rich cheese with the sweet acidity of the wine was perfect - dare I say, another slam dunk. A special note, we had beautiful sliced baguettes to enjoy our cheese and some of the most divine artisan breadsticks from Panevino.

Overall it was a wonderful day spending with my foodie friends, geeking out on talking about food along with tasting some amazing cheeses and wines. As with other classes, I am building on my food and wine knowledge and loving every minute. The goal for next SF Chefs is to spend the weekend in the city and attend a large number of the events.


  1. What a fantastic tasting! Each cheese sounds so good and I am eager to try the wines you mentioned. I'm intrigued by the Chardonnay with the addition of Gewürztraminer -- to think that Wente is not too far from where I live, it's a winery I often overlook (shame on me!).

  2. Too cool! Looks like an awesome time :)

  3. Oh Lisa, looks like you really had a great time. Lovely photos you got there. Thank you for sharing.

  4. What a fantastic class! I'm emailing this to myself so I can refer to it again. Love the idea of old world cheeses and new world wines. I've been to Wente but it was years ago - now, I'm looking forward to trying their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay along with the cheeses you mentioned. As well as some of the other pairings.

  5. Oh wine and cheese - two of my favorites. Looks like you had a great time.

  6. I didn't know about this, I hope I can get in on some of the fun next year! I loved your orzo salad idea so much, I wrote an orzo salad recipe, thanks so much for the inspiration!

  7. wasnt it fun that u got to try all kinds of cheese? I want to experience that one day!! Must be delicious eh??

    Have a lovely day!!
    Jen @ www.passion4food.ca

  8. Lisa - what a fun evening to look forward to and enjoy with your foodie friends! Gosh - I would love to attend events like this. I live in the wrong city, for sure! I'd like to try that Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier!


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