The most delightful part of this blog is being found by someone as a resource for food and/or wine. In this case it was Sara Kahn, The Cheese Ambassador, who came a knocking… with Thanksgiving just a few days away. I’m not sure what could be better than this right now.

Sara had her Mediterranean Cheese Course Collection sent to me so I could explore what she’s offering. It contained the Tipsy Goat, Port Salut, and Piave; along with a Swirl Savvy Cheat Sheet, composed by wine expert Anu Karwa.

This really was the perfect combination of exquisite cheeses. Having taken Charles Creek Vineyard’s wine course, I was able to immediately enjoy the fact that this package contained a thoughtful collection of flavors and textures.

Retailing for $35.00, you can simply order it over the Internet… with no fear of spoilage. It arrives in perfect condition in an insulated bag with a couple of frozen gel packs. Coming from the East Coast to California, the gel packs were still quite frozen, and the cheeses still very much had a  chilled environment. Perfect!

The Tipsy Goat (left) is from the arid plains of La Mancha, Spain, and is known as Cabra al Vino. From goat’s milk, it is aged over 40 days, and is “Tipsy,” because it’s bathed in local red wine. The rind is a deep violet hue, and this snowy white cheese includes flavors of wonderful fermented grapes, and creamy delicate cheese.

The Port Salut (center) is a softer cheese from France. This one dates back to Trappist Monks, who are responsible for bringing this cheese back to France after being exiled in Switzerland during the French Revolution. It has a rich, buttery flavor.

The Piave (right) is from Italy. Made from pasture-grazing cows, this cheese is shaped and aged in golden wheels, for over eight months.  Its consistency is crumbly (like a Parmigiano-Reggiano), and has more pungent aromas and flavors with nuances of tasted nuts and caramel. This one would be wonderful when grated and sprinkled on a fresh, creamy pasta.

What to serve with this course, if you were to simply serve it on a platter, like the one shown: marcona almonds, fig and walnut confit, and traditional crostini.

The Cheese Ambassador’s Website has a lot of ideas, if you’re preparing for a gathering. I now know what to “bring to the table” this year, and it’s the cheese course.

GREAT TIP: Use a separate knife for each cheese, so the flavors don’t mingle.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: All specific wine recommendations below that have a link to them are mine, not Sara’s. After having opened the cheeses, I know these brands, and know how well the cheese and wine would pair. Each wine also has an asterisk*]

The Foodie Guide to Pairing Wine & Cheese, Sara Kahn, Founder of The Cheese Ambassador:

[Q] What advice would you give anyone who’s hosting a holiday get-together?

Whether you are hosting a soiree or a casual get-together this holiday, your mission is to provide your guests with warm hospitality, lively conversation and a delectable spread of food and drink. Whether the menu is complicated or simple, it better be delicious. Serving a sumptuous gourmet cheese course is perfect as a starter or centerpiece of the meal. Not only is the preparation simple (no cooking!) but more importantly, your guests will enjoy discovering and savoring new favorites. As a wine lover, you want to impress with the right pairings, but the overwhelming selections of wine and cheese can make your head spin. Relax.

[Q] Are there hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing the right combination of cheese and wine?

No, not really. Just keep in mind a few simple considerations.

A cheese course is about observing and enjoying contrasting and complementary flavors. For a foolproof gourmet cheese course, select three to five cheeses that vary in texture and flavor. Add some crusty bread, fresh or dried fruit, olives and nuts and voila!

Remember, wines are meant to cleanse the palate, wash away the tongue-coating richness of the cheese and prepare your mouth for the next delicious bite. It’s important that your selections don’t overwhelm the cheese and vice versa. Essentially, you’ll want to match wine and cheese of the same intensity level. Just remember “like for like.”

[Q] How does one not schooled in gourmet cheeses know how to pair the right cheese with the right wine?

Take a look at the gourmet cheese categories and wine recommendations below for guidance. You’ll see how easy it is to serve an elegant wine and cheese course. For best results, just add friends and family.

Fresh – These cheeses are not aged and usually are white and light in flavor, smooth and sometimes tangy. Try chevre (goat cheese), feta, and smoked mozzarella.

Beverage Pairings – Acidic white wines stand up to the tang and milky flavors of fresh cheese. Try a Ledgewood Creek Winery* Viognier or a lightly oaked Chardonnay with French goat cheese, Boutari (a white Greek wine produced on the island of Santorini) with Greek Feta and Oak Knoll* Pinot Gris with mozzarella.

Bloomy – Encased in a whitish, edible rind, bloomy gourmet cheeses are often velvety, gooey with a mild flavor. Add Brie, Camembert or Pierre-Robert to the cheese board for a decadent treat.

Beverage Pairings – Seek out a carbonated beverage to refresh the mouth from the rich and creamy flavors. Traditionally, bloomy cheeses are served with French Champagne, but also try Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. [ED NOTE: J Wines* in Russian River Valley also has gorgeous sparkling wines.]

Washed Rind – During the aging process, washed-rind cheeses are usually bathed in a brine or washed with liquor such as wine, beer or a spirits. It’s this brining process that gives the cheese an aromatic quality. Almost all have orange or reddish hued rinds. Not mild and not sharp, washed rind cheeses are full-flavored. Give Taleggio, Drunken Goat, and Epoisses a taste.

Beverage Pairings – The fruity and tannic flavors of red wines work well with the stronger flavors of washed rind cheeses. Try Italian reds such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino with Taleggio, a Spanish Rioja with the Drunken Goat, and a Sly Dog Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon with Epoisses. [I’d also recommend a Adega de Borba Reserva Montes Claros*. After my journey to Portugal, I know this wine would also work really well.]

Semisoft – These supple cheeses are rich, creamy with stronger flavors. Fontina is herbal and nutty while Morbier offers sweetness with greater pungency.

Beverage Pairings – Sample these with light and fruity reds such as a Desmond Estare Vineyard* Pinot Noir or fruity whites such as Sancerre.

Firm – Typically, firm cheeses are still pliable and packed with flavor. The best are a bit crumbly and aged for robust, nutty goodness. Cheddar, Gouda and Gruyere are crowd pleasers.

Beverage Pairings – A pint of English ale is the traditional beverage of choice for Cheddar but an Oak Grove* Sauvignon Blanc is complex enough to complement. Gouda is great with a Silkwood* Syrah/Shiraz and drink Beaujolais with Gruyere.

Hard – Hard cheeses are dry, crumbly and aged for intensity. Piave, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Comte boast salty, caramelized, nutty flavors.

Beverage Pairings – You’ll find hearty wines can hold their own against these cheeses. Try a Barbera or Chianti with the Piave and Parmigiano, and  Charles Creek Vineyard* Merlot with the Comte.

Blue – The bluish-green veins give blue cheese its punch. Listed from strong to strongest in pungency are creamy Gorgonzola, nutty Stilton and salty Roquefort.

Beverage Pairings – Intense gourmet cheeses like blues can be tamed with sweet dessert wines, liqueurs and even a fruity beer. Port and sherry are traditional blue libations. For a unique treat, try a raspberry flavored beer like Belgian Lambic, or an Oak Knoll’s* Framboise). All can be savored while lingering over dessert.

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