Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings

othing brings people together in the spirit of love like a wedding—except perhaps a cheese, cocktail and wine tasting event (in Wisconsin, anyway). This past week I was fortunate to be able to enjoy both.

My friends’ wedding was beautiful; a simple outdoor ceremony followed by a delicious dinner and lots of wine and dancing. The bride (a multiracial, Jewish, African-American woman) and the groom (a Muslim man from the Gambia) infused the ceremony with symbols of their very different cultural backgrounds. African fabric covered the chuppah, and wine was served alongside a traditional African ginger drink. And of course drums were played. Together, it just made sense.

L’Etoile‘s Wisconsin Cheese and Sommelier-Mixologist Duel on July 9 featured six cheeses paired with both a wine and a mixed drink. The great company of foodies, food writers, cheesemakers and farmers added to the exceptional flavors of the evening.

Cheesemakers from Uplands Dairy (Andy Hatch), Roelli Cheese Co. (Chris Roelli) and Bleu Mont Dairy (Willi Lehner) offered tastings of their favorite cheeses. We even scored tastes of Bleu Mont’s “mystery cheese” (a two-month-old cheese that became legal to serve that very day), a not-yet-for-sale cheddar-style cheese from Roelli, and Upland’s twenty-four-month-old Pleasant Ridge reserve from Andy’s private collection.

L’Etoile’s beer and cocktail pros, Casey Kammel and Nic Waerzegger, concocted beverages that would blow your socks off (luckily I had only sandals on). They faced off against the wine posse, Aaron Johnson and Ruben Mendez, to find the best pairing for the cheeses.

Discovering the perfect beverage for your cheese, like any partnership, takes time and work. You must swirl the wine, stir the cocktail, inhale the aroma of the cheese, then slowly take a bite and a sip. Eventually you take it a step further and, as one of the boisterous tasters at our table described, you make a “cheese highway.” Take a bite of cheese, mush it in your mouth, then sip your drink over the cheese. You will discover so many flavors—sweet, nutty or pungent, floral, salty and even bitter. Most often the combinations were superb, although sometimes the individuals stars would have been best left to shine alone.

I swooned over the first wine and cheese pairing featuring one of my favorite cheeses, the ten-month-old Uplands Pleasant Ridge reserve with Thibault Liger-Belair, a French Pinot Noir (which I found out later costs $143 per bottle—I should have requested a refill!).

And I found myself not so smitten with a Wisconsin beer cocktail paired with Marigold, a delicious shelf-cured cheddar style cheese from Roelli. My tablemates decided that the cocktail would be better paired with a swimming pool that cheese. Admittedly by then we had had a few drinks, and considered ourselves very fit to judge. By the end of the evening, I seemed to be able to sum up my thoughts very concisely: “mycelium rocks,” my notes say.

The cheese and beverages brought out the best in each other, as do my newly married friends. Isn’t that what we should all strive to do? If you need a drink to get started I highly recommend L’Etoile’s .01 Parts Wine with champagne currants, gin, a tart cherry pipette and Sauvignon Blanc float. It’s $14 well spent. It wouldn’t hurt to have a nibble of Bleu Mont’s bandaged cheddar for your cheese highway, too.

Photo by Otehlia Cassidy.