You’re staring down four glasses of wine before 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Why?
Because you’re at Laura Werlin’s seminar, “Grilled Cheese, Please!” at the 6th Annual California Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. You’ve got seven cheeses to sample, four wines to taste, and there are four different high-end grilled cheese sandwiches waiting in the wings.
A printed place mat kept the wines, the cheeses, and their relationship to the sandwiches straight — which became increasingly difficult, spitting cup notwithstanding, after the first couple of wines. And there was an additional page for tasting notes on the sandwiches.
That’s right, you’re here to learn.
Werlin individually introduced each wine and its characteristics, then paired it to the cheeses, pointing out why they worked together, before moving on to a grilled cheese sandwich made with those particular cheeses.
First out of the gate, a crisp, Gloria Ferrer 2006 Blanc de Blancs. Taste it. Stop. Taste the Laura Chenel Chevre, a fresh goat cheese – a little tangy, creamy. Taste it with the bubbly Blanc de Blanc: a nice combination of tart, creamy, texture and bubbles. More discussion: a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio is also nice with a chevre, but not a Pinot Gris (too sweet). Sandwich is served: chevre, fresh thyme and chopped apricot: crispy from the grill, creamy, sweet and tart, with a refreshing herb-y bite. Enjoy it. Enjoy it with the sparkling Blanc de Blanc, which now seems a little lemony.
On to a 2009 MacRostie Chardonnay, and a discussion of oaked Chardonnays (not good with cheeses because they bring the taste of the wood too far forward). Taste the Chardonnay with the Point Reyes Farmstead Toma, and then with the Beehive Promontory: buttery. Back up and taste it with the chevre: tart. In the sandwich: bacon and guacamole on sourdough, coated with crushed corn chips and grilled. With the sandwich, the wine now has a fruity character. And if you wouldn’t have picked a Chardonnay to stand up to a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, well, that’s why you need a seminar.
The 2009 Paul Mathew Pinot Noir was instructive. Alone: lots of berries and fruit. Taste it with the Promontory: fruit’s gone. Taste it with the bacon and the tannins come forward. Pair it to the soft-ripened Mt. Townsend Cirrus cheese without the rind, and it’s all blackberries and anise — taste it withthe rind, now it’s tart. With the Bellwether Carmody: neutral. To approximate the Camembert and Comté with Mushrooms sandwich from her book, Werlin used the Mt. Townsend Cirrus and the Bellwether Carmody (cook’s tip from Werlin — trim the rind from the Cirrus, and pull some of the bread out of the center of the baguette before you grill). Tasting with this sandwich, Werlin ran the crowd back through the other wines to make a point, “…we all taste things differently, and that’s what makes the world go round.” Sure enough.
The fourth glass, a 2008 Acorn Winery Sangiovese, was big and tannic, with lots of sharp edges. Taste it with Promontory: now it’s smooth. With Cypress Grove’s buttery, gouda-style “Lamb Chopper,” it’s almost sweet. With Nicasio’s San Geronimo, it dialed up the buttery, creaminess of the cheese, and put a tiny, bitter, nip at the end of the wine. The Sangiovese was a big, complicated wine with lots going on, and Werlin’s rich “Spaniard” sandwich, grilled with the Lamb Chopper, Nicasio San Geronimo cheese and piquillo peppers, stepped up to the plate and pulled it all together, bringing out the best of everything.
Wish you’d been there? Get on the California Artisan Cheese Festival mailing list; you can go next year.
Want to know more about Laura Werlin and her books or attend one of her seminars? Everything you need to know is posted on her website.
Want to make the wonderful, savory Comte and Camembert sandwich? Here’s a link to that recipe (any many others).