Wine and cheese have been life-long friends for a reason, not only do they work well together, they accentuate each others’ best qualities. This relationship is no secret to 13th Street Winery.
Just a stones-throw from downtown St. Catharines, 13th Street is hosting a handful of cheese seminars this fall and if you have not booked yourself a seat I suggest you get on the phone right now.
I had the pleasure of attending the first cheese seminar of the season – Cheese in Our Backyard. 13th Street extraordinaire Eva Moughrabie (who I met during the Fall Handmade Market) had been working for months to find eight (8) of the most perfect Ontario cheeses to pair with some of 13th Street’s best wines.
We were hosted in the Gallery – a beautiful private events room at the winery laced with local art and bright windows. The centerpiece and pride of the room is a large 18-foot 1300lb Indonesian hardwood table. Made from one solid piece of wood this table seats 22 people comfortably and it was my pleasure to finally pull up a seat.
Before we began, Eva explained that when tasting cheeses you should put the cheese in your mouth and let it linger for a few seconds. This is so the cheese can aerate in your mouth and the full flavours can emerge. Some cheese benefit from melting on the top of your mouth instead of on your tongue. Also, contrary to what most people assume, when tasting cheese the bread is served to cleanse the palate in between each cheese. Armed with that knowledge we forged ahead.
Our four wines had been poured, the eight cheeses plated and, at that moment, with all 20 (or so) of us accounted for, we were ready to jump the gun and dive right in. The wines featured during this cheese event were:
- 2008 Premier Cuvee (sparkling)
- 2011 Junes Riesling
- 2011 Gamay Noir
- 13 Below Zero Riesling (late harvest)
Here’s what we tried and I have put a beside my favourite pairing with each cheese.
Waltzing Matilda by Monforte
This cheese is from Monforte Dairy in Stratford Ontario. The cheese is made from buffalo milk, like mozarella and bocconcini. Ruth, the owner and lead cheesemaker, makes over 30 different cheeses and is only one of two buffalo milk creameries in Canada. This cheese was pretty mild; it tasted a little bit like boconncini but was much creamier. Eva explained that this cheese was meant for cheese boards but would probably be nice grated or sliced thin on top of a hot pasta – I agree!
2008 Premier Cuvee
Chevre by C’estBon
This decadently creamy goats cheese is from C’estBon Cheese Limited in St. Marys. It was, by far, my absolute favourite cheese that I tasted at 13th Street that day. C’est Bon makes 6 different kinds of cheeses and this one is sold in ‘tub’ format – unfortunately it was the only cheese that 13th Street didn’t have for sale. It is spreadable and gooey and can be used in recipes in place of cream. The group agreed that it would taste good spread on fresh figs — too bad I don’t live closer to the fig tree that grows in my Zio’s garden in Vicenza, Italy. The shelf life of this cheese would probably be no more than 20 minutes in my house!
2008 Premier Cuvee or 2011 Junes Riesling
Eweda by Best Baa
Believe it or not I have actually had the pleasure of tasting this sheep milk cheese by Best Baa Dairy once before at the 23rd Annual Feast of Fields earlier this year. Made in the style of Gouda (hense, EWEda), this cheese has a grainy texture and is a little sour tasting on its own. This cheese ages for 6 months and is pasturized. Although on its own I really didn’t care for the cheese, when I paired it with the 2011 Junes Riesling it was fantastic! It was incredible how the alcohol automatically makes the grainy texture turn smooth and creamy. Best Baa makes many other cheeses with great names including Mouton Rouge and Ramembert.
2011 Junes Riesling
Gouda, Old by Thunder Oak
This Gouda, traditionally pronounced HOW-da, is by Thunder Oak Cheese Farm in Thunder Bay. This cheese is aged for 8 months on this small, secluded cow farm in northern Ontario where no one else is making cheese for 650kms! Owners Jacob and Margaret Schlep are likely the most well-known Gouda producers in Ontario; they make 17 cheeses on-site and 13 of them are Gouda. They have been making cheese since 1982 in Canada (but Margaret’s mother was a well-known Gouda artisan in Holland well before the 80’s). They did not start retailing their cheeses until 1995. Today Jacob and Margaret’s children Walter and Joanne are taking over the business – they are 6th generation cheese-makers!
2011 Gamay Noir
Lankaaster by Glengarry
This cow’s milk Gouda from Glengarry Cheesemaking and Dairy in Lancaster (Ottawa area) surprised me with its nutty, toffee-like taste. Although advertised as aged for 8 months, Eva suspected (as did some other cheese connoisseurs in the room) that it had actually been aged for at least a year to a year-and-a-half. Owned by 4th generation cheese-maker Margaret Peters-Morris, this cheese is made from the milk of Holsteins. The cheese is actually made in what looks like bread loaves and is sliced. The bright orange colour, compared to the other cheeses on the plate, surprised me. I liked this cheese on it’s own but I absolutely loved it with the gamay – it “EXPLODES” – to quote my notes exactly.
2011 Gamay Noir
Camelot by Upper Canada Cheese Co
What would a cheese tasting in Niagara be without something by Upper Canada Cheese Company in Jordan? This goat cheese won Reserve Grand Champion at the Royal Winter Fair in 2011. It is made from purebred Lamancha goats from Peterborough. Lamancha’s are the ones that do not actually have ears – just little nubs (seriously, I’m not kidding … Google it if you don’t believe me). As much as I love love love Upper Canada Cheese, I found this cheese to be very very salty; not really my cup of tea with or without wine.
2011 Gamay Noir
Maple Cheddar by Black River
Eva was the first to concede that you do not usually see a cheddar on a cheese board, but this Maple Cheddar by Black River Cheese in Milford Ontario is so unique that she could not leave it off the plate. I agree! This cheese is sweet like maple sugar, and it should be because they make it by first making and aging the cheddar for 5-8 months. Then, they shred the cheddar and combine it with pure maple syrup and sugar and then age it again. This creamery is the only one in Ontario to make a maple cheddar cheese and it was my second favourite next to the Chevre. It is smooth and creamy and quite a surprise when paired with the riesling. Fast fact about Black River – in 1901 you could purchase shares to this creamery for $20 each!
2011 Junes Riesling
Highland Blue by Back Forty
This all sheep, blue cheese is from Back Forty Artisan Cheese in Millbank, Ontario. Although I’ve never had their cheese before, I’ve read about this artisanal company. Young couple Jenna and Jeff have recently taken the reins from founder James Keith and his late wife Elizabeth. True to the founder’s philosophy, Jeff apprenticed with James in order to maintain and sustain the company’s legacy. Although not a huge fan of blue cheese, it was quite nice with the late harvest.
FYI – blue cheese is injected with penicillin spores and ripened from the inside out and people who are allergic to penicillin cannot eat blue cheese.
13 Below Zero Riesling
I was very impressed by Eva’s preparation and knowledge during the tasting. She was a wealth of knowledge and had actually visited many of the creameries whose cheeses were being featured. And, it was obvious that she had picked up more than enough for us to purchase our favourites when all was said and done.
At the end of it all we left the winery with one of the last bottles of 13th Street 2009 Old Vines Riesling, a cut of the Maple Cheddar, a cut of the Lankaaster Gouda and excited taste-buds. I’m sad to say that just a few short days later the cheddar is all gone and my husband has hidden the Gouda on me somewhere in our fridge. It’s a good thing that 13th Street has launched a cheese cellar on-site because it’s time to stock up again. Join 13th Street for their next Cheese Seminar – Aging … Not Just for Wine! happening December 15, 2012.