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Aspen Times Weekly: Pairing American cheese and wine

NEED TO KNOW

Laura Werlin and Mega Krigbaum’s version of an American wine-and-cheese party:

The cheese:

De La Chiva Dairy Challows (pasteurized goat’s milk), Northglenn, delachivadairy.com

Many Fold Farm Condor Ruin (pasteurized sheep’s milk), Chatahoochee Hills, Georgia, manyfoldfarm.com

3-Corner Field Farm Shusan Snow (pasteurized sheep’s milk), Shusan, New York, dairysheepfarm.com

Landmark Creamery Tallgrass Reserve (pasteurized cow’s mik), Albany, Wisconsin, landmarkcreamery.com

Golden Valley Farm Golden Valley Delight (pasteurized sheep’s milk), Chowchilla, California, goldenvalleysheep.com

Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle (raw cow’s milk), Milton, Iowa, miltoncreamery.com

Capriole Goat Cheese Mont St. Francis (pasteurized goat’s milk), Greenville, Indiana, capriolegoatcheese.com

Spring Day Creamery Spring Day Blues (raw cow’s milk), Durham, Maine, springdaycreamery.com

The wine:

2006 Schramsberg Reserve, North Coast

2012 Three Sticks Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Valley Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley

2013 Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

2010 Adelaida Cellars Viking Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles

2008 Beringer Nightingale Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Napa Valley

Early on a Sunday morning at the recent Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, a congregation of cheese lovers shuffled into a tent to hear nationally known cheese expert Laura Werlin deliver a sermon on pairing "American Cheese and Wine All Stars." Their devotion to both the host and the subject bordered on the religious, and for the next 45 minutes the white tent next to the gondola became a veritable church of cheese.

"Who loves cheese?" Werlin asked with a genuine twinkle in her eye. Over the next 45 minutes, she enthusiastically told tales of the great cheeses she had sourced specifically for this seminar from the obscure farms and towns that are home to some of America's most passionate cheese artisans.

From the Many Fold Farm sheep's milk cheese Condor Ruin produced in the Chatahoochee Hills of northern Georgia to the Spring Day Blues cow's milk cheese made at Durham, Maine's Spring Day Creamery to the Challows goat's milk cheese crafted in Northglenn by the De La Chiva Dairy, Werlin took her followers on a coast-to-coast journey. As she told tales of the people who made the cheese and the cows, sheep and goats from which they came, it was easy to imagine her in overalls and big rubber boots in the milking rooms of myriad small farms.

But here, in her curls and sundress before the assembled, she also spoke of great, sophisticated wines made by the best producers in California. Pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast, cabernet from Paso Robles and sparkling wines from the North Coast were all paired to perfection with cheeses from these obscure American barnyards. It is this ability to make magical pairings from these diverse places and then tell the stories of why they mingle so well that makes Werlin's congregation so devout.

Still, she swears that anyone can put together great wine-and-cheese events if they just follow a few simple rules.

"You know we are really lucky here in Aspen (Werlin has a home in town) to have such great cheese available," Werlin said. "Between the selections at Meat & Cheese, the Murray's cheese counter in City Market and Whole Foods in Basalt, you can get amazing cheese."

So if you want to do a cheese-and-wine-pairing party, what is the best way to go about it? I posed that question to Werlin recently and, as is her custom, got a veritable A-to-Z answer.

"First, figure out if you want to start with the wine or the cheese," she began. "Do you want to raid your cellar and then pair some cheese with that big California cab that you have been holding or maybe open an Oregon pinot gris? Or do you want to get some cheese at, say, Meat & Cheese and then go over to Of Grape and Grain and get some wine that works with the cheese?" Either way, she had some tips.

"If you want to go with that big red, then choose an English-style cloth-bound or bandage-wrapped cheddar, such as Cabot Clothbound and Montgomery's Cheddar," she said. "The Cabot is available at Whole Foods, Meat & Cheese and likely Murray's at City Market, as well. The Montgomery's is available at Meat & Cheese. Wrapped Goat Cheddar is another great choice."

For a crisper white wine, Werlin suggests inherently tangy cheeses like young goat and sheep's milk cheeses.

"Some great choices include Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog or the Bonne Bouche, from Vermont Butter & Cheese, both of which you can find in City Market or Whole Foods. And, believe it or not, many blue cheeses such as St. Agur or Fourme d'Ambert from France or Stilton can work well," she said.

Generally speaking, the whiter the cheese (a cheese that has not been aged long), the lighter the wine. And for sweet, dessert-style wines?

"Stay with the blue or washed-rind cheeses. Anything that qualifies as stinky. You want that contrast of sweet and salt."

In selecting cheeses, Werlin suggests that you stick with what you know but be a bit adventurous, as well.

"If you don't know anything about cheese, let some of your food preferences guide you," she said. "Do you like rich, creamy sauces? Then chances are you'll like rich, creamy cheeses. Think triple-creams like Explorateur, St. Andre or Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam."

Prefer spicy foods?

"Then you might like cheeses with a little more kick, including blue cheeses," Werlin said.

Once you have decided on your cheeses, there are a few more things to consider.

"Less is more. Don't worry about buying a bunch of cheeses (more than five) and opening up your entire cellar. If you're really wanting to learn how to pair cheese and wine, then whittle it down to just a few of each. You'll learn more, and you'll actually have more fun, because it won't be confusing," she said.

And how much wine and cheese should you have? Well, it depends on how many people you are having and how much they drink. Plan on at least half a bottle of wine per person or more if they are big drinkers.

And for cheese?

"For hors d'oeuvres, plan on 1 to 2 ounces of each cheese per person, and offer no more than three cheeses," Werlin said. "For a full-fledged cheese-and-wine party in which almost no other food is being served, then depending on the number of cheeses you're serving, then plan on 2 to 3 ounces of each cheese per person. Good cheese is fulfilling."

Hallelujah!

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.