Tasting Report: When Sake Met Cheese

Sake is traditionally thought of as a pairing for Japanese cuisine… but how about cheese? SakeOne put together a little sampler in conjunction with the Marin French Cheese Company (plus friends) — an amazing producer that’s all of 8 miles from my house here in Northern California.

We’ve reviewed most of these sakes before, so today I’m just looking at the concept of pairing rice wine with rich cheese. Here are some case-by-case thoughts on a quartet of duos.

Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo ($14) with Marin French Petite Breakfast Brie – This is an interesting combination and great first exploration, coming across a lot like the way that melon and parmesan cheese can match up swimmingly. The brie is beautiful alone, and the sweeter sake does work as nice foil to the umami in the cheese.

Momokawa Organic (Unfiltered) Nigori ($14) with Laura Chenel’s Chévre – Fresh, moist, and creamy, this slightly grainy cheese pairs nicely with the cloudy, more savory sake. Overall it’s less of a counterpoint though, and more of a happy companion with the cheese.

Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry ($27) with Laura Chenel’s Ash-rinded Buchette – This very pungent cheese might have been a bit spoiled during shipment to me. That said, this sake is also more pungent than those preceding it here, balancing its melon notes with some deeper, funkier character — so I can see how the combo would work.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior Junmai Ginjo ($27) with Rogue River Blue Cheese – Sake + blue cheese? Another surprising winner. This recalls the first pairing — a little sweet meets salty/savory — but amps things up quite a bit. Winter Warrior is a lively and balanced sake on its own, but this is a wonderful example of how a big, punchy cheese can elevate a quality sake into new and exciting territory.

Dispatch from the 2014 Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival

Autumn wasn’t technically with us in late August, but that didn’t stop the folks at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, California, from putting on a grandiose wine and food festival. Now in its 29th year, the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival is a multi-day event that combines a walk-around tasting with focused events that let you dive into various topics.

A session that paired beer and cheese was a fun and unusual way to approach the dairy-driven topic. While a few of the pairings were a bust, all of the cheeses were great, and most of the beers — primarily offerings from Goose Island — were refreshing on a hot day on the mountain.

Later that evening, Charbay hosted a spirits and caviar event, pairing vodka and tequila and cocktails made from both with caviar samplings and various dishes from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Company. A lengthy session — we started famished but finished full of fish eggs and Charbay spirits.

The final day of the festival focuses on the food and wine en masse, with 20-some booths each featuring a winery (or beer company) and a restaurant serving a small bite. I left that afternoon stuffed to the gills from bites both mundane (sliders) to exotic (rabbit, crudo, venison, and more). The wines here included a strange mix of stuff from all over the world, but my personal highlights were offerings from Pride, Mutt Lynch, Hahn, and Handley. The event is competitive. Full winners can be found here.

I took some photos over the two days I was there. Enjoy, and let’s all head to Tahoe for the event in 2015!

Gelateria Naia Puts Frozen Whiskey on a Stick

gelato whiskeyNow here’s a fun item I never thought I’d see in my local supermarket: A gelato popsicle flavored with St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey. Both companies are local to NorCal: Gelateria Naia is based in Hercules, St. George in Alameda, both in the East Bay.

This popsicle is quite a little delight, flavored with sugar, a touch of caramel, and real St. George Single Malt poured right into the pop. The texture is a bit icier than a non-alcohol-based pop from the company I tried, but still easy to munch on. The flavor is slightly nutty, and sweeter than I’d expected. The closest analogue I can suggest is a dulce de leche ice cream, swirled with caramel. The flavors linger with you, though, for quite a while after it’s all gone, and its there where some of the more whiskeylike notes — cereal and oak staves — start to emerge.

Fun. Would eat again. About $2.50 a pop.

gelaterianaia.com

Tasting Beers and Stout Ice Cream at Peter B’s, Monterey, California

A recent trip to Monterey, California took us to Peter B’s Brewpub, back behind the Portola Hotel. A rowdy place full of pool tables and TVs blasting sports, it’s also home to Monterey’s biggest brewpub operation, with about a dozen beers on tap at any one time.

This time we came in search of something special, a not-yet-released ice cream flavored with Peter B’s own stout. Made by local icecreamateur Butch Adams (pictured below), who runs a small operation just off of Cannery Row called Kai Lee Creamery, it’s quite a treat, very mild up front, with a modest chocolate and nutty character to it — not quite stout, but not coffee or chocolate either. Lovely and restrained, I can’t think of a better way to end a session of sampling craft beers — unless you maybe drop a scoop of this into an IPA. A-

While we were there, we naturally sampled the five “always on” brews that Peter B’s offers, plus a couple of barrel-aged seasonal releases. Some quick thoughts follow on each of the beers.

Belly Up Blonde – A classic blonde ale, quite rich and malty. Fresh and chewy, with a slight oatmeal character. 5% abv. B+

Fort Ord Wheat – Unfiltered wheat ale. A bit musty, this is missing the bracing citrus of good witbiers. A little muddy on the back end. 5.8% abv. B-

Inclusion Amber Ale – Nice body on this, a good bridge to Peter B’s stronger brews. Mocha notes are prominent here, with some decent hops, though it’s far from bitter at 35 IBUs. Dried fruit and mushroom notes on the finish add interest. 5.13% abv. B+

Legend of Laguna IPA – The big guy (60 to 80 IBUs, depending on where you look). Ample citrus all around, with a ton of bitterness behind it. Hang in there for the evergreen finish, plusa touch of rum raisin. 6.5% abv. B+

Stout Resistance – The stout used in the ice cream, you get big coffee and cream notes on this black brew. It’s mouth coating and rich, but a lot of mushiness in the body mars this otherwise capable stout. 5.7% abv. B

Scotch Ale (seasonal) – Nutty with roasted grains and a slug of raisins. Nice balance here, and it’s quite different and fun. A-

Port Barrel Aged Stout (seasonal) – A real change of pace. Extremely cherry-fueled from start to finish, with a smattering of plums and raisins. Big body with a bracing, bitter finish that works well with the lightly sour body. B+

Review: Lake Champlain Milk Chocolate Apple Cider Caramels

lake champlain happy valley orchard citizen cider caramelsWhiskey chocolates? Been done. How about chocolates studded with caramel and apple cider?

Lake Champlain Chocolates’ latest concoction brings in apples from Happy Valley Orchard and cider from Citizen Cider to create an all-Vermont seasonal confection sensation.

These dense caramels start with silky milk chocolate and burst open to reveal intense apple pie flavor inside, rich with cinnamon/allspice notes and fresh apple puree. If anything’s missing it’s the “cider” element — though it seems impossible to get the real essence of tart, fresh cider into a package this small.

Delicious stuff, though perhaps a bit pricey….

A- / $15 per sleeve of 7 caramels (2.4 oz. total) / lakechamplainchocolates.com

Review: Lake Champlain BeBop Hop Chocolate Bar

hop chocolate barBut allow me to explain.

Lake Champlain Chocolates has made this oddity by wrapping a solidified blend of milk and dark chocolate around a molten core that’s made with hop-infused caramel, which is sweetened with malt that’s been reduced from Long Trail’s brewing operation. Hops, as in beer, that’s right. While “hop oil” is the last ingredient on the package (after salt, for God’s sake), there’s no mistaking who this chocolate’s target audience is.

Intense and initially off-putting, this is a confection that, surprisingly, grows on you. You better really like bitter beers. The initial rush of sweetness is misleading, because those hops come on quick and push all of that sugar aside. The hop infusion is long and lasting — not exactly bitter, but all-encompassing in the way that a good, big beer can be. There’s an aftertaste here that’s far longer than any beer I’ve ever tried. I’m detecting hops on the palate for at least 15 minutes, which is both intriguing and a little disconcerting. The chocolate is also very good, too, though nothing you’ll be able to recall with clarity considering the hop influence in that caramel center.

Really, really unique stuff. My wife, however, had to spit it out.

Available only through June 9!

B+ / $4 per 3.25 oz bar / lakechamplainchocolates.com