A Wine & Cheese Course Fit for Thanksgiving
Chilly holiday evenings call for cream sherry and robust cheese.
Boy, it got chilly at night rather quickly, didn’t it? And dark, too. The shorter days and brisk nights have me thinking about heartier wine and cheese combinations. It’s high time to go big and bold.
Thanksgiving is in my sights, so this month I’m all about aged Gouda with Lustau East India Solera Sherry and either maple cream from Justamere Tree Farm or Fat Toad Farm salted bourbon caramel. I couldn’t make up my mind on the condiment, so I included them both. Good luck picking one. It’s your scrumptious burden now. The rich, sweet tones of this combination always play well at my dessert table, especially after a meal loaded with sweet potato, cranberry sauce, stuffing and all the other trappings of turkey day.
In my wine and cheese pairing book, I discuss picking food and drink combinations that are either complementary or contrasting in nature. Think of it this way—a grilled cheese sandwich is very complementary. Everything about it is pushing in the same direction (the melted cheese, buttered and toasted bread, bacon, etc.). Contrast is when foods have opposite characteristics, and that offset is pleasing. Salt on the rim of your bright and tangy margarita is a great example of contrast. This month’s entry is way deep in the complementary end of the pool.
Gouda is a really old cheese, being mentioned as far back as the 12th century. It’s one of the oldest cheeses in the world still being made today. Pronounced “how-dah” by Dutch locals, Gouda is often used as a term for a style of cheese, rather than a specific recipe or wheel. The cheese is named for the Dutch city of Gouda, where it was largely traded. This is one of the few times a cheese was named for where it was sold, not where it was made. As Gouda ages, often for more than a year, it takes on a wonderful caramel character that adds just a hint of sweetness, as well as those little crystals that are so fun to bite into, kind of like cheesy “pop-rocks.” (Incidentally, those are amino acids, mostly tyrosine, that have crystallized in the cheese as it ages.)
As for the wine, well...yes, it’s a sherry. For some people, sherry is one of those “other” wines—often misunderstood and certainly underappreciated by far too many people. In broad strokes, sherry comes in five main styles: fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso and cream. Of these, cream sherries tend to be thickest and sweetest, and are usually consumed with something sweet—if not as dessert itself. They usually display aromas and flavors of brown sugar, molasses and maple syrup. This particular sherry, made by Lustau, is an excellent representation of how good cream-style sherry can be. For those that consider Robert Parker’s scoring, this baby got a 96. I bought my bottle at Bin Ends Wines in Needham,and paid around twenty bucks for it. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I work there as the portfolio administrator, but you can find the same great deal. With similar characteristics to the cheese, this wine was an easy selection.
The difficult choice was the condiment.
On the one hand there was Fat Toad Farm’s salted bourbon caramel. Produced in Brookfield, Vermont, this unbelievably delicious caramel is made with goat milk, giving it a slightly lighter-bodied texture than the usual cow milk version, but with all the richness and bourbony goodness I could ask for. (I’m also a big fan of putting a spoonful of this into my espresso in the morning.) Fat Toad Farm also makes cinnamon, vanilla, cold-brew coffee and other versions. They’re all winners.
On the other hand, there was Justamere Tree Farm’s outstanding maple cream. If you’re not familiar, maple cream is made from 100 percent maple syrup that is heated, cooled and stirred in a very specific sequence that yields a texture similar to peanut butter. I first came across this maple cream four or five years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. Made in Worthington, Massachusetts, Justamere Tree Farm offers a whole range of maple products (I’m so looking forward to trying out their maple seasoning on pork belly), and they are some of the nicest folks you could imagine.
(Total bonus tip: If you’ve never made maple taffy, you’re missing out. Years ago, I had a roommate from Canada that would make this in the winter. Went crazy for the stuff. It couldn’t be easier to make, either. All you need is heated maple syrup and snow. Check out this YouTube video on how to make it.)
I hope you enjoy this month’s pairings. If you are able to make up your mind on whether the maple cream or caramel was the better choice, or if you need an enabler to make you feel better about all the cheese and wine you’ve been drinking, feel free to drop me a line. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @100Loves, and on Instagram at eatdrinklearn.
Keep eating, drinking and learning!
Bin Ends - 65 Crawford Street, Needham, 781-400-2086, binendswine.com
Justamere Tree Farm - 248 Paddington Rd., Worthington, 413-238-5902, justameretreefarm.com
Fat Toad Farm - 787 Kibbee Rd., Brookfield, VT, 802-279-0098, fattoadfarm.com