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Travel on the Cheese Highway

I recently had the good fortune to attend the first Artisanal Cheese and Wine Pairing adventure at Briar Rose Winery in Temecula.  I have eaten my share of good cheeses and drank my share of good wines but never enjoyed such a thoughtful and professional coupling until now.

My tour guides on this cheese adventure were the effervescent winery president, Dorian Linkogle, selecting the wines; and the equally vivacious Barrie Lynn, a nationally recognized cheese and beverage pairing expert, known as “The Cheese Impresario.”

Barrie Lynn & Dorian Linkogle

Guests were warmly greeted by winery owner, Dorian Linkogle, who exuded a special enthusiasm for the hand-crafted old-world style wines, carefully selected from winemaker, Les Linkogle’s estate grown and library wines. Excitement heightened as we were ushered onto a patio where tables were already set with a menu, wine glasses and individual platters of cheeses, bread and condiments.

Dorian introduced us to Barrie Lynn and the adventure began.  She had been given all four wines in advance to match the characteristics of each with just the right cheese.  In a good pairing there is balance.  You should not taste the wine more than the cheese nor the cheese more than the wine.  Just as in medicine, the first objective is “to do no harm” to the taste of the wine.

Barrie Lynn has a light-hearted approach, encouraging dialogue and hands-on experimentation to understand what works.  Her passion for cheese comes across loud and clear.  First she taught us how to taste using her own process – “the cheese highway.”  Begin by picking up the cheese and smelling it.  Take a bite of cheese and let it roll on your tongue making a cheese highway. Take a sip of wine and the pairing melds together in the back of your mouth.  Aahh.

In many ways a fine cheese is like a fine wine, Barrie explained. They are both artisanal products made by passionate people dedicated to high quality. The gleam in Dorian’s eyes as she enthusiastically, lovingly described each of the superb wines echoed the agreement.

How did Barrie Lynn become “The Cheese Impresario?” I wondered. The night cheese changed her life she attended a fundraiser featuring artisanal cheese and wine pairings, much like the event I was attending right then. She admits she really didn’t know what happened.  Maybe the microbes took over and made her their slave.  She only knew that she tasted cheeses so breathtaking that they made her swoon and she wanted more – more knowledge, more variety, and more cheese adventures.  She was determined to follow this passion as far as it could take her.  She invented the cheese highway and never looked back.

That highway has taken Barrie Lynn on quite a ride.  A major advocate for artisan cheese makers, she jumped into the Slow Food movement which honors them. She began sharing her passion and expertise by designing cheese pairing adventures, ranging from intimate in-home groups to upwards of 250 people at a corporate setting. Each event is personalized just like an expert travel agent would personalize your trip around the world.

Totally immersed in “all things cheesy”, “The Cheese Impresario” has created Oscar and Emmy Awards “goodie bags” of certificates for wine and cheese pairing events. She writes about cheese and is a sought after expert quoted in Elle, Martha Stewart Living, Wine Spectator and USA Today. She has also extended her pairings to include beverages other than wine with non-alcoholic pairings, beers and other spirits.

Our event attendees had many questions about cheese which elicited entertaining and informative replies.

Q. Isn’t cheese too fattening to serve often?

A. Artisanal cheeses are much more flavorful than factory-produced products that require larger portions to be satisfied.  Plus, without preservatives, they are easier to digest.  See if you don’t feel satisfied after this tasting. (I did.)

Q. How do you choose contrasting cheeses for a tasting?

A. The classic approach is to give a taste of different milk from lighter goat’s milk cheeses to more robust cow’s milk cheeses.  Just like wine tasting that moves from the lightest whites to the darkest reds, I begin with the lightest cheese and ending with the strongest.

Q. How much cheese should I serve?

A. Three to five cheeses – more and the palate becomes confused. Three on a cheese plate prior to dinner and five for a cocktail party. Select only one ounce of each cheese per person. Then add crackers and French baguette slices, even darker breads can work. I like to experiment with condiments for new flavor profiles. Consider honey, olive oils, nuts and dried fruits.

Q. How should cheese be stored?

A. My first suggestion is buy what you need, from a cheese monger, if possible. If not, look for the small artisanal cheese makers or research online. When you bring home your cheese take off any plastic wrap and rewrap in waxed paper or parchment with a light outer wrapping of tin foil. Keep in the lettuce drawer of your refrigerator away from any strong flavors.  At least one hour before serving leave your cheese out to allow the microbes to warm up. Unwrap the cheese and cover it with a tea towel so it doesn’t dry out.

Here is what we tasted:

1.     Woolrich Dairy Triple Crème Goat’s Milk Brie (Canada) paired with Briar Rose 2009 Estate Viogner

The wine: Color-light straw; Bouquet – bright floral and exotic fruit; Taste – refreshing with a hint of sweetness. The cheese: made with fresh goat’s milk with a rich buttery texture and savory flavor.

2.     Sartori Reserve Raspberry BellaVitano (Wisconsin) paired with Briar Rose 2005 Cabernet Franc – Library Collection

The wine: Color – deep rich ruby; Bouquet – blackberries, raspberries and dried aromatic herbs; Taste – rich, fruity layers of complexity. The cheese: a unique parmesan flavor and creamy cheddar texture. Soaked in Raspberry Tart Ale to bring out the fruity notes of the cheese.

3.     Rumiano Cheese Dry Jack (California) paired with Briar Rose 2004 Petit Verdot – Library Collection

The wine: Color – dense, almost black; Bouquet – spicy aromas of blackberry with a hint of truffle and white pepper; Taste – blackberries, clove and plum with soft, round tannins for a long finish. The Cheese: award winning jack, hand-rubbed with pepper and cocoa. Recommended to drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

4.     Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar (Wisconsin) paired with Briar Rose 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

The Wine: Color – deep ruby; Bouquet – berries, black cherry, plum; Taste – ripe fruit, sweet toasty vanilla and cocoa, long slightly peppery finish.  The Cheese: super aged with a deep, rich and sharp cheddar taste with tiny sparks of flavor crystals and a long elegant finish.

I didn’t quite swoon, but came pretty close.  I did not need dinner afterward to be completely satisfied. I will be more creative and adventurous in pairing cheeses at home. My Conclusion: The Cheese Highway is an extremely fun trip.  I am ready to ride again and again.  Thank you Briar Rose and The Cheese Impresario for being fabulous tour guides.

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