Say Cheese!

We Love This Dairy Indulgence

Cheese! Glorious cheese! Remember that commercial? It is glorious, and when you pair it with red wine, the glories are magnified.

My wine club recently met to taste cabernet sauvignon and cheese. We received nine amazing cheeses from local vendors to pair with the wine. Needless to say, we were in heaven.


LeeAnn Zubay, owner of Zzest Market downtown, says that cabs can be difficult to pair with cheese because there can be such a variety of flavors that are present in the wine. One cheese that she gave us for our tasting was Cloud Cap from Cascadia Creamery in Trout Lake, Washington. Zubay says, “It is inspired by the Welsh cheese Caerphilly. It has a mottled, slightly bloomy rind with aromas of earth and forest floor. The paste is soft, yet crumbly; you may notice slight citrus notes, definite grassy, hay flavors and mushroom closer to the rind. I chose this for a cab because of the mushroom hay notes.” This cheese had a fantastic soft center and a tanginess that paired well with the wine.

Another cheese Zubay recommends with cabernet is Gruyere Surchoix, which is an Alpine-style, washed-rind, cow’s milk cheese. She says this is a multiple award-winning cheese handmade in small batches in Wisconsin. She says, “Surchoix wheels are aged for at least nine months, resulting in this luscious cheese with a creamy paste and crunchy crystals. It is buttery with a meaty richness, and an extraordinary nutty, mushroomy flavor.” Again, the mushroom flavor goes well with cabernet, and Zubay tips that it will go especially well if the wine has some fruit notes to it. She said that this would be “wonderful with apples or crusty bread” and is “also a good melting cheese for fondue or grilled cheese.”

We took a chance with a blue cheese that might not normally go well with a cabernet. The Blue Jay that comes from Sheboygan, Wisconsin “is super interesting” with some buttery notes. It has a bit of a piney flavor that comes from crushed juniper berries that are infused throughout the cheese. Zubay says that it “is a little on the bold side so it also should be able to stand up to a cab.” And it did. 


Dawn Makarios at Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls contributed to our glorious cheese selection with Sartori Montamore. She encouraged me to read about it on their website: “Like a new romance, this sweet, creamy and fruity cheese begins with a deliciously inviting appearance and finishes with a playful, tangy bite. It is named with deep affection for the gorgeous Dolomite mountains that tower with breathtaking beauty above the Sartori hometown of Valdastico, Italy.” Ah, yes. 

We also got to try a cheese made in Faribault called Jeff’s Select Gouda, from Ferndale Market. This cheese has won a number of prizes, and it won our hearts as well.


I noticed a little crunch in some cheeses before but did not know what it was. Like in the Gruyere from Zzest, Ethan Schandelmeier, meat department manager at the People’s Food Co-op told me that we would find “crystals” in the Beemster Vlaskaas Gouda that he donated for our tasting. He described this gouda as smooth and interesting. The Beemster website says, “Vlaskaas was historically made only once a year, during the flax harvest festival…It’s buttery and semi-soft with unique sweet-milk flavor, notes of almond and a touch of sharpness that adds depth.” 

We tried Cello Copper Kettle Parmesan from People’s Food Co-op. According to the Cello Cheese website, “Parmigiano Reggiano is known as the king of cheeses. Cello Copper Kettle Parmesan starts with fresh milk heated in a traditional copper kettle and ages for 16 months to develop the complex fruity and nutty notes reminiscent of cooked caramel. (It) has the rich, nutty authentic flavor of Grana Padano. Its crunchy texture and robust flavor are the result of brining in natural sea salt and aging in a temperature controlled environment.”


Certified Cheese Master Karen Lange works at Hy-Vee West Circle Drive. She recommended two cheeses. She says, “Presidents Brie is a well-known brand of soft ripened cheese. It has a creamy, buttery taste with a slight white mushroom finish, making this cheese a perfect match for most jams and chutneys. The fruity taste of cabernet sauvignon would only compliment the buttery richness of the Brie.” I spread a mango chutney on the Brie, which made for a beautiful presentation as well as a delicious combination of sweet and salty.

The second cheese that she recommended was Black Creek three-year cheddar. Lange says, “Its rich, full flavor with a sharpness but also a creamy finish makes this cheese a perfect match for a cabernet. It allows the savory flavors of the wine to shine. My favorite part of aged cheese is the tyrosines: These give the cheese a bit of a crunch. Cheddar is always a safe bet to put on a cheese tray; most if not all people enjoy the great taste of cheddar.”


A wine and cheese tasting party is a great way to gather with old friends but also can lend a structure to a party where people don’t know each other very well. There are many ways to set it up. You can do all the work as the host, deciding on a theme and the wines and cheeses, or you can ask all your guests to contribute wine or cheese.

Our group usually focuses on the wines, with food that is delicious but plays a supporting role. I decided to add the focus on the cheese to this occasion as well. We have been working our way through a book called “Drink This: Wine Made Simple” by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl. She includes chapters on nine different varietals of wine and provides information about the wine, the food it pairs well with, the tasting “markers” or flavors and scents you might find in the wine. She recommends setting out small dishes of these markers so that you can sniff and taste to try to pick out the certain scents and tastes. Having a lot of variety in the flavors of the cheeses helped to enhance our enjoyment of the wine.

When you host your wine and cheese tasting, provide paper and pencils so that your guests make notes and bring them home. Serve bread or crackers, and it’s most helpful if the flavors in them don’t overpower the cheese. Fruit, such as grapes, berries, apples and dried apricots or figs are beautiful and taste delicious with both wines and cheeses.

A Valentine’s Day card I recently saw says, “I love you as much as I love cheese, and that is an awful lot.” Share the love. Pass the cheese, please.


Emily Watkins is a personal trainer and writer in Rochester.