Saturday, December 27, 2008

Moderate Drinking May Decrease Brain Size

According to a recent study published in Archives of Neurology, even moderate drinking can decrease the size of your brain. A team of researchers led by Carol Ann Paul of Wellesley College asked 1,839 participants between the ages of 33 and 88 how much they drank per week and used MRI scans to measure their brain volumes. They found "a significant negative linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total cerebral brain volume." In other words, the more people drank, the more their brains shrunk.

As people age, their brains normally shrink about 2% every 10 years. However, Paul's results show that the brains of heavy drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week) were 1.5% smaller than those of non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers (8-14 drinks per week) also had smaller brain volumes than non-drinkers. Since decreased volume in certain areas of the brain is associated with memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease, these results raise some questions about the touted health benefits of moderate drinking. Those benefits are usually associated with the human cardiovascular system. However, it may be that what's good for your heart is not so good for your brain.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue Cheese Videos

Corks and Curds is proud to announce a new partnership with iFoods. In the coming weeks we will feature some of iFoods' Irish Farmhouse Cheese videos on the blog.

Our first video installment features iFoods chef Niall Harbison interviewing Sarah Furno, whose parents, Louis and Jane Grubb, invented Cashel Blue, Ireland's original artisanal blue cheese, in 1984. Henry and Louis Clifton Browne, nephews of Louis and Jane Grubb, invented Crozier Blue, a blue sheep's milk cheese, in the 1990s.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Insect Sushi, Anyone?

The following story has nothing to do with wine or cheese, but I couldn't resist including it.

The insect sushi platter pictured above was created by Shoichi Uchiyama, author of a recent Japanese cookbook on bug cuisine. Featured insects include a spider, a cockroach, a cicada, and cicada larvae.

Mr. Uchiyama's says he especially likes to eat female spiders that are carrying young in their stomachs. He says they taste like simmered soy beans. (This must be the Japanese equivalent to "It tastes like chicken"--the most common line given by Americans eating some weird type of meat, e.g., alligator, snake, possum, rat, etc.)

There are apparently about 1,000 different kinds of insects that are considered edible. Mr. Uchiyama's wife insists that deep-frying is the best way to enjoy most of them.

When I was in China earlier this year, I looked far and wide for a snack shop that would sell me fried scorpions on a stick. But I wasn't actually going to eat them. I just wanted to have a photo of me pretending to eat them!

Mr. Uchiyama maintains that insects are nutrionally balanced and low in fat. He does, however, admit that anyone eating one of his cockroach recipes should probably not think about what they're eating. No kidding.

Photo credit: Rex Features

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hot Chili Wine: A Spicy New Treat

After enjoying samples of several New York wines at Chateau Buffalo a couple of weeks ago, Carl Schmitter (owner of Chateau Buffalo) invited me to sample a unique concoction that one of his friends had just brought in: Hot Chili Wine from Disaster Bay, Australia.

The wine is made from nine different varieties of chilies, and is simply delicious. I've never tasted a wine that burned as it went down! The folks at Disaster Bay say that the wine leaves a "warm inner glow." That's one way to put it! They describe the heat level of the wine as being around 5/10.

The Hot Chili Wine has a sweet, citrus aroma and contains a fair amount of residual sugar. Carl believes that sugar from something besides chilies must have been added in order for fermentation to be possible. Regardless of what their secret recipe calls for, this is a sweet and spicy treat. Served ice cold, it is lots of fun.

If you can't find Disaster Bay Hot Chili Wine at your local wine shop, you can order it online here. Consider giving this as a holiday gift to that special someone who likes fiery cuisine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Alfred le Fermier

The best Canadian cheese I managed to obtain on my Ontario Cheese Adventure was Alfred le Fermier, produced by Fromagerie La Station in Compton, Quebec. This semi-firm cheese has a pleasant floral aroma and a robust, sweet, buttery and nutty flavor.

A true farmstead cheese, Alfred le Fermier is made from the raw milk of Holstein cows that graze in organic pastures filled with white clover, wild clover and alfalfa. After the heated, pressed curds are shaped into molds, it is aged for eight months on spruce planks. During that time its rind is periodically brushed and washed (with brine?).

Alfred le Fermier goes well on a cheese tray and with fresh fruit. I recommend pairing it with medium- to full-bodied red wines (e.g., Syrah, Cabernet). A recipe for a farmhouse salad that uses Alfred le Fermier can be found here. Fromagerie La Station also provides fondue and panini recipes on their website. I highly recommend this wonderful, rustic cheese.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ontario Cheese Adventures

Last weekend I drove from Buffalo, NY, to Ottawa, ON, to attend the Canadian Society for Epistemology's conference on New Directions in Epistemology. I had hoped to visit some Canadian cheesemakers along the way. Of course, my plan was to do more than merely visit these places. I also wanted to write up nice blog posts about them.

However, it turns out that none of the cheesemakers I contacted that are listed on the Ontario Cheese Map are open to the public. So, although the Ontario Cheese Society has put together an interesting map, it doesn't appear to be very useful to the average cheese lover. (We'll assume that the Ontario Cheese Retailers map they made actually lists places that one can visit.)

When I did arrive in Ottawa, I had an equally disappointing cheese experience. I had searched the internet ahead of time in order to find the city's best cheese shops and thought that The House of Cheese in Ottawa's historic ByWard Market would be one of them. However, the owner was not at all interested in answering any of my questions about Canadian cheese--even simple questions like "Which of these Canadian cheeses do you think are the best?" or "Who makes the cheese you allowed me to sample?"

After giving me samples of two cheeses, the owner of the House of Cheese brusquely informed me that he would not be giving me any more samples--as if I was a mooch who was out to make him lose money by sampling everything in the display case. I had previously told him that I was interested in learning about and buying the best Canadian cheeses he had. One would have thought that he would have been more engaged by my interest in his caseic wares.

In spite of the various obstacles I encountered in searching for good Canadian cheeses in Ontario, I did manage to find some, which I will tell you about in my next post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Domaine de Givaudan

I recently opened a bottle of Domaine de Givaudan's Cuvée Léa, which is made from 70% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah, and is aged 12 months is stainless steel tanks. Domaine de Givaudan is a small wine producer located in the Côtes du Rhône in southern France.

The Cuvée Léa has a very dark purple color, a fruity, crushed berry nose, and a peppery finish. The vines that produce the Cuvée Léa are an average of 30 years old, and the soil underneath their 49 acres of vines is a unique combination of crushed sandstone, grit soils, red clay, sand, iron and limestone clay. All of these components combine with other aspects of their terroir to give the wines complex, yet balanced flavors.

At $15 or less, the wines of Domaine de Givaudan are great deals.

Friday, November 7, 2008

NY Farmstead Cheese

A growing number of New York cheesemakers are creating high quality handcrafted cheeses. Six NY farmstead cheesemakers had cheeses place in the top 3 of their categories at the most recent American Cheese Society competition.

Many of these cheesemankers united in 2003 to form the New York State Farmstead and Artisan Cheese Makers Guild in order to "foster a strong and vibrant farmstead artisan cheese-making sector in the state and to support its growth." The guild advocates the continuation and preservation of family farms and farm management practices that nourish and sustain the soil and the surrounding landscape and community.

The NY Farmstead & Artisanal Cheese Makers Guild has produced a downloadable brochure and map that shows where to find the state's artisanal cheesemakers. Consider taking the map along with you on your next driving trip across the state of NY.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cheese Boot Camp

Murray's Cheese (NYC) recently held its first Cheese U Bootcamp--an intense 3-day course filled with lectures, demonstrations and tastings. The 15-hour course covers the history of cheesemaking, the flavor characteristics of every family of cheese, the aging process, the chemistry of cheese, a cheesemaking demonstration, and pairing cheeses with wine and beer.

This serious course of study is intended for serious cheese enthusiasts, chefs, culinary students, restaurant owners or anyone else who wants to have a strong foundation in the world of cheese. The Cheese U Boot Camp includes suggested readings, optional take home assignments, a final exam, and even a graduation certificate. The cost is $495.

Murray's also offers a slate of less intense, less expensive ($50), one-night cheese courses that cover the basics of cheese, wine and cheese pairing and a variety of other interesting topics. In March, New York magazine designated these courses as NYC's best post-secondary education opportunities. The third Saturday of every month they also offer $10 tours of their underground cheese caves for those interested in the process of cheese aging. The next time I'm in NYC, I'm going to try to work one of these classes into my schedule.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tumbleweed: A Bloomy Cheddar

Premier Gourmet, my local cheese shop, has begun carrying some new raw milk cheeses. One is Tumbleweed, an aged (8-9 months), bloomy rind cheddar produced by 5 Spoke Creamery in Port Chester, NY. Tumbleweed is made from the milk of grass-fed, pesticide-free and hormone-free cows. It is even certified kosher.

Tumbleweed is a very interesting and complex cheese. It has a creamy, nutty, sharp flavor with a slightly curdy texture. It is rare that one finds a cheese that is produced like cheddar (i.e., its curds are cut and pressed a good deal) but has a bloomy rind (i.e., a thin covering of soft, white penicilium molds.)

Most great European cheeses are made from raw milk. In America, USDA regulations require that unpasteurized cheeses be aged at least 60 days. This allows any potentially harmful bacteria either to die or at least to make itself obvious so that it can be discarded. Raw-milk cheeses are said to be richer, creamier, more buttery and more flavorful product than cheeses made from pasteurized milk.

Alan J. Glustoff, owner of 5 Spoke Creamery, says that because his grass-fed cows get to roam and pick and choose from a variety of grasses, herbs, flowers and weeds, the cheeses produced from their milk have a complexity of flavor that cannot be duplicated. Glustoff is a former dairy technologist who allegedly tired of testing yogurt and other products for big corporations. After becoming strictly kosher as an adult, he was frustrated that he could not find any kosher cheeses that were as good as the ones available to the non-kosher community. So, he decided to make his own "fantastic cheeses that just happen to be kosher."

Glustoff touts the following health benefits of raw milk cheeses:

BETTER DIGESTION: Only raw milk has the enzyme phosphataze intact which allows the body to absorb greater amounts of calcium and allows for the digestion of lactose.

STRONGER IMMUNE SYSTEM: Raw milk has all the beneficial bacteria and lactic acids found naturally in milk, which implant in the intestines and contribute to a stronger immune system.

FIGHTS ALLERGIES: Raw milk has a cortisone-like factor present in the cream, which aids in combating allergies.

THE RIGHT FATS: Grass fed, raw milk cheeses are one of the few foods that contain a perfect balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, a ratio ideal for your health.

CANCER PROTECTION: Grass fed, raw milk cheeses are very high in conjugated linoleic acid; five times more CLA than dairy products from grain-fed cows! CLA is among the most potent cancer fighters found in all foods.

BETTER CALCIUM ABSORBTION: Raw milk is rich in colloidal minerals and enzymes, which are necessary for the absorption and utilization of the natural sugars and fats present in milk. Conversely, heated, pasteurized milk becomes precipitated with minerals that cannot be absorbed, contributing to osteoporosis, as well as sugars that cannot be properly digested and fats in a form that contributes to a buildup of unhealthy cholesterol

The folks at Murray's Cheese, which claims to be NYC's oldest and best cheese chop, suggest trying Tumbleweed in your next melting pot of fondue. Recipes from 5 Spoke Creamery involving Tumbleweed can be found here. I recommend simply trying this uniquely flavored, delicious cheese all by itself.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Taste the Season at Niagara-on-the-Lake

Taste the Season is a wine and food extrava-ganza hosted by the 18 wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake (just across the border from Buffalo on Lake Ontario). The event takes place every weekend in November (Nov. 1st & 2nd, 8th & 9th, 15th & 16th, 22nd & 23rd, and 29th & 30th) and celebrates the best tastes of the harvest season with a popular touring and tasting program.

Each winery will feature a unique wine and food pairing. A tour pass ($40), which can be purchased in advance or at any participating winery, entitles you to sample each of the delectable dishes described below and to receive a collectible holiday ornament. Proceeds from sales of this pass will go to Second Harvest to provide food for needy families. Last year Taste the Season provided enough money for 20,000 nutritious meals.

Taste the Season is a wonderful chance to explore southern Ontario in the autumn.

Features Food and Wine Pairings:
Cattail Creek Estate Winery
2006 Dry Riesling
Treadwell’s Costini topped with Beet
Cured Lake Trout and Daikon Cress
Château des Charmes
2006 Gewürztraminer, St. Davids Vineyard
Cassoulet Tart - The Classic White Bean, Smoked Pork and with Duck Confit Stew baked into a delicate crust
Coyote's Run Estate Winery
2007 Cabernet
Smoked Duck Breast with Black Paw Vineyard Cabernet Jelly on Brioche
Hillebrand Winery
Trius Vidal Icewine 2006
Icewine Roasted Fall Fruit Crumble with Chantilly Cream
Inniskillin Wines
2006 Gamay Noir
Holiday Scone with Dried Cranberries and white chocolate
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
2006 Proprietors' Reserve Merlot
Pulled Beef Brisket Crostini
Joseph's Estate Wines
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoked Turkey with Brie and Leek Mini Quiche
Konzelmann Estate Winery
2007 Shiraz
Specialty Aged Canadian Cheddar and Niagara Gold Quiche with Fresh Herbs Roulade
Lailey Vineyard
2006 Pinot Noir Niagara Peninsula
Turkey en Croûte with Spiced Cranberry Compote
Marynissen Estates Winery
2004 Cabernet Merlot
Macaroni Casserole with Spiced Beef and Tomato Sauce
Niagara College Teaching Winery
2007 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé
Goat's Cheese Lollipops with Local Pear Chutney
Palatine Hills Estate Winery
2007 Fumé Blanc Proprietors Reserve
Smoked Atlantic Salmon with Roasted Pear and Goat Cheese
Peller Estate
Ice Cuvée
Cured Salmon with Horseradish Crème Fraiche and Chive Blini
Pillitteri Estates Winery
2004 Riesling - Dry Chicken Terrine with Pear and Riesling Compote
Reif Estate Winery
2004 Meritage
Fricassee of Lamb with Fall Vegetables and Meritage Jus
Stonechurch Vineyards
2007 Riesling- Gewürztraminer
Smoked Salmon Tarama
Strewn Winery
2006 Terroir Chardonnay Barrel Fermented
Mushroom Terrine with Roasted Garlic and Herbs
Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery
Spiced Mayan Walnuts

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Deco Chocolate Port

Deco Chocolate Port from Sonoma Valley Portworks is made from a blend of Californian and Australian ports and is infused with essences of bittersweet chocolate. Serious port? No. Fun port? Yes.

70% of what goes into Deco Chocolate Port is a young, fruity California port that is made from Syrah and Zinfandel grapes and is aged only 4 years. 30% of the port comes from a richer, older (8 yrs.) Southern Australian port made from Grenache and Shiraz.

Sonoma Valley Portworks claims that Deco Chocolate Port arose from an accident. They write, "In 1992, while trying to create the perfect after-dinner table wine, a dash of chocolate essence inadvertently dropped into the glass of port our winemaker was enjoying at the end of the day. One sip and he knew he had stumbled onto something extraordinary." In 1993 they introduced Duet, a California cream sherry with essences of natural hazelnut.

Sonoma Valley Portworks suggests serving Deco with Tiramisu, Crème Brule, Chocolate Cheesecake or Chocolate Dipped Biscotti. I think it would be dessert enough for me all by itself.

Deco Chocolate Port is liquid fun. Try serving it at your next dinner party.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New York Wine & Culinary Center

The New York Wine & Culinary Center describes itself as "an educational and experiential gateway to New York State's incredible wine, food and culinary industries." The $7.5 million facility is located in Canandaigua, NY, at the north end of Canandaigua Lake, a short drive from Buffalo or Rochester.

The Center's Tasting Room features wines from all regions of New York State. Knowledgeable staff can guide you through a tasting flight of New York's delicious, complex, award-winning wines, and educate you about winemaking, wine styles and wine-producing regions.

The NY Wine & Culinary Center also features a variety of fascinating wine and food classes. You can take classes that compare NY wines with other wines of the world and classes on pairing wine and food, the basics of wine, and personal winemaking. You can take cooking classes that will teach you about cooking and baking with fall fruits, roasting, seasonal salads, old-fashioned desserts, soups, baking with NY apples, and more.

Those professionals or enthusiastic amateurs interested in a more serious educational experience can take wine and spirits courses authorized by The Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the foremost international body in the field of wines and spirits education. These multi-day classes can lead to the WSET Diploma, a stepping stone to the Master of Wine qualification. I'm definitely going to look into these courses after I get tenure.

The Exhibit Hall of the Center features seasonal video and photo displays about the rich history and unique characteristics of New York wine and food. The New York Wine & Culinary Center is a fascinating place to spend a day or evening. I encourage you to check it out, if you're in the area.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc

Nettle Meadow Farm's Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc is one of the most delicious cheeses I've tasted. Made from pasteurized goat milk, it is infused with the flavors of lavender flowers and honey. Their goats' diet of wild raspberry leaves, nettle, kelp, comfrey, garlic, barley and goldenrod gives this cheese many subtle and wonderful nuances.

Founded in 1990, Nettle Meadow Farm is located in Thurman, NY, just below the Adirondacks. They use only organic vegetarian rennet so that their cheeses are 100% organic and vegetarian. Their motto is "Happy Goats, Great Cheese."

In June Nettle Meadow's Honey Lavender Fromage Blanc was named a Silver Finalist in the Outstanding New Product of 2008 category of the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade's annual competition.

Fromage Blanc (or Fromage Frais) is a fresh, very soft cheese that is similar in texture to cream cheese and often used like cream cheese, only with fewer calories. For example, one can mix it with honey and spread it on toast or fruit, add it to garlic and herbs for a savory spread or simply serve it with fresh fruit. In France it is often served with fruit and sugar as a dessert. Further recipes can be found here, here and here.

I enjoyed spreading mine on a fresh slice of cinnamon bread. I guarantee you'll love it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Find Local Wine Events

To find wine events in your area, take a look at It's a calendar of food and drink events all over the world. There are quite a few events listed in my own area, so I know this is a site that event planners actually use.

Events listed include wine tastings, wine dinners, and cooking classes. even includes events that don't have anything to do with wine--e.g., beer festivals, homebrew competitions, and single malt scotch tastings.

I started to subscribe to's free, weekly newsletter that contains information about upcoming events in my area plus articles wine-oriented articles. Doing so, however, would require me to send them registration information about myself via a non-secure site. I think I'll stick with checking their calendar occasionally.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wine in a Box = Smaller Carbon Footprint

Look for an increasing number of wines to become available in boxes. Yes, boxes. The economic and environmental advantages of putting wine in a box are currently being touted throughout the wine industry. For example, Tyler Colman (a.k.a., "Dr. Vino") in an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times (Aug. 17, 2008) writes:

"More than 90 percent of American wine production occurs on the West Coast, but because the majority of consumers live east of the Mississippi, a large part of carbon-dioxide emissions associated with wine comes from simply trucking it from the vineyard to tables on the East Coast.... Switching to wine in a box for the 97 percent of wines that are made to be consumed within a year would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about two million tons, or the equivalent of retiring 400,000 cars."
Facts such as these are motivating wine producers concerned about reducing their carbon footprints to think more seriously about using boxes.

Another advantage of boxed wine is that the wine comes in an air-tight bag, which deflates as it is drained. In contrast to a bottled wine that lasts for only a day or two after being opened, an opened box of wine can last for up to four weeks.

Granted, boxed wines have a bad image--due to the fact that widely available boxed wines are of extremely low quality. However, consumers should look for an increasing number of wine producers to put higher quality wines in boxes in the near future.

If you're thinking that you can't imagine a sommelier presenting you with a box of wine at a five-star restaurant, remember that wine boxes are not intended for wines that require aging. They are for the 90% or more of all wines consumed in the U.S. that are intended to be consumed without aging.

Interested readers can find out more about boxed wines at:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wine and Cheese Pairing

Here are a some tips for pairing wine and cheese from Dairy Famers of Canada:

Pair lighter cheeses with light wines. This is simply a special instance of a more general rule concerning the strength of flavors in wine and food. Strongly flavored cheeses will overpower light wines to the point that you might as well be drinking water instead. Conversely, a full-bodied wine may overpower a lightly flavored cheese. The obvious corollary to this rule is of course: Pair more strongly flavored cheeses with more full-bodied wines.

Pair soft cheeses (e.g., Brie, Camembert) with light, fruity wines. Consider using a Gewürztraminer, a Riesling or a fruity red.

Pair firm cheeses (e.g., mild or medium Cheddar, Emmental, Gouda) with dry rosé wines or fruity red wines. Try a Beaujoulais, Valpolicella, Merlot or Zinfandel.

Pair firm, flavoured cheeses (e.g., sharp Cheddar, Aged Provolone) with full-bodied reds. Good wine choices for this category include Bordeaux, Médoc, Côtes-du-Rhône, Zinfandel, Rioja or Chianti.

Pair blue cheeses with Port, Ice wines, Ice ciders or dessert wines.

Pair hard cheeses (e.g., Dry Jack, Parmesan) with very dry whites.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Niagara Wine Festival

The wineries of southern Ontario are sponsoring their annual Niagara Wine Festival from Sept. 19th to 28th, 2008. The ten-day festival features more than 100 events, including winery tours and tastings, Niagara cuisine, and live music.

Festival events take place at both area wineries and Montebello Park in St. Catharines, Ontario. Wineries host special tastings, tours and courses on food and wine pairings. Most of the live music will be at Montebello Park, where dozens of wineries will be on hand to offer samples of their best wines. My wife and I spent an afternoon at Montebello Park during last year's festival and had a wonderful time.

One fun thing you can do is to buy a Discovery Pass at one of the wineries for $30, which entitles you to a variety of special tastings and treats at all of the wineries of southern Ontario. I purchased the Discovery Pass one year and had a great time touring the wineries.

Click here for a downloadable festival guide that tells you everything you need to know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Meet the Winemaker at Chateau Buffalo

Chateau Buffalo is hosting a Meet the Winemaker event on Fri., Aug. 29th, from 4 to 8pm. The guest of honor will be Duncan Ross of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery along the Niagara Wine Trail (USA).

Arrowhead Spring primarily grows European wine grapes such as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. They employ low yield practices to increase the intensity of their fruit and produce the best wines they can. They also use organic and biodynamic vineyard practices to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

This is a great chance to meet a local winemaker and sample some great wine. I plan to be there myself. Chateau Buffalo is located at 1209 Hertel Ave., Buffalo, NY. Call 716-873-0074 for further details.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Twilight Wine Tasting at Old Fort Niagara

The Premier Wine Group is sponsoring a Twilight Wine Tasting at Old Fort Niagara in Lewiston, NY, on Sat., Aug. 23rd, at 6:30pm. Participants will be able to sample 30 wines from Niagara County and the Finger Lakes region.

The servers, musicians and even the food will have an 18th century flavor. Meats, cheese, pastries, fruits and soups of the era along with other delicacies from area restaurants will be served. You can dance in an 18th century fashion and tour the fort's latest exhibits.

The evening will end with a musket and cannon salute and a lantern-lit dessert tasting. Tickets are $40 per person. All proceeds will go to the Old Fort Niagara Association Reservation. Call 716-745-7611 for reservations.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Winemaking Along the Niagara Escarpment

At Wine Day Michael VonHeckler, owner and winemaker at Warm Lake Estate, gave a very interesting lecture on the characteristics of the Niagara Escarpment that make it suitable for producing excellent wines. The Niagara Escarpment is basically a 400-600 ft. cliff that extends for more than 650 miles from New York through Ontario to Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. It is the cliff over which the Niagara River plunges to form Niagara Falls and was formed by the unequal erosion of rocks of varying hardness.

Like the region of Burgundy, the soil along the Niagara Escarpment is clay over limestone, has a pH of 7.5, has excellent air and water drainage, and contains illitic soil components. In spite of Buffalo's reputation for being too cold and for receiving too much snowfall, it turns out that the unique shape of the escarpment creates a convection flow that results in the highest and steepest portion of the escarpment receiving just the right amount of heat for growing wine grapes. There is also the right amount of soil along that portion of the escarpment as well.

According to J. S. Gladstone (Viticulture and the Environment, 1992), Pinot Noir grapes must be grown in a region with at least 2102 degrees days Fahrenheit per year. (One degree day = daily high temperature minus daily low temperature minus 15.) The portion of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara County, NY, has an average of 2098 degree days F/year, giving it the potential to produce very good Pinot Noirs. Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, has noted that the land along the escarpment is very similar to Volnay in Burgundy and suggests that in the right places similar quality wine could be made.

In spite of the Niagara Escarpment's apparent suitability for growing excellent wine grapes, as of 1996 there were very few wine grapes being grown in Niagara County. By contrast, on the Canadian side of the escarpment, there were 100 wineries with 18,000 acres of wine grapes, employing 7,000 workers and making a $3.5 billion impact on the economy.

Michael VonHeckler saw a golden opportunity and in 2002 opened his winery, focusing on Pinot Noir. Michael was also instrumental in getting the Niagara Escarpment labeled as an American Viticultural Area in 2005. There are now 12 wineries along the Niagara Wine Trail, with 12 more in planning or development. It will be interesting to see what kind of wines the area produces as it continues to grow and develop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Carr Valley Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar

Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook at Carr Valley Cheese has done it again. He has created another unique and interesting variety of flavored American cheddar: Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar. One of Sid's newest creations, it has already won a Bronze Award at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.

Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar uses a robustly flavored white cheddar. The sweetness of the cranberries contrasts nicely with the spicy, smoky flavor of the chipotle peppers. Carr Valley's website describes the cheese as having the flavor of Texas barbecue sauce. One writer described the cheese as a "mouth party." It is at the very least a good cheese to bring to a party.

As a general rule, I do not buy cheese-with-stuff-in-it because of the inferior quality of most such products. The "stuff" is typically added because the cheese-without-the-stuff would be exceedingly uninteresting. On the way to a party last week, however, I took a chance with Carr Valley's Chipotle Cranberry Cheddar because I knew Sid Cook was behind it. I was not disappointed. I recommend this fun variation on ordinary cheddar.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dancing Buffalo Cidre

Dancing Buffalo Cidre is a line of artisan hard ciders produced by Carl Schmitter, winemaker (and co-owner with wife Suzi) of Chateau Buffalo Wine Shop & Tasting Room (Buffalo, NY). The seven or so varieties of cider offer a light and refreshing change of pace to the wine enthusiast looking for something a little bit different.

Hard ciders taste more like white wines than I had initially expected them to. However, because their flavor profiles are simpler, they are easier (and, I think, more refreshing) to drink than most fruity white wines.

My favorite Dancing Buffalo Cidre is Mambo ($10) the only semi-dry cider in the line-up. Its slightly sweet, crisp and fruity flavor make it a perfect summertime beverage. Other Dancing Buffalo Cidres include Polka (dry, $10) and Promenade (dry and sparkling, $15).

All of these ciders are made from a blend of Golden Russet, Yellow Delicious and wild apples. The Golden Russet apples are used for their aromatic character, the Yellow Delicious apples for their sweetness, and the wild apples for the slight astringency they impart to the cider. The ciders are also aged for six months in bourbon barrels to give them added depth and flavor.

Hard ciders should be served well chilled. Carl says they even go well over ice. The ciders--particularly the dry ones--can be served with many of the same foods you would eat with white wines (e.g., poultry or fish). The semi-dry Mambo would go well with a salad or other light summertime fare.

The Dancing Buffalo line-up also includes a sweet, holiday cider infused with mulling spices, a cider made from heirloom Baldwin apples, and a pear-based cider. One that I'm really looking forward to tasting several months from now when it is available is apple ice wine, a concentrated and sweet ice wine made from frozen apples. That sounds like lots of fun.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Alternative Asiagos

I recently tried two kinds of Asiago cheese that are different from the more familiar aged variety known as Asiago d'Allevo (or Asiago Vecchio). Asiago Fresca (pictured at left) is a young cow's milk cheese that is aged only a few weeks as opposed to several months. Fresca means "fresh" or "young."

Asiago Fresca is mild, creamy and slightly tangy due to a touch of acidity. While aged Asiago is made from skimmed milk, Asiago Fresca is made from whole milk. The latter melts very easily and works well on a cheese tray as a complement to more strongly flavored cheeses. Asiago Fresca is a light and easy cheese to eat by itself and pairs well with light and easy wines like Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or fruity red wines.

In between Asiago Fresca and Asiago d'Allevo lies medium (or mezzano) Asiago, which I've quite enjoyed eating this week. It has more personality than its younger, fresher cousin but isn't overbearing like its older counterpart. Medium Asiago is aged only a couple of months and--judging from its creaminess--must not be made from skimmed milk. I find it to be the most enjoyable of the three kinds of Asiago to eat by itself with bread or a cracker.

"Official" Asiago cheese can only be made in the village of Asiago in northern Veneto, where it has been produced for centuries. However, the 'protected designation of origin' rules are not always enforced outside of the European Union.

All forms of Asiago cheese pair well with figs, apples, pears, pistachios, almonds, and olives.

Friday, July 18, 2008

America's Grape Country Wine Festival

America's Grape Country Wine Festival, a new wine festival showcasing wineries from across New York, will be held at the Chatauqua County Fairgrounds in Dunkirk, NY, from 10am to 5pm on Aug. 9th and 10th.

The event will feature wine-tastings from two dozen wineries, food from a variety of vendors, live music, and a wine and cheese educational seminar presented by The New York Wine and Culinary Center. The cost is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. I'm glad to see NY wines being promoted by events like this and Wine Day.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wine Day at Niagara University

Niagara University, overlooking the Niagara River gorge (and just four miles north of Niagara Falls), will be hosting Wine Day on Aug. 2nd to provide education about wine and wine appreciation and to promote the winemaking region of Niagara County.

The morning features four educational lectures on pairing wine and food, wine-tasting techniques, unique characteristics of different wine varieties (with special emphasis given to local grape varieties) and particular facts about winemaking along the Niagara Escarpment. In the afternoon, you are encouraged to put this knowledge to use at the wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail.

Preregistration for the event is required. The cost is $35. I have to admit I've given more attention to the Canadian wineries just over the border than to the wineries in my own backyard. I think I may give this event a try.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Blossom Honey Wine

At the Kenmore, NY, Farmer's Market today I encountered an absolutely fascinating dessert wine: Blossom Honey Wine. The wine is made from honey rather than grape juice and is infused with ginger root. It has a wonderfully sweet and crisp flavor. I've never tasted anything like it.

Blossom Honey Wine is produced locally by Carl and Suzi Schmitter at Chateau Buffalo, Buffalo's only boutique winery and cidery. Chateau Buffalo is located on North Buffalo's Hertel Ave., one of Buffalo's more interesting neighborhoods for shopping and dining. After the honey is diluted with water, it is fermented just like grape juice using a champagne yeast.

The Schmitters also produce the Dancing Buffalo line of artisanal hard ciders, including dry, semi-dry, spiced and sparkling varieties. They make all of their wines at the back of their store in Buffalo using locally grown fruits.

Blossom Honey Wine sells for $18/bottle. Its light, sweet and refreshing taste make it the perfect patio beverage for a warm summer evening.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Removing Wine Labels

I’ve recently been thinking about saving some of the labels from the wine bottles I've been drinking. Here are some of the things I learned while scouring the internet for tips on the best way to do this.

The easiest method seems to be to use a product like Label Off (pictured at left) or Wine Appeal Label Remover. These are basically industrial strength tapes that pull the outer layer of the label off, leaving a lower layer of the label attached to the bottle via glue.

One writer suggests leaving the tape stuck on the bottle for several days so that a strong bond between adhesive and tape can be formed before trying to pull the label off. Some users complain that holes or tears occur using this method. The main thing I don't like about this method is that it makes wine labels appear laminated after removal. That's not really the look I had in mind.

A method I think I am going to try is to pour piping hot water into an empty wine bottle in order to loosen up the glue. If the first application of hot water doesn't work, I will repeat the process will fresh batches of water. The good thing about this method is that the label seems less likely to be destroyed in the removal process than in some of the other methods I described below. I'll let you know how well it works.

Another method that sounds promising is using steam from a tea kettle to loosen the label. This method might be used in conjunction with the previous one.

Some wine enthusiasts swear by the method of soaking the label in hot water with a few drops of dishwashing detergent and using a razor blade to scrape the label off. I assume that soaking the label can lead to label damage.

There are also some dry heat options. Some writers suggest using hair dryers to melt the glue, but I doubt the glue would get hot enough this way. A more radical dry heat solution involves placing the empty bottle in a heated oven and using a razor to scrape off the warmed label.

Mineral oil, rubbing alcohol and even gasoline are also said to be able to remove labels, but I don't recommend any of these methods.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kerrygold Ivernia

I recently tried a tasty Irish cheese that I had not encountered before. Kerrygold's Ivernia is a hard, ripe cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows. 'Ivernia' is an ancient name for Ireland.

The cheese is aged three years and has a rich, complex and buttery flavor. Ivernia seems to modeled after Parmigiano-Reggiano and indeed the aromas of the two cheeses are quite similar.

Like all hard, somewhat dry cheeses, Ivernia works well grated over a green salad, pasta, soup or pizza. It is also very enjoyable with a crust of fresh bread. Kerrygold recommends pairing Ivernia with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti or an Irish Ale. Recipes using Ivernia and other Kerrygold cheeses can be found here.

According to the pricing label that came with my wedge of Ivernia, the cheese is made from "cooked baby octopus, red onion, celery, black olives, roasted red peppers, and Italian marinade." We'll assume that someone at Premier Gourmet made a mistake with the label-maker.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Niagara New Vintage Festival

The 2008 Niagara New Vintage Festival begins tomorrow (June 14th) and runs through the 22nd. Special tastings and culinary events will take place at the various wineries of the Niagara region of southern Ontario.

You can even visit Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery in Vineland, ON, and sample some of Dan Aykroyd's wines at Lakeview Cellars. Dan was first introduced to Premier Cru Bordeaux and other fine wines by musician Steve Cropper while working on Saturday Night Live and the first Blues Brothers movie. Dan has announced plans to build the Dan Aykroyd winery in the west Niagara peninsula.

If you're in the area, this could be a good event to take dad to for Father's Day. A complete listing of festival events can be found here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I recently enjoyed a new kind of Spanish cheese (new to me, at any rate): Zamorano, a raw sheep's milk cheese from the region of Castile-León. The name comes from the city of Zamora, a provincal capital in Castile-León. Spanish shepherding families are said to have been handcrafting this cheese from the milk of the region's Churra and Castellano sheep for centuries.

Zamorano is a somewhat hard, pale cheese with a slightly sharp, buttery flavor. It is often compared to Manchego, though it is less dry and has a richer, nuttier flavor. During the three to nine month aging process its rind is brushed and rubbed with olive oil.

Zamorano pairs well with smoked meats, pears, tomatoes, and red wines such as Rioja, Zinfandel (the red, not the pink kind) and Cabernet. I highly recommend this very flavorful Spanish cheese.

(Buffalo readers: I bought my sample of Zamorano at the Lexington Co-Op.)

Photo credit: Jon Sullivan

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

L'Ottavo Chianti

I recently enjoyed two good wines from Fattoria L'Ottavo--a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Riserva. In order to be a Chianti Classico, the wine has to made in the Classico subregion of the Chianti wine area, and it has to be aged in oak casks about four to seven months. Riservas are aged for at least two years, which smooths out the tannins.

I thought both wines were very smooth and paired well with a wide range of foods. They had a bright, ruby red color and aromas of cherry, plum, and vanilla.

The L'Ottavo Chiantis are made from about 80% Sangiovese grapes, with the remainder being comprised of Malvasia bianca, Canaiolo, Trebbiano, Merlot and Cabernet. Malvasia bianca, of course, is a white grape--an unusual ingredient in an ostensibly red wine.

The L'Ottavo estate is situated in Lucolena, part of the municipality of Greve in Chianti, at an altitude of 400m. The buildings at the estate have been converted into modern, stylish apartments for agritourists who want to visit the Tuscan winemaking region.

The L'Ottavo Chianti Classico sells for around $12 to $14, while the Riserva sells for around $16 to $19. They are affordable, enjoyable Italian wines.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grilled Cheese

In case you missed it, April was Grilled Cheese Month. (Who decides these things, anyway? I wouldn't be surprised if the Kraft Corporation weren't behind this one.)

Foodies have gotten rather serious about grilled cheese lately. Some cities have even hosted Grilled Cheese Invitational Competitions (details here and here).

The Food Network recently hosted a Grilled Cheese Throwdown between celebrity chef Bobby Flay and the owners of the Pop Shop, which offers 31 varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches. In the "Throwdown" series Flay shows up to a dining establishment without warning and challenges makers of certain specialties to a cook-off.

The Pop Shop's jack cheese, roasted turkey, bacon, avocado, and house dressing (balsamic mayo) on foccacia sandwich lost by just a hair to Flay's grilled brie and goat cheese with bacon and green tomato sandwich.

According to the Pop Shop, the best accompaniment to a grilled cheese sandwich is tomato soup. I'll have to try that with my daughters.

Grilled cheese recipes from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board can be found here. Recipes from Clementine's, a purveyor of fine grilled cheeses in LA, can be found here.

In a post such as this I can't resist reminiscing a bit about Diana Duyser, the woman who in 2004 sold a grilled cheese sandwich that allegedly bore the image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000. Have you ever wondered what happened to her? (Probably not.) But just in case here is an update: the Miami Herald reports that in 2007 she paid $1000 to have an image of the sandwich tattooed on her chest. People are strange.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arina Goat Gouda

Arina Goat Gouda is a semi-hard, Gouda-style, goat's milk cheese from Holland. It is aged four months and has a wonderfully mild, nutty flavor. You might not know you were eating goat cheese, unless you were told. Both its flavor and texture are unlike the tart, fresh chèvre most people are more familiar with.

In order to make a Gouda-style cheese, the curds must be pressed and heated to expell a good deal of the whey. I also believe (though I do not know for certain) that Goudas require the use of a particular strand of bacteria as the starter culture that aids the initial separation of curds and whey.

Arina Goat Gouda is a great party cheese. I brought some a couple of weeks ago to Ken and Jenn Shockley's annual philosophy gathering, and it was gone within minutes. The hosts didn't even get to try any.

Some other Gouda cheeses I've reviewed include the following:

Some salad recipes using Arina Goat Gouda include:

Arina would probably make a good grilled cheese sandwich, too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cheese Facts and Myths

Question #1: Is it OK to Freeze Cheese?

Most cheeses do not freeze well. Only soft, unripened cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese, mascarpone and ricotta can be frozen without becoming ruined. And even then they should be used only in cooking after thawing.

Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie or Camembert should not be frozen, nor should just about any other cheese. Most cheeses lose both texture and flavor during the freezing process.

Question #2: Do Cheeses Made from Sheep and Goat Milk Contain Less Lactose?

This question is important to those who suffer from lactose-intolerance but who enjoy the taste of cheese. In spite of what you may have heard, sheep milk and goat milk do not contain lesser amounts of lactose. According to an article by Phillip Collman (Ph.D., gastrointestinal physiology) in the Ontario Cheese Society newsletter, the lactose content for all three species is around 4.5%. Collman's advice to lactose-intolerant cheese lovers is to select aged cheeses: "The longer a dairy product has been aged, the more lactose is converted into lactic acid, which doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal discomfort."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Expensive Wines Really Do Taste Better

We've all heard that higher price tags tend to make people think more highly of a wine. The conventional wisdom suggests that an inflated price tag can't really make a wine taste better. Recent neuroscientific evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

According to a report in Scientific American Mind ("Paying for Pleasure," Apr/May 2008), 20 volunteers were recently given 5 supposedly different wines to sample. Each wine was identified by a certain price. In reality, only 3 different wines were sampled--2 of the wines were presented twice with different price tags. As expected, the subjects gave the wine with the cheapest price tag their lowest rating, while the most expensive wine was everyone's favorite. Subjects gave the "most expensive" wine a lower rating when that same wine was presented with a lower price tag.

While the subjects were sampling the wines, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology. The scans revealed an increase in activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex while subjects were tasting the more expensive wine. This area is believed to underwrite or encode for the pleasantness of various experiences. Changing subjects' expectations via doctoring the price tags had a measurable effect on pleasure-related brain activity.

In other words, the wine really did taste better with an inflated price tag. The subjects underwent qualitatively different experiences when the wine was labeled with a more expensive price than when the same wine was labeled with a lower price. Granted, it should not have tasted any better, but that's another story.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

People in Need

True or False: The following pictures have nothing to do with wine or cheese.

Caption: Sunglasses €24.- Access to water €8.-

Caption: Handbag €32.- Food for a week €4.-

Caption: Pint of beer €4.50
50 liters of fresh water €1.50

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chèvre Noir

Chèvre Noir Goat Cheddar is one of the best cheddars I've ever tasted. Produced by Fromagerie Tournevent in Chesterville, Quebec, it is made from pasteurized goat milk and aged a minimum of one year.

This pale, slightly dry cheese is initially firm but will literally melted in your mouth. It has a wonderfully rich, creamy, nutty flavor that includes hints of caramel.

Lucie Chartier, René Marceau and Louise Lefebvre have been making Chèvre Noir for twenty years, during which time it has garnered a variety of awards at international cheese competitions, including more than one first place prize at the American Cheese Society annual competition.

The folks at Fromagerie Tournevent suggest serving Chèvre Noir with fresh fruit, port or a premium beer. At $25/lb, Chèvre Noir is more expensive than most other cheddars, but it is well worth the expense. It is absolutely fabulous.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wine and Children

Eric Asimov, wine writer for the NY Times, recently posted some interesting reflections on serving wine to one's teenaged children at home.

Asimov spoke with Dr. Paul Steinberg, a psychiatrist and former director of counseling at Georgetown University, about the best ways to prevent kids from binge drinking in high school and college. According to Steinberg, "The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it. You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused."

Studies performed by Dr. George E. Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatry professor, showed that men who grew up in families where alcohol was forbidden at the table but was consumed outside the home apart from food were seven times more likely to become alcoholics than those who came from families where wine was served with meals but drunkenness was not tolerated. Vaillant told Asimov, "If you are taught to drink in a ceremonial way with food, then the purpose of alcohol is taste and celebration, not inebriation. If you are forbidden to use it until college then you drink to get drunk."

Asimov says that he is currently unsure about whether to serve wine to his teenaged sons at home. But he concludes, "my cautious opinion now is that my teenage sons have more to gain than to lose by having a taste of wine now and then with dinner." I would not have expected a well-known wine critic to be so hesitant to serve wine to his teenagers at home.

I have always assumed that I would give sips of wine to my daughters when they become teenagers. But I suppose one should definitely proceed with caution here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Philosophy and Wine Books

Peter Machamer, who is a philosopher of science, wine critic, bon vivant, and even Philosopher-in-Residence for the Attack Theatre Dance Company, has recently reviewed two new books on philosophy and wine at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

The books are Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith, and Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking, edited by Fritz Allhoff. (The philosopher Barry C. Smith is not to be confused with the philosopher Barry Smith. Only the latter holds world records both for the largest single grant ever given to a philosopher and for total grant money given to a philosopher.)

The book, Wine and Philosophy, is part of Blackwell's Epicurean Trilogy, which also includes Beer and Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn't Worth Drinking and Food and Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry. These books do an entertaining job of promoting an expanded range of topics in value inquiry that receive sustained philosophical attention.

Some of my colleagues have suggested that I should propose and edit a Cheese and Philosophy volume in the series. Unfortunately, however, I keep my philosophizing and my cheese tasting fairly separate. Perhaps I should consider changing that (after tenure).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Wisconsin Cheese Map

Cheeselovers will be glad to know that the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has just produced a new 2008 Traveler's Guide to America's Dairyland cheese map. You can order one online for free. I ordered mine last week.

Anyone attending the Wisconsin Epistemology Conference next month should consider including a tour of a great American creamery on their itinerary.

I like to pair wine and cheese tours with professional business whenever I can. For example, the last time the American Philosophical Association held its Pacific Division meeting in San Francisco, I included a two-day trip to Napa Valley. I don't make it out to Wisconsin very often, but hopefully I will be able to combine philosophy conferencing and Wisconsin cheese tasting soon.

Interested readers might also want to consult my earlier post on the Vermont Cheese Trail.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cypress Grove's Truffle Tremor

Truffle Tremor is the latest caseic creation from Cypress Grove Chèvre, one of American's leading makers of artisanal cheese. This soft-ripened goat milk cheese contains bits of truffle that impart a unique, earthy flavor.

Like the French Bucheron or Caña de Oveja, Truffle Tremor has a white, bloomy rind, a crumbly interior paste and a thin, gooey layer in between. The folks at Cypress Grove recommend adding Truffle Tremor to your favorite polenta or risotto recipe or placing a thin layer of it over mashed potatoes and parsnips.

Pair Truffle Tremor with a dry, white wine.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Caña de Oveja

When I stopped by Premier Gourmet after work today, I was treated to a wide variety of cheese samplings by Janet Ostrow, owner of Premier Gourmet for the last twelve years. One of the cheeses I tasted (and brought home) was Caña de Oveja, a soft-ripened sheep's milk cheese from Spain.

Caña de Oveja is made in Murcia, a dry and mountainous region of southeastern Spain, by Central Quesera Montesinos, a leading producer of Spanish artisanal cheeses.

Caña de Oveja comes in the shape of a log and is covered in a somewhat thick, bloomy, white rind. Immediately underneath the rind is a thin, gooey layer of cheese that quickly gives way to a creamy, crumbly paste. The inner portion of the cheese is slightly acidic, buttery and delicious. It's no wonder the cheese won a Silver Medal at the 2005 World Cheese Awards in London.

Restaurant Magnus in Madison, WI, bakes Caña de Oveja in phyllo dough and tops it with seasonal fruit, a sherry butter sauce and a habanero glaze. That sounds delicious.

I highly recommend this very interesting cheese. It is unlike most cheeses you will encounter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back to Blogging

I have been traveling for much of the last six weeks--first to China, then to California. As a result, I haven't been able to keep up my usual blogging pace. Actually, I haven't been able to keep up with my work to any significant degree either. In any case, I am settled back in Buffalo and will resume regular blog posting. My apologies for the hiatus.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chinese Medicinal Wines

I've known that wine had medicinal properties, but the Chinese take the concept of medicial wine to another level. While browsing the Qing Ping traditional Chinese medicine market in Guangzhou last week, I came across the following rather interesting set of "wines": Three Snake Wine, Scorpion Wine, Black Ant Wine, Cock Testis Wine, and Snake Penis Wine.

Each "wine" contains the objects denoted by its label. One unlabelled "wine" had some small animal fetuses floating in it. I'm kind of glad I wasn't told what they were. I understand that the wine that is most often used in these medicinal products is rice wine.

(Un)fortunately, the medicinal wine shop was not offering any tastings the day I dropped by. So, I can't tell you what they tasted like. I've heard wine snobs claim to detect all manner of bizarre aromas in wines, but I've never heard anyone claim to detect aromas of snake reproductive organs. (Perhaps Ann Noble should consider expanding the existing categories on her Wine Aroma Wheel.)

I was surprised to discover how many American travellers blog about these wines. Simply Google 'snake wine' and you'll see what I mean. More surprisingly, perhaps, is the number of travellers who actually sample these products. I can't imagine drinking any such concoction.

(Photo credit: Alan Abdine)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Moutai: China's Most Famous Liquor

I just returned from the province of Guizhou in southern China, the home of my newly adopted daughter. I was very pleased to learn that Guizhou is the wine-making capital of China. Its most famous product is Kweichow Moutai (茅台酒), China's most famous and best-selling alcoholic beverage.

'Kweichow' is simply an older English rendering of 'Guizhou'--the same way that 'Peking' is the older version of 'Beijing.' Moutai is a small town in the north of Guizhou. I asked my translator and guide to inquire about taking us to Moutai to see the Chinese wine-making process, but the prices drivers were asking turned out to be prohibitive.

Moutai and other related Chinese beverages are often referred to as "Chinese wines," but this is a result of mistranslating the Chinese word 'Jiu' (酒), which simply refers to any type of alcoholic beverage. Because Moutai and other Chinese "wines" are distilled products and are made from grains rather than fruits, they should really be called Chinese "whiskeys."

Moutai is made mostly from red sorghum, which is somewhat like wheat. Some Chinese wines also contain measures of rice and wheat. At 53% alcohol by volume, Chinese "wines" are rather stout beverages. Scotches, bourbons and other whiskeys contain only 40% alcohol.

The flavor of Moutai is not easy to describe. When Jiyuan Yu was passing around ample amounts of Moutai at a Chinese New Year celebration he hosted earlier this year, Jo Anne Brocklehurst suggested to me that Moutai had aromas of chocolate. I thought she was off her rocker, but out of politeness I didn't say so. The following day, however, I bit into a bar of 90% cocoa dark chocolate and I realized that she was exactly right. Like most Americans, the first chocolate aromas that come to my mind are those of milk chocolate. But Jo Anne was thinking of dark chocolate. Other than recognizing a trace of dark chocolate aromas, I am otherwise at a loss to describe the flavor of Moutai. It is like nothing I've ever tasted.

Unfortunately, because of increased demand around the world, the price of Moutai has skyrocketed. It now sells for over $150 a bottle in America. I was surprised to find it for $100 in China. I thought I could find it cheaper than that in China. Other, less-famous Chinese wines can be found for much less. I brought home one such cheaper bottle. So, if you're interested in trying a sample, I can give you a sip at my next party.

Because Moutai is receiving a wider distribution in America, it is beginning to crop up more often at parties in the west. The look of the bottle and the smell of the beverage are rather unusual. But don't be afraid. It is definitely worth a try.

Upcoming Wine Class at Premier Gourmet

Premier Gourmet (Kenmore, NY) will be offering a Riedel wine glass comparative tasting on Fri., Apr. 4th, at 6pm. The tasting showcases the difference the size and shape of a wine glass can make in your enjoyment of wine.

Four different shape glasses from the best selling Vinum Series will be used: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Over the course of the program you'll discover how your perception of a wine changes on the nose and palate based on the size and shape of the wine glass. You may never look at your old glasses the same way again. The cost is $75 but each participant receives the four Riedel Vinum Series glasses, a value of nearly $100.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Make Your Own Paneer

Adam Taylor has brought my attention to a couple of Indian chefs that offer free video cooking lessons online. Sanjay, who calls himself the 'vahchef,' offers a huge selection of video recipes at Here is Sanjay showing viewers how to make paneer, a homemade Indian cheese found in dishes like Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer:

Another Indian chef, named Manjula, offers video cooking lessons from her home. Here is Manjula showing viewers how to cook Palak Paneer, Chapati (or Paratha) and Naan. Adam says the dishes are easy to make and quite tasty. I'll have to try them myself sometime.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carr Valley Benedictine

Benedictine is one of the many unique creations of Carr Valley Cheese. This washed rind cheese is made from the milk of sheep, goats and cows and is aged for twelve weeks. It is quite creamy and has a slightly robust, nutty flavor.

I have blogged and raved about Carr Valley cheeses before (cf. my posts on their Mobay and Billy Blue cheeses), but Benedictine is my least favorite of all of the Carr Valley products I have tried. According to the Carr Valley website, "The flavor [of this cheese] explodes with intensity." The cheese's flavor is certainly a bit stronger than one might expect, given its creamy, slightly soft texture. But I thought that its flavor was surprisingly bland and uninteresting, despite the various steps taken to provide it with flavor.

The blending of three types of milk seems to make the cheese taste like it is not from the milk of anything in particular. Instead of providing the cheese with a distinctive personality, the blending seemed to rob it of one.

Because of the somewhat high price of Benedictine, I had put off trying it for some time. Perhaps the fact that I like so many of Carr Valley's products and the expense of the cheese made me have higher than reasonable expectations. Benedictine is not a bad cheese, but given its price and somewhat disappointing personality, I would recommend buying other products from Carr Valley instead.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cypress Grove Mount McKinley

Cypress Grove Chevre may be the best cheesemakers in America. They're certainly one of the very best. If you want to know what extraordinarily high quality American cheese tastes like, sample any of their products.

I recently tried Cypress Grove's triangle-shaped Mount McKinley cheese. This unique shepherd-style goat cheese is aged 18 months and is covered in vegetable ash. On top of the ash sits a thin, bloomy layer of white peniclium molds. The cheese has a sharp, robust, earthy flavor and a hard, somewhat dry texture.

Many foodies recommend grating hard, dry cheeses like this over pasta or other dishes. In my mind, that's like cooking with a $150 bottle of wine. You should cook with a $5-$10 wine and drink the $150 bottle. Similarly, I recommend enjoying Mount McKinley by itself on a warm slice of bread.

Mount McKinley has garnered a variety of awards from the American Cheese Society, the London International Cheese Competition, and the National Cheese Competition. Curiously, it is not currently listed on Cypress Grove's website as one of their current products.

Some consumers pass over Cypress Grove cheeses in the cheese aisle because of their slightly higher prices. Cypress Grove cheeses, however, are among the best in America. Your taste buds will thank you for spending a little extra.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Update: Saenkanter and Buffalo Mozzarella

In earlier posts I wrote about Saenkanter, a unique butterscotch-flavored aged Gouda, and Buffalo Mozzarella (mozzarella made from water buffalo milk). Buffalo readers might be interested to know that both of these items are now available at Premier Gourmet in Kenmore. They were not available at the time my earlier posts were published. I highly recommend trying them both.