Pét Nat- The Coolest Sparkler on the Block, and Cheese

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Pét Nat – otherwise known as pétillant naturel- is the coolest sparkler on the block these days. People are throwing parties around it. Restaurants are putting on dinners in its honor, traditional vignerons versions are flying off the shelves, and experimental winemakers in the states are romancing the style every which way they can. Is it okay to be jealous of a wine?

Why is Pét Nat the coolest kid on the block? Well, perhaps partially because Pét Nat doesn’t care (kinda like honey badger). Unlike champagne or sparkling made via the champagne méthode that undergo two very careful fermentations- the first turns the grape juice into alcohol, and the second forms bubbles in the bottle, Pét Nat only goes through one fermentation, whenever it feels like it.

This is thrill-seeking kind of winemaking. The reason the other guys undergo two fermentations is because it’s much easier to control the outcome. Once you know the juice turned to booze, you can bottle the wine then add a very controlled amount of sugar to rev up the yeast again, then keep an eye on the bubbles. Pét Nat, however, is spontaneously fermented, meaning that no sugar or yeast is added. In fact, Pét Nat is bottled and capped before the first fermentation is finished, meaning that winemakers have much less control over the final product.

It’s natural winemaking, and quite simply, the bubbly can start or stop bubbling whenever it wants and flavors vary like crazy. Often there’s a little residual sugar left. Scary? Kind of. Traditional? In some places. Wild? Yes. Some nights I lie awake dreaming I were as relaxed and cool as Pét Nat.

Sparkling wine and cheese pairing


Onward and Donkey & Goat in California and Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, Texier, and Catherine Breton in France make lovely versions.

So what does a lassez-faire bubbly like Pét Nat like to eat?

 Cream, and AlpinesAnd sometimes earthy, grassy cheddars.

Prix de Diane, creamy.

Prix de Diane, creamy.

Because flavors in a pétillant naturel can get a little crazy with all the spontaneous yeast action going on, pét nat can taste like, well lots of different things, but often like fresh yeast. Think the smell of fresh yeast that’s being activated in a bowl of water before being added to dough rather the scent of brioche or bread baking like in champagne or crémant. Sometimes you’ll get lightly tart, floral, or stonefruit notes too.

A wine with this much going on often likes being the star of the show with a creamy yet straightfoward cheese. Other times it appreciates a cheese with a little funk and yeast of its own, like a mellow Alpine whose rind has been washed with B. linens that has a light, sweet funkiness just like the cheese. I’ve had some fantastic pairings with Pét Nat and bandage wrapped cheddars, too. Go for a grassy one- the cheddars with earthy notes shine with the sparkling’s lightly funky bubbles.


My favorite cheeses with Pét Nat

Creamy: Mt. Tam, Castica di Bufala, or Brillant Savarin

Alpine or Mountain Style: Challerhocker, Comté, Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain, Nicasio Reserve

Cheddars: Hafod, Bleu Mont, Fiscalini


*Last notes- in case you were wondering like I was what is the difference between Pét Nat and méthod ancestrale, they are are the same method. While méthod ancestrale is a term whose use is restricted to certain AOCs- Clairette de Die, Gallac, Limoux, and Bugey, pétillant naturel may be used freely . Thank you to my sommelier friend Hristo Zisovski and his friends at Pearl & Ash who explained this me!

Lakin’s Gorges Cheese: A Woman, 60 Cows, and Some Spareribs.

Prix de Diane

Prix de Diane

In order for one to flourish on social media, certain people suggest, one must be attentive to their accounts at all moments. One must post on twitter two to three times a day. One must leave comments on blogs so their authors will notice you, visit your blog, and then (fingers crossed and pray to the blog gods) leave comments on yours. One most be on twitter and instagram and facebook, post on their blog, and on pinterest, send out newsletters, and then… at some point, breath. It’s a roller-coaster. Some love it. Others enjoy the ride in the roller-coaster car to the top, taking in the view, saying hello to other passengers, then suddenly remember on the way down they’re afraid of heights and spend the rest of the trip screaming. For me, it’s often a struggle to keep my platform wits about me, but other times, it’s a blessing. Years ago, I was invited to stay in the Loire Valley with a charming French woman, and I’ve met some of my now-best friends through twitter. But lately interactions on social media had felt a little slow.

Then a couple months ago, Allison from Lakin’s Gorges contacted me. We were following each other on Instagram, she said. Would I like to try her cheese? She is a one-woman show in Rockport Maine who makes wheels with organic milk from Tide Milk farm’s sixty grass-fed cows, she wrote. I was intrigued. I checked out her website. She learned cheesemaking at the University of Wisconsin and got her cheese legs under Peter Dixon. Her wheels looked tasty, I was already impressed. Then I learned that two years before she started making cheese, she competed in the All Ireland Bones Playing championship in Abbeyfeale and she saves her sparerib bones to make traditional Irish instruments. I replied yes.

Lakin's Gorges Opus 42

Lakin’s Gorges Opus 42

A  month or two later her cheese triumphed over the polar vortex shipping hastening and arrived on my door. All of them were tasty. My favorites were the Prix de Diane and Opus 42

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Prix de Diane: Oozy, creamy. Like someone stirred fresh cream with a splash of lemon juice. Jacketed in a healthy bloomy rind. Lovely with prosecco.

Opus 42: Could snack on this all day with dry sherry. Crumbly, dense, earthy, reminded me a little of Landaff’s Landaff or Caerphilly, but with a flakier texture. Tastes like it had been sprinkled with lemon juice. Semi-soft and shave-able. Would be delicious over favas and fresh egg pasta.


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Allison was also kind enough to answer a couple questions, below.

What similarities do you find that link cheesemaking to playing Irish music for you?

Playing Irish music and making cheese are both all about the rhythm. You have to sit back, pay attention to the progression, and wait for that moment when it slides into the groove with amazing results. It doesn’t pay to rush and sometimes doing nothing is the best option.

Do you still make your rib bones to make your instruments?

I started playing bones when I worked at Mystic Seaport and made my first set after eating a delicious spare rib dinner. Today I also like to use shin bones, which produce a different timbre when played. I add scrimshaw designs to my bones. Scrimshaw was traditionally practiced aboard whaling ships, sailors would take a sail needle and inscribe a design on a whalebone and then rub ink into the picture.

A link to Allison competing in the 2009 All Ireland Bone Playing Championship in Abbeyfeale, and to the Rhythm Bones Society.

You can order Lakin’s Gorges cheese online, or if you’re in the east coast you can check out Portland Food Coop, Peekytoe Provisions, Formaggio Kitchen, River Valley Market, Eataly and Little Bleu Cheese Shop.



Bubbles 101: Champagne and Cheese Pairing

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I hope you’re ready for the second post of Bubbles 101: Sparkling Wine and Cheese, because today is Champagne and Cheese Pairing! Sipping bubbles, thinking about sipping bubbles, taking a bubble bath, or thinking about and sipping on bubbles while in a bath all prep one for readiness. So does singing any songs with Champagne or corks in the lyrics, like “Champagne Life,” or “popping bottles in the club.”

Today we’re focusing on what sorts of cheese to pair with Champagne, crémants, proseccos and cavas. Next week or the week after (I am taking an excited break to share a small domestic cheesemaker with you between the two), Lambrusco. Week after, Pet Nat.

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After teaching many classes of bubbles and cheese pairing and drinking anything boozy and alcoholic when I have a chance, I’ve come to a major conclusion:

Pairing cheese and bubbles isn’t really about the type of bubbles or where the wine is made, it’s all about the yeast.

What does this mean?

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Non rosé champagnes, crémants, proseccos and cavas can generally be separated into those that have yeasty, brioche-like flavors, and those that do not. The yeasty or brioche notes can be likened to the delicious smell of  freshly baked bread fresh pulled the oven, then slathered with butter. Champagnes and sparklings made in via champagne-methodoise (2nd ferment in the bottle over the yeast) most often have yeastier, brioche-like, creamier flavors, while some crémants, cavas and proseccos often see less oak and may not sit with the yeast in the bottle as long, making them seem leaner and lighter.

Many people think sparkling wines are BFFs with triple cremes and brie styles, hands down. I generally agree. There is little fre-enemy action here in bubbles land. The bubbles and high acidity of a sparkling lend a hand to cutting the richness of the cheese and the tiny bubbles texturally bring out the silkiness of a creme. So bubbles and cremes in general are good go-tos.

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But what I also discovered (and love) is that not only does champagne like Dieboldt Vallois in the first pic or Scharffenberger Brut love rich, gooey triple cremes like Mt Tam, or Marin French triple-creme (also in above pic) they also love yeasty, mushroomy, even lightly earthy cheeses like goat cheese croutons or Lingot de Quercy. Doesn’t just have to be rich cow’s milk.

Think brioche-like and rich sparklings when you have a yeasty, earthy cheese like a brie, camembert style with a bloomy rind that smells like sweet cauliflower, or even a cloth-bound cheddars or sultry sheep’s milk cheese that tastes like fresh grass and butter. Yeasty sparklings can handle a slightly vegetal, earthy cheese.

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Have a leaner wine? Keep the cheese pairing clean. Fresh goat cheese, burrata, fresh mozzarella, ricotta all love less oak and less yeasty sparklings.

How do you know if your bubbles have these flavors?

It’s okay to generalize. First of all, no one is going to flip out if you bring a prosecco to a party and someone puts it next to a plate of Bent River camembert instead of Gioia burrata or a slice of Fleur Verte. If so, feel free to tell them they should take up grander issues like protesting big Ag or starting a campaign to get Joan of Mad Men her own TV show.

Otherwise I’d suggest finding a wine monger you love, asking them, then buy the bubbles they recommend. Champagne houses tend to have typical styles, and often champagne and sparklings and crémants made in the champagne methodoise are generally going to be yeastier. After you start to become familiar with different types of sparklings and the way particular places and houses make them, you’ll be able to pick from your favorites on your own. Luckily, the way to learn is to taste.

Some favorite recent combos:

  • Scharffenberger Brut (CMethodoise, yeasty, rich) with Loire Valley crottin or Tomales Farmstead Teleeka
  • Dieboldt-Vallois Champagne (yeasty, creamy) with Hafod Cheddar and Abbaye de Belloc
  • Château du Breze Crémant de Loire (lean, mineral) with Gioia Burrata and Bellwether sheep’s milk ricotta
  • Berthet-Bondet Crémant de Jura (creamy, lean) with Marin French triple-creme brie and Castica di Bufula


Do you have any go-to sparklings?

Bubbles 101: A Wine and Cheese Pairing Series

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While reveling in the deliciousness of bubbles and cheese duos at the end of a sparkling wine and cheese pairing class I taught at the Cheese School of San Francisco last week, I took a final bite of the crottin and Scharffenberger Brut. My eyes may have teared up a little bit. I looked adoringly at the space as I remembered how boisterous students got with each bubbly sip and their sighs when tasting their favorite combo for the first time. I will explore with people further, I decided. I will share your glories beyond this room, I whispered to my empty glasses and the crumb of cheese left on my plate.

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This post kicks off a five-post series focusing on sparkling wine and cheese pairing. Partially because I look forward to more research. But mainly because bubbles and cheese are some of the best pairings around. For every cheese, there is at least one sparkling that fits. See those plates above? It’s pretty well-rounded, isn’t it? There are as many types of sparklings as there are styles of dairy deliciousness, and what’s available in the U.S. keeps broadening.  We live in good vinifera and dairy times, my friends.

The posts will mainly focus on four types of sparkling wine below and the amazing breath of cheeses that pair with them.

Sparkling wine and cheese pairing

Sparkling wine and cheese pairing

  •  Méthode Champenoise – The classic
  • Lambrusco – The misunderstood red
  • Pétillant Naturel dry or off-dry -The super hip wine kid “Pet Nat”
  • Méthode Ancestrale sweet (ish)

And buckle your seat belts, I might even slip a little Chenin and Prosecco in too.


Next week, we’ll hit up Méthode Champenoise. But first….

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The Bubbles: Where do you come from and why are you so delicious with cheese?

A sparkling wine sparkles because it generally undergoes two fermentations. Most sparkling, that is, more on Pet Nat later. Most wine goes through one fermentation- the grapes are crushed, juice is extracted, and the yeast starts eating the grape’s sugar, converting it into alcohol. Then the wine ages to develop flavor and complexity.

Wine that will be made into sparkling  is fermented a second time. Sugar is converted to alcohol during the first aforementioned fermentation. During the second, carbon dioxide is created. To provoke the second ferment, winemakers add a mix of more sugar and sometimes a little something extra like cognac at certain Champagne houses, to the wine. Then the yeast goes at it again. It’s already converted the sugars into alcohol at this point, now it’s just snacking on pure sugar for the fun of it. As it kicks back and eats the sugar, it creates bubbles.

Different sparklings are produced different ways, but the second fermentation or trapping of carbon dioxide in bottles is the building block of all sparkling wine.

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Noreen with our sparkling cheese selections at the Cheese School

Why does this second fermentation lends itself so deliciously to cheese?

The bubbles wrap around rich, fat dairy molecules and take them away to a happy place. This is a technical scientific discovery. I swear. It’s also why cheese often pairs easier with beer than wine (not better, easier).

Sparklings generally have higher acidity. Acid helps to balance richness.

There are so many options that its almost impossible to not find a perfect pairing. Some are sweet, some are pink, some are red and some have tannins. Together, they form a perfect wine-flavored rainbow that’s very giving in the pairing opportunities it provides to the world of fermented milk.

Bubbles, 101, Go! Next week, Méthode Champenoise and its cheese friends.

Berkswell Sheep’s Milk Cheese: England’s Flying Saucer

Berkswell sheep cheese

Put into effect in 1954 when spaceship sightings were rampant, the French have a law stating that flying saucers cannot land in Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards. If one is ever spotted landing or hovering, the CdP’s mayor has the right to put the “cigare volant” into their immediate custody. In the midlands of England, however, flying saucer shapes are encouraged. Berkswell is possibly England’s most famous sheep’s milk cheese.

Formed into the flying saucer shape (or a flying saucer back when alien ships were oblong and round, because really, who knows what our advanced space friends are driving these days) by the basket mold the curds sit in while draining, Berkswell is a three-pound natural rind sheep’s milk tomme with light yellow-brown rind and a creamy golden paste that starts to crumble and flake as it ages.

Berkswell sheep cheeeBerkswell is made by the Fletcher family on their 16th century estate. The family’s owned the farm for six generations, but didn’t start making cheese until the nineties when a local cheese shop convinced the family that rather than just sell them their sheep’s milk, they should make cheese with it. Thank you, English cheesmonger.

Like many sheep’s milk cheeses, Berkswell has a buttery taste- think browned butter or melted ghee. Also greeting you are lemon zest and fresh hazelnut notes. Because it’s a seasonal cheese in the sense that the ewes milk changes seasonally with what they’re eating while grazing, the flavors change throughout the year. I’ve detected notes as different as pineapple, fresh mushrooms, or even pine from one month to the next

The Fletchers turned to a Caerphilly recipe when they first started making Berkswell, but if you’ve tasted a wedge of this saucer lately, you know the make has changed. Berkswell is now slightly grainy, firm, and more akin to a pecorino, but a tad less chalky. Though England has more sheep topping its gentle hills than California has organic vegetables, most are used for meat, so finding sheep’s milk from here is still a lovely exception.

Wine Pairing: I love Berkswell with a dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc or a high acidity, red-fruited wine like Gamay or Cab Franc.

Food Pairing: Like pecorino shaved over spring’s favas or asparagus? Try Berkswell instead. Or, slice thin pieces of the tomme over fresh pasta and top with olive oil and freshly ground pepper. I also like it with a simple dose of marmalade. I served it with Frog Hollow’s blood orange strawberry marmalade for the photo.

Where to find: Ask your local cheesemonger who carries Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses (sometimes it just needs to be pre-ordered), or try some from Murray’s online.

Fun recipe: Delicous UK’s zucchini & Berskwell soufflle. White wine pairings apply!

Favorite New Finds at the California Artisan Cheese Fest

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The last couple of weeks have been particularly tasty. The weekend of the 14th I drove to the Santa Cruz mountains to man the cheese station at Ridge’s Montebello release, chat up collectors and sippers, and share and sample the California cheese love. Early last week I stopped by the UC Alumni Travel Association to talk about a future culinary trip to Ireland (news en route!) and worked on a little writing from my recent UK and Irish trip. Later in the week I got to taste through some newer Oregon wines – Teutonic and Fausse Piste at work. Then, this Sunday I headed to Petaluma for the California Artisan Cheese Festival. My taste buds have been thoroughly charmed.

Here are a few of my favorite finds from these recent roamings.

Gypsy Rose Cheese

Gypsy Rose Cheese

A family of three living in Valley Ford, Gypsy Rose has been making goat cheese since 2013. Yet it wasn’t until this cheese fest that I actually got a chance to try their goods (pictured at top). They generally focus on raw goat’s milk cheese- washed rind. Made with goat milk from their neighbors, Pug’s Leap, Gypsy’s wheels are wonderful. Goat’s milk washed rind cheeses can easily take over one’s tongue, but theirs finish clean and bright. Two that especially warmed my cheesy heart was their Django, a mixed cow and goat’s milk citrusy semi-soft cheese, and their creamier, all-goat Rosebud. Miss Cheesemonger took some lovely pictures of the family during a visit lately.

sheep's milk ice cream

Haverton Hill Ice Cream

Though I looked longingly through the windows while passing by a shop selling sheep’s milk ice cream before when traveling through Wales (this was at the point in my trip where I was eating near a half-a-pound of cheese per day and thought it maybe wise that I didn’t go in) , this was the first time I’ve actually tasted sheep’s milk ice cream. It’s damn tasty. Sheep’s milk is very high in butterfat, meaning that the ice cream tends to whip up a little richer than with cow’s milk, and it coats your tongue in a velvety layer as it melts.

sheep's milk ice creamThe ladies of the Adiego family who milk the sheep. If this picture isn’t proof that ice cream gives you a glow, I don’t know what is. Eat up. Organic milk, eggs, and sugar.

Teutonic & Fausse Piste Winery, Oregon

Teutonic focuses on Germanic varieties and Fausse Piste specializes in Rhone grapes. Teutonic winery was launched by a sommelier responsible for the largest German wine list in the Pacific North West who generally narrows their scope to wines grown on the Mosel slopes. Their Pinot Noirs are lovely, but their Pinot Meunier (the third Champagne grape) and their Edelzwicker blend- Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Noir and Blanc- were my favorites. Fausse Piste was started by a chef who wanted to make food friendly wines who honors hands-off methods, lets his grapes spontaneously ferment, and ages in old or large-format barrels. If you’re of the mind that natural wines are more austere than flavorful, Fausse Piste offers a opposite example. I loved their Roussane and Syrah. These I tasted at Solano Cellars, not the cheese fest.

SonomaCider (1 of 1)Sonoma Cider

Dwight is the cider-maker for Sonoma Cider. He and his wife launched the company in 2013 and have been pressing apples into dry, off-dry, and sweet cider ever since. They’re about medium-sized in production and have a tasting room in Healdsburg that will let you taste their basics, and their seasonal blends like Sasparilla Vanilla.

Baeltane Brewing

A micro-brewery in Novato, California, Baeltane makes Belgian, French, and west coast ales. And  their skills show especially in the Belgian, where subtle flavors aren’t masked by over-sugaring. Their porters are just as solid, and their Biere de Garde is fresh and session-style. Tasting room open five days a week.

Those were just some of my favorite finds from this past week!

Did you taste something new at the Fest that you loved?