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.

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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.

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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?


Cheesemonger Duel Ticket Giveaway for California Artisan Cheese Fest THIS Friday


And the winner is… Cammie, with her herbed Laura Chenel! Thank you all for playing, and Cammie, I’ll email you the tickets shortly. Congratulations!

If you have always wanted to see cheesemongers roll up their sleeves, take out their knives and expertly drizzle jams and honeys over cheese while crowds cheer and drink Lagunitas beer and Navarro wine under the Sonoma sun, this is your lucky day. If since the Cheesemonger Invitational’s Perfect Bite you’ve been aching to taste match ups as delicious as flowers and Alpines, or spunky as pork rinds, wasabi and goat cheese, keep reading. Hint- ticket giveaway en route. If you love meeting California’s cheese makers and attending events involving cheese, beer, and wine (all nod here), prepare yourself for the California Artisan Cheese Festival.

The ninth annual California’s Artisan Cheese Festival kicks off two weeks from now, March 20 – 22, 2015. It will be days of eating, learning, eating, sipping, and chatting up our wonderful cheesemakers. In honor of the event, I’m giving away two tickets to the festival’s big Friday night party- The Cheesemonger Duel. Tickets are originally $50 each.

What is a Cheesemonger Duel you ask? Cheesemongers like Luciana Villaneuva from Oakland’s Pasta Shop to Reed Herrick from DTLA/Cheese Cave in Los Angeles travel to Sonoma to pair off – face-to-face. Ten days before the competition, each prospective monger is given a name of a cheese. Their job is to pair that assigned cheese to a  jam, cracker, condiment, pickle, pork rind…. (or all of them) to make into the tastiest combination possible! The monger who creates the most memorial “best bite” wins a free limo chaffered tour around northern California cheese country. And the competition is fierce.

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If you’d like to win tickets to the Duel, scroll to the end of this post. I’ll ask a question, you answer it in the comment section, then I’ll throw contestant names into a hat and blindly pick this Monday night. Early next week I’ll announce who wins!

The goats wish you good luck.



There are some fantastic Festival seminars and tastings going at the Fest by wonderful writers, presenters, and cheesemakers on Saturday. I included a few of my faves below.

Cheese & Cider: Happily Ever After

Presenters: Janet Fletcher, Author and Educator including Planet Cheese online newsletter
Ellen Cavelli, Co-owner of Tilted Shed Ciderworks
Artisan cheese has a new love match: fine cider. Today’s trendy hard ciders have little in common with that sweet, fizzy beverage from the supermarket…and they are uniformly awesome with cheese. In this session, Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed, a next-generation leader in the American Cider Revival, will guide you through a range of traditional cider styles (French, West Country, Basque and single-varietal), as well as wholly unique styles, as interpreted by American producers. Then cheese authority Janet Fletcher will help you discover the cheeses that fine cider loves best.

All About the Milk: Tasting & Working with Different Cheeses
Presenter: Soyoung Scanlan, Owner and Cheesemaker at Andante Dairy
Taste and learn about how different milk ( cow, goat and buffalo) expresses itself in the context of soft-ripened cheese. Cow, goat and buffalo’s milk each have distinctive flavors and characteristics. To show the differences and similarity of each milk, Soyoung will make a St. Marcelin- style small soft cheese using lactic curd/bloomy rind cheese making technique. You’ll taste samples at different aging stages to show how each milk develops texture and flavor – from young with bloomy rind and with a little lactic and firm – to three weeks when the texture is runny and full flavored. At its best, cheese is designed to bring out the magical property of milk and to reveal the essence of terroirs – this class will be a rare opportunity to experience, and taste, this expression first hand.

Louella the Milk Maid in Fresh Cultured Cheeses

Cheesemaking: Morning Stretches: Mozzarella Making
Presenter: Louella Hill, aka The Milk Maid, Educator
Get ready for the most fun exercise you’ve ever done: Mozzarella Stretching! This not-to-be-missed seminar is for cheese lovers who want to knock “mozzarella” off their bucket lists. Class will lead you from liquid milk all the way to pearlini, ciliegine, boconcini and ovalini balls. Once you master those shapes, you’ll move onto braids, twists, and ropes and, finally, stuffed mozzarella. Participants will take their cheese creations home (we’ll supply Ziplocs and ice)—if the ‘cheese homework’ even makes it that far!



Cheesemonger Duel Question:

What is your favorite California cheese pairing combo? Mt Tam and graham crackers? Pt Reyes Blue and dried figs? I’d love to hear! Leave your answer in the comment section below. I’ll pick Monday night and announce the winner early Tuesday the 17th!

Montealva: The Newest Spanish Cheese to Hit our Shores

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The amount of times a “new” Spanish cheese appears in the United States is about as often as I’ve said no to a pint of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. So about once or twice a year or so (I make an effort not to walk down the frozen sweets aisle in the grocery store or look ice cream in the face). So when we get a new one, it feels pretty special. Montealva is the latest Spanish cheese introduction to our west coast.

Distributed by Cowgirl Creamery in California, Montealava is a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese made in Andalucia. It has fresh, lightly green herbal and citrus notes, flavors of untoasted hazelnuts, and a rich sweetness acquired through 60 plus days of aging. I’ve even heard people say they taste mustard notes in the finish.

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Though it seems to come in various ages, the one that we get is around two months. This seems to be a sweet spot for people for aged goat’s milk cheese. When it’s young yet firm like this it can even appeal to  goat cheese newbies because it doesn’t taste too punchy. Like it a little punchier? Try Achandinha’s Capricious.

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The Alvarez family makes this sweet bright cheese from the milk of their 450 Payoya Andalucian goats. Fun fact? This breed was practically saved from extinction because they make such tasty, rich milk. They don’t make much of it, but people who make cheese with it claim its richness is worth the effort. The Payoya have elegant curving horns, are born to climb the rocky hills of the region, and adorable curly tails. Those herbal notes you taste in the cheese? That’s what those lucky foragers are snacking on in the hills.


Wine Pairing:

Last week I taught a Rich Wines and Decadent Cheeses class at The Cheese School of San Francisco  and we served this in it (hello high butterfat goat’s milk). While this is a cheese that really went with any wine from un-oaked to oaked, it really shined with the heavy Roger Perrin VV French Syrah and the raspberry-noted Green and Red Chiles Valley Zinfandel. If I was at home cooking and needed a pre-dinner snack, I’d slice up a few pieces of Montealva and eat it with Andaulician’s wine gift to the world- a dry sherry. I love it with en rama-style, unfiltered sherry like Hidalgo’s.

Food Pairing:

Olives! Keep an eye out for a marinated olives recipe that would pair perfectly with Montealva. See that Friends in Cheese carrot marmalade in the pic? That’s good with it too. I also like Montealva shaved over marinated Spanish boquerones.


Lastly, be sure to check out my blog next week. I’ll be giving away tickets to the Cheesemongers Duel at the Calfornia Artisan Cheese Fest!