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Valley Ford's Estero Gold Reserve, Ridge-Style

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A break-out star at Ridge winery's Montebello tastings this past weekend? The 2000? The 1998? Sure, sure, the Montebellos were mighty tasty, and the Petit Verdot charmed a few who didn't know of the grape's finesse, but on the cheese end, Valley Ford's Estero Gold Reserve earned a gold star.

Every year, Ridge winery has a series of Montebello tastings to celebrate the release of the Estate Bordeaux blend. They go a little something like this:

  • First weekend: Component Tasting- a barrel tasting of the Bordeaux varietals that make up Montebello, and, tasting of older vintages.
  • Second weekend: First Montebello Sample. They've mixed a sample of the current release (2011) and the public can taste it, and previous vintages. One can buy futures, but shouldn't get too attached- the blend can be changed.
  • Third: Tasting the final Montebello blend. Buying futures, and tasting Zinfandel galore.
  • All weekends: Cheese, cheese, cheese, and, charcuterie. 

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Tasting through the big daddy Montebellos to make sure the bottles aren't flawed. It's a tough job, but Jenny's go to do it.

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Obviously the fourth item on the list is of the upmost importance. And, that's where this lucky girl comes in. Ridge hires me to curate the cheese for the event. The rules are simple: the cheese must come from California, and it must highlight the Montebello grapes (with an exception for one triple creme or softie per event to pair with the Chardonnay).

GaylesBread (1 of 1)KathyRidge (1 of 1)Project semi-firm to hard cheese, go!

In my book, the best pair-ers for Bordeaux varieties are semi-firm sheep's milk cheeses and mixed milks, and older cow's milk cheeses. While all the cheeses served were stunners (how could they not be, with cheesemakers like those at Garden Variety, Pennyroyal, Fiscalini, and Cowgirl Creamery, for example, at the helm), one that caught people off guard with its unusualness was the Estero Gold Reserve.

Estero Gold Reserve is made by Joe and Karen Bianchi Moreda at Valley Ford Cheese in Sonoma. If the name sounds familiar with this blog, that's because the family stole my cheese heart back in 2011. But back then, they only had Estero Gold. The reserve was just a baby.

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Ridge Chef Ingrid halving the Estero.

Like with many aged cheeses that come about, the family decided to simply keep a wheel longer than the six or so months they normally would to see what would happen. With fingers and toes crossed, the family waited. Then they tasted. Results? This raw cow's milk cheese is gorgeous. The Bianchi-Moreda family started out making cheese in attempt to keep their third-generation dairy alive, but their cheesemaking skills have put them on the map amongst some pretty stiff competition. Everything they make just keeps better every year. One would certainly hope this would be the case with everyone, but truth be told, sometimes folks just get in a rut.

On their website, Valley Ford says that Estero Gold Reserve is a Montasio style wheel. Hard and crumbly when  sliced, the resemblance is clear. Like a Parmessean, the Reserve also has delicately salty, spicy, beefy notes, and an occasional amino acid crystal crunch. It's wonderful grated, served in thin slices as done at the Ridge event, or in chunks like parm.

Estero Gold Reserve was fantastic with the tannic, high acidity Montebellos. People kept coming back to it with re-filled glasses. Hell, I came back to it even without a glass, but it really shined with the wine. The cheese's spicy bite and concentrated flavors firmly stood up to the young wines, whereas a younger cheese might have not yet have had the backbone to hold its ground.

So, Estero Gold Reserve, many raised (and emptied) their glasses to you this weekend. And the Fatted Calf Charcuterie wasn't bad with a sliver of you either.

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Have you tried the Estero Gold Reserve yet? What's your favorite hard cheese with Bordeaux grapes?