Wine and Cheese, Please!

Tips for building a fabulous cheese board (and wines that pair well) from the experts at Kowalski’s Market.

If you’re looking for a crowd pleaser, you can’t go wrong with cheese. Build a cheese board, and they’re sure to come. But with so many choices—hard and soft; goat, sheep and cow milk; rind or no rind; sliced or crumbled—where do you begin? We turned to local cheese expert Scott Zeinert from Kowalski’s Market, who offers some great suggestions for how to fill your cheese board for the perfect gathering.

The Cheese

Landmark Creamery Petit Nuage (fresh cheese)
Light as little clouds, this cheese has a tangy brightness and a sweet finish. It’s a French-style soft sheep milk cheese, made weekly in southern Wisconsin with milk from the Enloe family farm. Each cheese is just one ounce in weight and an inch and a half in diameter, a perfect single portion. A lovely addition to a cheese board. Seasonal availability from February to October.

LaClare Farms Chandoka (cheddar style)
LaClare Farms Chandoka is a mild fruity cheddar cheese made from whole pasteurized cow and goat milk. The goat's milk is from the LaClare Family Farm and the cow's milk comes from the Red Barn Family Farms, both based in Wisconsin. The cheese is ripened for about one month. Chandoka has fruity characteristics of cow's milk and sweet tangy notes of goat's milk, which makes this cheese wonderful and flavorful. It is perfect for cheese boards, a unique replacement for traditional cheddars. This cheddar is best served cubed; another wedge is good to show off the bandaged rind, if it’s still attached. It pairs well with Spanish caramelized pecans and Red Table Meat Company's Coppa, a cured pork shoulder.

Alemar Blue Earth American Brie (soft ripened)

This company is well-known for their first cheese, Bent River. Blue Earth is their third creation, named after the county where it’s made. Bright, grassy, buttery and versatile, this brie-style cheese offers a classical setting to the cheese board. Because this cheese is soft, leave it as a wedge and use a knife to spread on some bread or crackers with red grapes.

Point Reyes Bay Blue (blue veined)
This choice is rustic blue with a thin natural rind and a dense, fudgy texture. Its blue-green veining offers a balanced flavor of fruit and nuts, while the buttery paste has a sweet, caramel finish. Bay Blue pairs well with sliced pears or a handful of dried figs. Serve as a wedge; it spreads better at room temperature.

Faribault Caves’ Jeff's Select Gouda (hard aged)
This cheese is the result of the collaboration of two cheese makers, Jeff Wideman of Maple Leaf Cheese and Jeff Jirik of Caves of Faribault. Wideman makes the cheese in Wisconsin and Jirik ages it in Faribault, Minn. for two years. Cube this cheese ahead; it’s best to have another small wedge to show off the beautiful rind. The Point Reyes Bay Blue and Faribault Caves’ Jeff’s Select Gouda cheese pair well with Turkey Hill Apiary Bourbon Honey and Dried Fig.

Lone Grazer Northeazy Tomme (washed rind)

Northeazy Tomme is made with whole milk from Minnesota grass-fed cows for a buttery and slightly tart paste. The rind contributes fruity and mushroomy notes that will intensify with age, along with nutty and piquant notes in extra-mature wheels. The best way to serve this cheese is to slice it with the rind. This cheese will pair well with red grapes and dried apricots.

The Wine

Don’t forget another important component of your cheese board: wine accompaniments. Here are some great recommendations from David Burggraaff, manager at the Woodbury Kowalski’s Wine Shop.

Hubert Clavelin “Brut-Comte” Cremant du Jura, France
This sparkling, dry French wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, pairing well with Landmark Creamery Petit Nuage, a French-style cheese. It is light, and the tiny bubbles, minerality and hint of tart apples make the flavors of the cheese shine.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier, California
This wine from California is a great pairing to LaClare Farms Chandoka, offering flavors of lemon, peach and pineapple with a balanced acidity and hints of white tea and clean mineral. This wine will add to the sweet, tangy notes in this cheddar-style cheese.

Chamisal Chardonnay, California
An unoaked Chardonnay, this is an excellent paring with Alemar Blue Earth American Brie. The buttery, grassy flavors in the cheese will be more pronounced with the crisp acidity, flavors of nectarine, papaya, key lime pie, and a clean, lingering finish of this Chardonnay.

Matchbook Syrah, California
When paired with Point Reyes Bay Blue, the 2013 Matchbook Syrah truly displays its juiciness. The earthy undertones and balanced acidity offer rich black cherry and mocha flavors. Aromas of pepper, plum, blackberry, bacon, cocoa, cigar box, saddle leather and truffle accompany this wine as well; it will help the flavor of fruit and nuts come to the forefront with this cheese.

Smith and Hook Cabernet, California
The rich plum, black cherry and currant flavors from this Cabernet are a great pairing with Faribault Caves Jeff’s Select Gouda. This full-bodied wine features supple tannins; the blackberry, vanilla, currant, mocha and spice aromas also showcase the flavors of the cheese. The fruit for this wine comes from four areas of the Central Coast which gives it more structure, flavor, color and aroma. This is a spirited, layered and luscious Cabernet Sauvignon which is aged in French oak for up to 10 months.

Perrin Cotes Du Rhone Rouge, France

This 2014 Reserve has a great minerality with abundant freshness. It makes a great pairing with Lone Grazer Northeazy Tomme. Primarily made from Grenache, it is the Syrah variety that dominates this vintage, featuring nice aromas of red and black fruit, with a strong aromatic concentration. The mouth is fresh and full-bodied, and the tannins are soft and give a long aromatic finish.

Tips from Scott Zeinert

  • “These cheeses offered throughout the year can be limited at times. But Kowalski’s can always offer suggestions for your cheese board.”
  • “Be sure to serve all cheeses at room temperature; there is more flavor that is hidden by refrigeration.”
  • “Baguette and Rosemary Olive Boule go well with Brie and other soft cheeses like the fresh cheeses.”
  • “Strawberries, blackberries and red grapes work well with most cheeses.”
  • “Dried figs, dried apricots and dried cherries work with the cheddar, blue and Gouda.”
  • “The store also sells an array of crackers that work well with all of these cheeses. In the cheese department, we love offering Raincoast Crisps’ salty date and almond, or the cranberry hazelnut. Our deli offers flatbreads like the Rustic Bakery Sel Gris and Olive Oil.”
  • “Kowalski’s has a selection of wooden boards, ceramic platters and plates to display the cheeses. Knives and spreaders are also available at our Cooks of Crocus Hill department.”

Sample Wine Flights from Around the World

David Burggraaff recommends trying different grape varietals from a variety of regions; here are his recommendations for wines that pair well with a cheese board.

Sauvignon Blancs:
Daulny Sancerre, France
Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc, California
Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

Sparkling Wines:
Lamberti Prosecco, Italy
Gruet Brut, New Mexico
Saracco Moscato D’Asti, Italy

Pinot Noir:
Albert Bichot Sauvigny Les Beaunes, France
Accaccia Pinot Noir, California
Left Coast Cellars Pinot Noir, Oregon

Kowalski’s Wine Shop experts can recommend reds and whites to complement cheese.