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We're the Curds in America

Happy American Cheese Month! All October long, Brooklyn Beer Geek and I have been discussing the merits of our favorite domestic curds. And by discussing, I mean devouring chunks of Spring Brook Tarentaise, Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson and Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue. To enhance the patriotism of our turophilic endeavors, I picked two American wines to enjoy with our last cheese-feeding frenzy.

Traditionalists from the cradles of wine and cheesemaking might faint of they saw the 5-pound-sized monolithic goat cheese that is Humboldt Fog, or the Syrah, Sangiovese, Carignan and Gewürztraminer blend going live on our site next week. But as Americans, we have proved that you can create the need for such innovation: Who would have thought that a cell phone with one button would take over the world? Similarly, the more out-of-the-box the wine or cheese, the more outstanding, unexpected pairings that can be created.

Cheesy meaty bounty

For the wines, I chose an offbeat white, the 2008 William Knuttel Santa Cruz Pinot Gris and for the red, I went with the 2008 J. Keverson Sonoma County Zinfandel, as American vintners have brought the Croatian grape to the forefront. Both exhibited big, bold flavors: the Pinot Gris smelled like apricots swimming in wildflower honey with a hint of preserved lemon and limestone, and the Zinfandel was redolent of fresh raspberries, chocolate-covered strawberries and toasted coconut. Both are best served a little above cellar temperature (65 degrees), especially the rich, golden-hued Pinot Gris. This mature white needs to be about 10 degrees warmer than fresh from the fridge to reveal its acidity. Since we were limiting ourselves to two wines to pair with nine cheeses (plus a smattering of American cured meats from Fra' Mani, Creminelli and Brooklyn Larder), I purposely chose a white wine that that was more unctuous than crisp, and had a variety of flavors to make it a more versatile pairing partner. Red wines generally have less capacity for unexpected pairing greatness with cheese, so just go with what you like as long as it's not tuned to any extreme in terms of body or flavor profile.

Now, there's no such thing as a bad pairing, only different palates. We discovered this as I thought the San Joaquin Gold was a real winner with the Zinfandel, whereas Brooklyn Beer Geek got a hint of bitterness at the end that I didn't. Here were the real standouts:

2008 William Knuttel Santa Cruz Pinot Gris: This wine is a best friend to many cheeses, from buttery to stinky to crumbly. Jasper Hill Farm Moses Sleeper, Spring Brook Farm Reading, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise were all outstanding in our books. The goat cheeses we had were fine with the wine; there just wasn't much of a pairing reaction between the elements.

2008 J. Keverson Sonoma County Zinfandel: A rule of thumb for red wine and cheese pairings is aged cheese is generally a good bet for red wine, hence why the Zin went beautifully with the Fiscalini Farmstead San Joaquin Gold (at least to me!), Spring Brook Tarentaise, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue. It was also delicious with Brooklyn Larder's country pâté, a coarse, porky chunk of goodness filled with savory spices and herbs.

There are 20 days to go in American Cheese Month, plenty of opportunity to jumpstart our economy by picking up a wedge of zingy Cabot, which a friend calls Vermont Parm, for your grating needs, or Spring Brook Reading for a fall fondue party. Or make yourself a taste-bud-tingling grilled cheese sandwich with whole-grain mustard, San Joaquin Gold and caramelized onions on a few slices of sourdough Pullman loaf – snack time will never be the same!