let the games begin – food & wine, meet mac & cheese

DSC02722Macaroni and cheese. Comfort food. Everyone’s favorite. Breakfast item? During the Food & Wine Classic, anything goes. And it was a fabulous way to start the day. Unbeknownst to me, Laura Werlin’s, “Mac & Cheese, Please!” was actually a wonderful wine and cheese pairing class that also included four incredible macaroni and cheeses samples. One of the country’s foremost authorities on cheese, Laura introduced us to seven fabulous cheeses, paired with five wines from sparkling white to port.

We began with a sparkling white wine paired with Parrano’s “Robusto”. A cow’s milk Gouda style cheese from the Netherlands made exclusively by UnieKaas, and oh so conveniently sold at Whole Foods. A firm golden colored cheese, it is similar to Gouda but with a more robust flavor and nutty, crunchy, salty undertones. Parrano’s “Robusto” is aged for 9 months. It is an incredibly delicious balance between Gouda and Parmesan. A perfect cheese. This will forever be my go to snack/party cheese.

IMG_2429Next up, Buffalo Chicken and Crispy Skin Mac and Cheese. Yes, you read it right. Sounds mouthwatering? It was. The creaminess of the macaroni was balanced by the kick of buffalo chicken pieces and crispy buffalo chicken skin. What a decadent and brilliant idea. A nice complement to both the cheese and the pasta was a delicious French Rhone from Jean-Luc Colombo Saint-Peray.

DSC02729We tried an orecchiette and cheese that combined a “Triple-Crème Brie” and a “Comte” with a Spanish “MitiBleu”, similar to a Roquefort with less salt and less pungency. This three cheese pasta was topped with finely crumbled baguette bread, and paired with a rose.

IMG_2431The third mac and cheese, also orecchiette, was an ode to morning hash browns, made with red and green peppers and tiny cubes of roasted potatoes on top. Paired with a Pinot noir, it was my least favorite of the four. Keep in mind, we’re talking fine cheese and pasta, there really is no wrong answer here.

IMG_2434My favorite cheese was an unusual blue cheese from Rogue Creamery called “Smokey Blue”. It is a cow’s milk cheese that is smoked over hazelnuts. It has a very intense, savory, smoky flavor. We tasted it with Graham’s 20 year Tawny Port. It was everyone’s hands down favorite pairing. This smoky blue was showcased beautifully in an elbow macaroni and cheese made with leeks and chopped hazelnuts. The cheese is so smoky that it imparts an almost meaty taste to the dish. If you closed your eyes you would be certain there was bacon in it.

We finished our first class sated and satisfied. This is only just the beginning, however. On to the food jugglers, wine merchants, and spirit sellers in the circus tent…the Grand Tasting, round one.

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