The Great Cheese Challenge

Last night I was reminded of the amazing local food and beverage community we enjoy here in Northeast Ohio. I was a guest at The Great Cheese Challenge: Beer VS Wine, presented by the newly formed Ohio Cheese Guild.

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The very spirited crowd enjoyed a “face off” of six Ohio-made cheeses, each presented with a local wine and beer. Ed Thompkins, wine and beer buyer for Heinen’s, and Sam McNulty, Cleveland’s most passionate craft beer advocate and businessman, chose Market Garden Brewery beverage selections that were paired with cheeses picked by Shannon Welsh, Heinen’s ACS Certified Cheese Professional. Ohio Cheese Guild President Gilbert DiSanto was the host and emcee for the evening at the gorgeous Miceli Event Center, located at Miceli’s East Cleveland headquarters where DiSanto serves as special projects director.

DSC_0555Each sample was presented with a brief overview of the unique characteristics and a little about the creamery itself. Thompkins and McNulty enjoyed going head to head as the audience was asked to vote on the best pairing. More often than not, there were clear winners but I’d say that all of the pairings worked. Welsh shared that pairing wine is about contrasts, while pairing beer is about similarities. Hearing this really helped me understand why I like what I do.

The pairings:

Mackenzie Chevre paired with Ferrante Pinot Grigio and Progress Pils.

Kokoborrego Camembert paired with Harpersfield Pinot Noir and Old School American Lager

Lake Erie Creamery Pepper Feta paired with Firelands Brut and Festivus

Mayfield Creamery Raw Milk Gouda with Laurello Chardonnay-Viognier and Cluster Fuggle

Blue Jacket Dairy Ludlow paired with Debonne Riesling and Boss Amber Lager

Yellow House Cheese Wooster Pike Blue paired with Laurello Cab Franc and Pearl Street Wheat

DSC_0546Truthfully, I liked every cheese presented. My favorite was the Kokoborrego Camembert which is as gooey, rich and satisfying as any French import. If forced to pick a close second to highlight, it would be Mayfield Creamery’s Raw Milk Gouda, a nutty, substantial cheese with a beautiful smokiness. All of the cheeses were served at the appropriate temperature, which really enhanced the flavor profiles of each one. While not part of the organized tasting, we enjoyed Miceli’s fresh mozzarella on pizza hot out of the oven and I noted that it’s time to make my first lasagna of the season.

I appreciated Thompkin’s professional insight into Ohio wines, which admittedly I tend to overlook. All of the wines presented were from the Grand River Valley AVA, which Thompkins described as “Ohio’s Napa Valley.” I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Firelands Brut could stand up to many imported sparking varieties. I see myself picking up a Harpersfield Pinot Noir or a Ferrante Pinot Grigio in the near future.

DSC_0561As I’m more of a wine drinker, I don’t often take the time to explore the craft beer scene. Tasting six of Market Garden Brewery’s beers was a real treat. I definitely will visit soon for the Festivus and Cluster Fuggle IPA; both had a seasonal appeal without going overboard.

All of the beer selections are available at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City. Heinen’s carries the wines selected. All but one of the cheeses, the Blue Jacket Dairy’s Ludlow, is currently available at Heinen’s stores but may be available in the near future.

I can’t wait to assemble a cheese board for my Thanksgiving guests to nibble on while I put the finishing touches on the main event. The challenge might be keeping them around until they arrive.

Stay current on all things cheese in Ohio on the Ohio Cheese Guild website and Facebook page. Visit Miceli’s website for Italian-inspired recipes perfect for the season!

–Lisa Sands