Curds and Wine at Milagro Farms Vineyards and Winery

Cheesemaking Demonstration and Wine Tasting

The #1 rule of cheesemaking: don’t stop, keep going – even if you think something is going wrong. It WILL make A cheese!”  Gi Classen tells the group at Milagro Winery to peals of laughter. Nervous laughter, to be more exact. Gi’s eyes sparkle as she talks about the science of cheesemaking. Science was never so delicious as today’s cheesemaking demonstration and wine pairing.

curds and wine

On a lovely spring day, Milagro Winery hosted an afternoon in the vineyards with upstart business Curds and Wine. Milagro winemaker Jim Hart led a tour of the 10-acre property, showing us the different rows of many varietals that they grow before leading into a cool subterranean cave, decorated with red and white checkerboard tablecloths and soft amber lighting from the wall sconces.

Gisela Claassen- call her Gi, our cheese matron/chef/hostess left a career in cancer research. To be more specific the career left her after two research companies folded leaving her high and dry and wondering what to do next in life.  She continued her passion with science, but in a completely different avenue—cheese and wine. In November 2010 she opened Curds and Wine in San Diego and hasn’t looked back.

Cheese goes with wine like laughter goes with friends. But why does it go so well together? It’s all about tannins. Tannins are natural organic compounds found in grape skins, seeds and stems. Winemakers use tannin to give wines their distinctive flavors. Tannins are released either by squeezing the grapes or crushing them, depending on the desired flavor. Wines that improve with age will have plenty of tannins. The ageing process will soften the taste and reduce any bitter aftertaste. Long story short, scientists have found that high fat, high protein foods balance the taste of tannin. And that is why cheese pairs so perfectly with wine.

Deciding what cheese goes with which wine is an ongoing, ever-changing, highly subjective debate that can never be settled definitively. That, of course, leads to hours of cheesemaking (and wine drinking) fun and experimentation, which is what today’s event was all about.

Gi gave a brief science lesson on what happens to make cheese.

Step 1– Starter culture: Use either cultures or acids to make the chemical reaction needed to make cheese.

Step 2– Cutting: Add to warm milk. This causes the protein to get charged, change shapes and fall away from the water (whey), leaving the fats behind to become cheese (curds).

Step 3– Add rennet, a milk-clotting enzyme, used to coagulate the milk, forming a custard-like mass.

Step 4– Stirring, heating and draining. We cooked the curds to a desired temperature and firmness. The whey is continually drained off, leaving a tightly formed curd.

Step 5– Seasoning:  add a special cheese salt (kosher salt, not iodine salt) for flavor, to control the moisture level and to make the bacteria very happy.

Step 6– Molding and pressing your cheeses. Here you get your characteristic shape of cheese and completes the curd formation. This can typically take between three and 12 hours. Some cheeses are hung to drip dry, some are pressed, to force out whey.

Step 7– Aging or curing . This process depends on the cheese you are making. Cheese is moved to a refrigerator (or locker) that is temperature controlled to 50-55 degrees (wine fridge makes a great cheese locker) and 80 percent humidity. It is imperative to keep a clean environment so that the bacteria stabilizes and doesn’t grow.

“This is so easy to make its ridiculous,” Gi giggles, to more nervous laughter from the crowd.  “Today we are making goat’s milk chevre and ricotta.”

We filled our plates with cheese samples while the Milagro staff filled our wine glasses with Rosé of Sangiovese, for which winemaker Jim Hart won double gold.

During the demonstrations we stop to pair a new wine with a new cheese.

·         2012 Sauvignon Blanc with plain and dill Chevre.

·         2012 Rosé of Sangiovese with homemade Feta.

·         2010 Barbera, working man’s wine, full-bodied, dark and structured. Milagro won three gold medals on this wine. Paired with Ricotta Salata (with paprika) and Mimolette.  There were many rumblings of “Dang that Barbera’s good. I need a few bottles to go home with me” and “how long will it be until my ricotta is ready.”

·         2009 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Noord Hollander, from the rich, green pastures of North Holland. Another perfect pairing. Rich with black cherry and leather flavors, Jim’s Cabernet Sauvignon is not to be missed. This wine deserves double gold, if it hasn’t already won it.

After this fun afternoon, many participants with similar interests formed new friendships, learned what curds and whey mean, and enjoyed a variety of Milagro award-winning wines. My husband said, “We’re SOOO going to do this.” We have already made our first visit to Curds and Wine.

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