Many years ago, while on a French immersion course in Nice, I had a revelation: I didn't drink nearly enough champagne. My hostess, Sylvette, regularly had " un pomme et du champagne" for lunch. While I was shocked she survived on one apple, she was appalled that people in North America did not habitually drink champagne at noon. This year, I decided to make a resolution that would make Sylvette proud. In 2011, I vow to drink more sparkling wine. (Bonus: This promise will be far easier to keep than the one about going to spin class.) I'm easing into my challenge over New Year's Eve dinner. A glass of bubbly paired with the right cheese will make for an auspicious start and luxurious finish to the meal.
Young, creamy goat cheeses make elegant appetizers and pair well with lighter-bodied dry or off-dry sparklers. Goat milk's youthful, tangy quality is an ideal complement to the freshness and acidity of most sparkling wines. The effervescence cleanses the palate between bites of creamy cheese. French chèvre comes in many shapes - logs, cylinders, discs, pyramids - making your cheeseboard a work of geometric art. Canada also offers a great selection of artisanal products from such cheese makers as Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Ontario's Prince Edward County, or from out west, the Fraser Valley's Farm House Natural Cheeses and beautifully packaged chèvres from David Woods on Salt Spring Island.
For a unique and limited-run treat, Upper Canada Cheese Company in Jordan Station, Ont., is debuting a new line of goat-cheese products at its retail store. Like the higher-fat Guernsey milk Upper Canada uses for its original cheeses (Niagara Gold and Comfort Cream), its goat milk comes from Lamancha goats, which also produce a higher fat milk. Nosey Nanny Goat is a Camembert-style cheese, which, at its peak, oozes a silky, snow-white paste that offers savoury vegetal notes, earthy flavours from the rind and a hint of steely, cool "goatiness."
Le Secret de Maurice, a soft, sheep's milk indulgence from Quebec cheese maker Maurice Dufour, is a perfect choice for a communal dessert. "Spoonable" is what you'll remember about this luscious cheese. Cut and peel away the top rind (like removing a lid) and scoop out the pudding-like interior onto a cracker (or right into your mouth). Inspired by the Torta del Casar from Spain and created with the guidance of a Spanish cheese maker, the mild, delicate flavours coats the palate in a silky, velvety ribbon. Serve simply with fresh fruit and a flute of champagne in time for a cheesy finale to 2010.
The goat cheeses are available at Whole Foods and other fine food retailers.
Nosey Nanny Goat Jordan Station Gourmet Cheese Store, Jordan Station, Ont.
Le Secret de Maurice In Quebec: widely available at fine food retailers; in Toronto, at A Taste of Quebec.
Other dessert pairing ideas
Vacherin Mont d'Or, a big-flavoured cheese available October to March at most fine cheese stores, is also "spoonable" when fully ripe.
A wedge of Parmigiano-
Reggiano pairs well with a Brut Champagne.
Almost any dry or off-dry sparkling wine pairs beautifully with creamy goat cheese. But particularly good choices include any bubbly from the Loire region of France, such as cremant de Loire, sparkling Vouvray or Saumur Mousseaux. Another good option is Lake Chalice Cracklin' Savie, a gently effervescent white from New Zealand made from the sauvignon blanc grape. Good Canadian choices include: Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Rose (B.C.), See Ya Later Ranch Brut (B.C.), Peller Estates Ice Cuvee Rose (Niagara) and Château des Charmes Brut Methode Traditionelle (Niagara).
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.