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Hooked On Cheese: Wine Pairings with Sommelier, Cheesemaker Jessica Little

Contributor
Who better to get pairing recommendations from than a cheesemaking sommelier?

Last weekend, I went down to Georgia to visit one of my favorite people, Jessica Little of Sweet Grass Dairy. I wanted to discuss a cheese export program I’ve been developing and get her advice on one very important aspect of it: wine pairings for the cheeses. In addition to her and her family being stellar cheesemakers, Jessica is a Certified Sommelier through The Court of Master Sommeliers, and I knew she was the perfect person to go to for some knockout suggestions for this project.

So here are her pairings for five of the best American Original cheeses out there. Enjoy!

Green Hill
“Because I am a farm girl at heart, I love to pair Green Hill with a grower champagne. I can appreciate how hard it is to not only farm the land but also be dedicated to the craft of production. One my favorite Grower Champagnes is NV Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut, Premier Cru Montagne de Reims. It is 70% Chardonnay/30% Pinot Noir and oak barrel fermented for a richer, more unctuous style. The bubbles cut right through the fat of the double cream of the cheese. This pairing has become one of my New Year's Eve highlights.

Of course, also being a simple farm girl, I can enjoy a well-made prosecco like one from Scarpetta or Zardetto with the Green Hill as well. Those are my go-to everyday sparklers.”

Humboldt Fog
“The first time I heard Max McCalman say, ‘what grows together, goes together,’ I immediately understood why Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire goes so well with goat cheeses. My go-to importer for Loire Valley wines is Jon-David Headrick Selections. His wines are stunning, with so much character and flavor. The two that have paired well with Humboldt Fog are Claude Riffault Sancerre ‘Les Boucauds’ and Jean-Francois Merieau ‘L'Arpent de Vaudons’ Sauvignon Blanc. The crisp acidity, elegant minerality, and freshness bring out the tangy and earthy flavors in the cheese. This is one of my favorite springtime pairings.”

Pleasant Ridge Reserve
“I was recently in Denver at a cheese event and had the honor of hanging out with Andy Hatch. He is one of the most admired cheesemakers in the country (if not the world!) and we got into a conversation about the complexity of flavors in his Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. I really love the secondary flavors of black olives and dried green herbs, so when thinking of wine pairings, I try to highlight those flavors. One of my favorite domestic producers is Arnot-Roberts in northern California. The 2015 Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah is amazing. It is made in a very old fashioned way – whole-cluster fermented with native yeasts, aged in neutral French oak barrels, and unfiltered/unrefined. Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot make wine in an old world style but with new world flavors. I like to think that Jeremy and I also make old world inspired cheeses with new world flavored milk.

Another great pairing for Pleasant Ridge Reserve is Spanish Rioja. My favorite producers are Bodegas Muga (try their Prado Enea Gran Reserva), Lopez de Heredia, and La Rioja Alta.”

Grayson
“Grayson is such a fun cheese to include in a wine tasting. I have poured bubbles, unoaked whites, off-dry, and red wines with this washed-rind cheese. My personal favorite is a Barbaresco from Piedmont in northern Italy. If I had to drink wine from one red grape every day for the rest of my life, it would be Nebbiolo. I love the high acid, high tannin, and Italian funkiness of Nebbiolo. One of my go-to producers is a co-op of 52 different members called Produttori del Barbaresco. They make very consistent and tasty blended and single-vineyard Barbaresco. I also love anything from Bruno Giacosa or Giuseppe Cortese as well.”

Rogue Smokey Blue
“In our cheese shop and restaurant, I have frequently said that Chenin Blanc is one of the most underappreciated white grape varietals in the world. The searing high acidity, higher viscosity, and frequent notes of tropical or stone fruits, honey, and ginger play so well with cheese. I love to finish a meal with a dessert wine and a blue cheese like Smokey Blue. The 2010 Domaine Des Baumard Quarts de Chaume is mind-blowing. Seriously complex with a finish that lasts for days, it is a great pairing for the salty, smoky, pungent blue flavors. If you like something a little drier but still off-dry, try the Damien Laureau Savennieres ‘Le Bel Ouvrage.’ Damien Laureau is a rock star with Chenin Blanc.”

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You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.