Enjoying Dad’s day on the Niagara Wine Trail

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The Winery at Marjim Manor

The Foodie:

When I was a kid, I always used to get the Girl Scout calendar. I think I used to sell them and my mother bought several from me.

Anyway, my birthday is in June and I would always look forward to the picture on my birthday month. My cousin’s was in the spring and she always got some sort of pretty flowers.

All I could think was “surely, it is not another cow”… but, inevitably, it was because every good Girl Scout knows that June is dairy month.

The Niagara Wine Trail knows it, too. June 17 to 19 was a celebration of wine and cheese. My husband and I had the good fortune to visit a few wineries on Father’s Day before the call of the golf ball was too loud to resist.

Our first stop was The Winery at Marjim Manor and we had a brief conversation with Margo Sue Bittner. If you ever have a spare minute, be sure you visit this pretty place and have a chat with Margo Sue. She’s so engaging and knowledgeable that I had to force myself to actually go and taste the wine and move on to the next venue.

MSB says a good wine is one you like and to trust your palate. I learned that you do not ferment fruit wine. She said grapes are smart (can age for years) and fruit is stupid (it only takes months to create good fruit wine). I was so into her wine I never even saw the paired cheese.

We tried Jewel in the Crown (a sweet wine with a hint of apricot), Applely Ever After (made with eight kinds of apples), True Blue (a big yeast smell, smooth taste and not as much blueberry taste as I expected) and our favorite, The Cat’s Meow. It is like Pinot Grigio but a little drier. We purchased several bottles.

The next stop was the new Black Willow Winery. Owner Cindy Chamberlain was a gracious hostess explaining that they would be buying vines in the next three months. The concept for the vineyard began three years ago and during that time she spent two and a half years becoming a viticulturist (received a degree in winemaking). There are beautiful wood doors with the sleigh bells from the door of their home.

The wine from Black Willow is a lesson in contrast. Considered medium-sweet, Bare Cat Blush was actually a pleasant sweet rather than the tongue-smacking I expected. The Mead (honey wine) Odin’s Nectar is a beautiful golden color, but wasn’t pleasing to my palate. Perhaps you need to acquire a taste for it — like ice wine. A dry-medium Cabernet Franc was a beautiful color with a bit of a dry smack at the end. The Chardonnay is lightly oaked and I did taste the vanilla as suggested on their menu. The Trilogy Red (blend) was good and the Trilogy White was outstanding. It’s a combination of Cayuga White, Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes. This was my next purchase.

Her wine was paired with Yancey’s XXX sharp white cheddar cheese. This was a nice cheese with the drier white wines.

The last stop in our sipping adventure was Chateau Niagara. Jim and Kathy Baker are interesting and fun. The winery opened in 2006. Of their 31 acres, five and a half are planted. Jim explained that because California wines have more sugar, they also have more alcohol. They showed me a map which highlighted why the Niagara region is perfect for winemaking. It took them a long time to find the perfect property. The goal is the longest frost free season as possible. In New York State, there’s a very small area with greater than 220 days. The area where Chateau Niagara is located actually has 235 frost-free days. As we tasted down their menu (you must go in order because there definitely is a method to their madness) we were treated to Jim’s stand-up routine as he explained with great passion and knowledge how each wine is unique.

The Chardonnay is lovely, aged only days in oak. Jim says any less time and he would just show the grapes a picture of oak! The Riesling apparently is a grape that likes it here. Niagara is the perfect climate. The wine had a little smack at the end and a very food finish. I enjoyed the wine for several moments after I set down my glass. The Gewurztraminer was my favorite and actually has the smell of Riesling. The Cayuga White has sugar that masks flavors. Jim told us to pair it with something sour like sauerkraut. I must admit it was the first time someone actually suggested pairing a wine with sauerkraut. Who knew?

The tasting of A La Mode (could not be called apple pie because there are actually no apples in this wine) was the most dramatic. The wine comes in a bottle similar to ice wine, long and thin. It is decidedly sweet but not off-putting. Jim had us taste the wine, wait a moment then taste the Yancey’s Double Cream Cheddar. Once we tasted this very smooth cheese we were to sip the wine again, noticing the slight change. Next he had us eat a buttery cracker and sip again. He explained the cracker was like the crust of the apple pie. Sure enough, the wine had a slightly different taste yet again.

If you visit any of these wineries I would love to hear what you think of the wines below the falls. Cheers!

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King of Cheese, part two — Eataly

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The Foodie:

My 36-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano obsession reached a fever pitch earlier this year when several trips to New York City produced nothing older than 24 months.

20120613-075742.jpgYes, I became a cheese snob on that fateful day in April, 2007. I tasted the best and never wanted to go back to pre-grated cheese packaged in plastic.

No, I wanted that buttery yet crystalline bite that would linger on my tongue long enough to be washed down by a dry white wine. I wanted my cheese and was willing to whine to anyone about it.

In early December, my son and I visited Eataly on 5th Avenue in New York. We were greeted by the undeniable sound of espresso being prepared. One of my enduring memories of Italy was the sound the espresso demitasse cups & saucers. They sounded like chips in a casino. We shared a decadent combo of coffee and cocoa topped with real whipped cream.

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Eataly has been described as the Disneyland of food and I cannot argue. It has 50,000 square feet of food and wine that had this foodie panting around each corner. There is an entire display case of handmade pasta. There are fresh vegetables, an extensive assortment of wine and enough fish to give any seaside village competition. You can buy a crown roast of anything, dozens of different cheeses, Prosciutto di Parma and take a cooking class at the culinary education center. If they had a bed I would live there.

20120613-075905.jpgAnd, if I didn’t already think I had found my culinary Mecca, there it was: 36 month Parmigiano-Reggiano! It was (gasp) nearly $27 a pound … so I only bought two lbs.

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If you go be sure you have someplace to refrigerate your purchases because they do not vacuum pack anything. Plan on spending at least two to three hours and try to be there for at least one meal and an espresso break. Most of all, be sure you extend your credit limit on your favorite charge card — you’re going to need it. Mangia!

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two parts. The first part ran on Thursday.)

King of Cheese, part one

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The Foodie:

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The obsession began on April 4, 2007, back in Parma, Italy.

20120613-081137.jpgParma’s in Emilia Romagna, the region south of Milan and north of Florence where Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma are made. One of the things that makes Prosciutto di Parma so buttery is they feed the whey left from the production of Parmigiano to the pigs.

On a visit to a dairy, we watched the production, viewed the aging vault (photo above)— which held an estimated $1.7 million dollars — and tasted the most incredible cheese I’ve ever experienced. Just as Chianti wine can only be produced in Tuscany and sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can only be called Champagne, Parmesan can only be called Parmigiano-Reggiano if it’s produced with a specific recipe and in the Emilia Romagna region.

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Parmigiano-Reggiano is aged a minimum of 12 months. Twelve-month cheese is the most common at the local grocer. Occasionally, you can find 24 month aged cheese and you will pay a premium for it because each wheel of cheese is dusted and flipped every seven days. There are approximately 26,000 wheels of cheese in the vault shown in this picture from our 2007 visit. That is very labor intensive.

By 36 months, the cheese develops crystals that give the cheese a slight crunch often mistaken for salt. The buttery flavor deepens and the color becomes a rich light caramel.

The density makes it difficult to grate so simply chipping a wedge and enjoying it alone is the best way to eat it. Don’t waste this cheese on other food. Eat it alone with a sip of chilled Prosecco.

I loved this cheese so much I purchased three kilos (sounds illegal, doesn’t it?) for €11/kilo and had them vacuum packed to bring back to the U.S. My calculations put it at $7.50 a pound.

The cheese was quickly gone and my search began in earnest. I checked high and low, city and state and found some in an Italian market in Boston. It wasn’t cheap but I didn’t care. I think I paid $21 a pound. Then, the trail went cold for three long Parmigiano-less years until I walked into Mario Batali’s Eataly.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two parts. The second part will come later today.)

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Tour of Kitchens preview, part two (the kitchens!)

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The Foodie:

I had a chance to catch up with Chris Connelly, owner of Kinetic Kitchens, who told me over an Orange Cat coffee that he’s been involved in the Tour of Kitchens since its inception three years ago.
Chris is a very personable guy whose passion for his work comes out clearly as he describes how the tour promotes awareness of kitchens and local food. He sees the tour as a different kind of marketing, a more grass roots way to let people know that you do not need a tremendous amount of money nor a huge space to have a beautiful, functional kitchen.

Chris’s personal connection with Lewiston has not been life-long but he feels a strong bond to the community. He says the biggest surprise he has experienced with the tour is how well received it is. Folks come from as far as Colorado to attend, and many come from Erie County and Ontario.

The most difficult challenge is finding willing participants. It can be very disruptive to have so many people in your home and the preparation is time consuming. Most are very happy with the experience, however, in spite of initial reticence.

Chris’s message is strong true: the kitchen is the heart of the home and at any price point we can make the kitchen the place to be.

Good luck Chris Connelly, Sandy Mies and all the participants in this year’s Tour of Kitchens and Homes.

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on this weekend’s Tour of Kitchens.)