Food collaboration is a wonderful thing. Think goats’ cheese and honey. Garlic and mushrooms. Tomato and basil. Simple ingredients that work perfectly well as individual elements, when they come together they seem to undergo an alchemic process that produces flavours akin to food magic. How else could you describe that sensation of a sharp, tangy cheese cutting through a golden, saccharine honey; that heavenly combination of earthy mushrooms and pungent garlic; that sweet tomato acidity matched with a burst of aromatic peppery basil? And best of all, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest cook to achieve this alchemy. You don’t even need to know why. The ingredients do the work for you. See? Magic.
But while pairing certain flavours together is second nature to many of us, the thought of applying these principles to food and wine pairing is, well, not. Because wine is scary. Lovely, but scary. There are just too many variables to consider. Which grape varietal should you choose? How does that grape varietal vary from country to country? And what about specific regions? Vintages? Reserves? Oaked or unoaked? Should you let the wine breathe, first? (And what does that even mean?!) How do you know if it’s corked? Is cork better than screwtop? And that’s all before you’ve even begun to contemplate what bloody food you’re going to pair it with. Gahhhh.
So is it worth the hassle?
Yes. I quickly arrived at this conclusion last week at a special wine and food matching event to celebrate the launch of Leeds Food and Drink Association’s (LFDA) Grubstakers. In case you’ve not heard about it, Grubstakers are a pretty special bunch. An LFDA initiative aimed at Leeds’ food and drink lovers, a one-off £25 subscription gets you a lifetime of food and drink benefits. Yes, a lifetime. We’re talking special events, exclusive insider info, opportunities to test products and menus, and all sorts of amazing ‘money can’t buy’ foodie opportunities from the glorious Leeds indies that belong to the LFDA.
The Grubstaker launch was a perfect example of one of those ‘money can’t buy’ opportunities. Held in the private dining Enoteca in Salvo’s, a special collection of LFDA members were assembled to give the first 20 Grubstakers an expert introduction to the hallowed art of wine and food pairing. Leading this introduction was Chris Hill, Proprietor of Leeds’ only independent wine and spirit merchants, Latitude Wine.
Chris has some serious wine credentials, with over 20 years’ experience working with wines and spirits in Leeds. Yet in spite of the inordinate wealth of wine knowledge he brought to the evening, Chris instantly dispelled the notion that this was a prerequisite for food and wine pairing. Playfully berating the industry for making the process unnecessarily complicated, he suggested that we think of food and wine pairing in very simple terms. It’s a collaboration of wine and food; of certain elements of wine and certain elements of food. Nothing more. Illustrating this, he started with a pairing that even the most clueless (i.e. me) know works. Cheese and wine. Cheese contains a lot of fat. Wine contains acidity. Fat and acidity break each other down, so by pairing the two together, you actually improve the flavour of each individual element. Hmm. Not so scary after all, then?
Putting this theory into practice, course one of seven (yes, seven!) was served: Yorkshire Pecorino and tomato and balsamic bruschetta made by Gusto Italiano’s Mario Olianas, paired with a Cocchi Brut, Piedmont, NV. Mario’s bruschetta are infamous in Leeds – crunchy, olive oil-soaked bread loaded with tangy, balsamic-infused tomatoes. He also makes the cheese himself – a mild pecorino, firm in texture with just a smattering of salt.
Both were glorious on their own, as was the wine – a champagne-method sparkling white wine from the Piemonte region of Italy with an intensely floral, but fresh bouquet. Then we tasted them together. Wow. As Chris explained, the acidity of the tomato was a perfect match for the wine, while the wine’s residual sugar picked up the tomato’s sweetness. The sparkle acted as a palate cleanser for the aromatic richness of the balsamic, and the pecorino? An Italian wine’s best friend, working especially well with the fresh fizz of the Cocchi Brut.
Continuing with wine and cheese matching, Chris introduced the second course: Ribblesdale Mature Goat Cheese from George and Joseph, Crottin de Chavignol from Friends of Ham and a Michel Girard Sancerre, 2011. In short, goats’ cheese and white wine. Things were getting interesting. When thinking about wine and cheese, I always reach for a red. Always. White wine just never seemed to work, its flavour transformed by the cheese and NOT in a good way. But all you need is a little know-how, which Chris explained as he showed us how good a match white wine and cheese can be. Apparently, goats’ cheese and white wine pairing is all the rage across the Channel, especially in the Loire Valley near Sancerre, where this particular wine is produced. The wine is in fact a blend of grapes from four different vineyards, picking up a distinctive minerality from each soil. The result is a crisp, fresh and herbaceous Sancerre, which matches wonderfully with the vegetal notes in the goats’ cheese. Chris elaborated further, explaining how the specific type of soil – chalky – matched the rind of the Crottin de Chavignol. Once again, the cheese and wine tasted exquisite alone, but when they mingled the acidity of the wine softened because of the richness of the cheese, with the cheese in turn becoming even more pungent on the palate. Magic.
Cheese is my meat, so the first two courses made me very happy, as did another divine match of Harrogate Blue from George and Joseph with a Cousino Macul Cabernet Sauvignon Antigus Reserva, 2010. Another highlight was the concluding course – an Apricot and Rose-water Baklava from The Arch Café, served with a Richard III Wensleydale from George and Joseph and matched with Domaine de Grangeneuve Monbazillac, 2009. This was a sweet wine but not overtly so, complementing the apricot and mellowing when introduced to the sharpness of the Wensleydale.
I could go on. The evening was a glorious introduction to the art of wine and food pairing, with my veggie tendencies very well catered for. But what about the matrimony of wine and meat, I hear you cry? Let’s put it this way, the carnivores in the room (which was basically everyone except me) were NOT disappointed. Matches included Friends of Ham’s Serrano Gran Reserva and Marques de Vitorria Rioja Reserva, 2001, and a Lazy Lounge Beef Stew, made with meat from Swillington Organic Farm, matched with a Boutinot Cairanne, Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2010. The moans of pleasure undulating across the room said it all. For more meaty details, I’ll leave you in the same hands of fellow Grubstaker, food blogger and carnivore, Diane of A Tale of Two Sittings.
I left the Grubstakers launch feeling full, content, and a little bit more knowledgable about pairing food and wine. But most of all, I felt proud. Proud of the Leeds Food and Drink Association and its members. Proud of the Grubstakers who’ve taken a punt to support food and drink in Leeds. And proud to be a part of it all. Leeds has long been characterised by the spirit of its independents; inspiring businesses that recognise the value of working with, not against, each other. This is nothing new, but Leeds Food and Drink Association was founded to support and celebrate this, aiming to make Leeds a city famous for its food and drink. This mission will be achieved by the members that make up the association; a diverse range of food and drink professionals and aficionados that I’m honoured to be a part of. And the lifeblood of the organisation? The Grubstakers; passionate supporters of food and drink in Leeds who are in for a lifetime’s worth of priceless benefits in return. The launch was a perfect example of what LFDA is trying to achieve, and with such an array of passionate people on board, I can’t wait to see what the future brings for food and drink in Leeds.
As a member of LFDA, I attended this evening for free, as did all of the Grubstakers who came along, too! You can become a Grubstaker FOR LIFE by visiting the LFDA website.