Three Wisconsin cheeses, plus champagne cocktail pairings to enjoy this holiday season
Holidays like Christmas are an opportunity to bring out special recipes and foods unique to the season. And although cheese is a staple year-round in Wisconsin, there are some seasonal ones that can help make your gatherings special.
Lake Effect contributor Jeanette Hurt is a freelance writer in Milwaukee and author of several books on cheese and drinks, including her latest called "Wisconsin Cocktails." She shares some of her top picks for cheese and champagne cocktail pairings:
Alpinage Cheese — Mount Raclette
A newer maker in the Wisconsin cheese scene, Alpinage Cheese makes their Raclette in the French/Swiss style of cheesemaking in small batches from farmstead milk in Kewaunee county and aged in Oak Creek, Wis.
Typically a Raclette is enjoyed by heating it up and scraping the melted cheese over other foods like cured meats and potatoes, but Hurt says there's many ways to enjoy the flavor a Raclette offers.
"They make a mild and regular Raclette, and the mild is a little less earthy but equally delicious," she notes. "Even when you don't melt it still tastes really good, and it's got a full-bodied flavor... I love it because it adds to our Swiss heritage here in the state of Swiss style cheesemaking."
Carr Valley — Glacier Penta Créme
"It's a very mild, very, very creamy cheese. I think it's a good gateway cheese to blue cheese if you don't like blue cheese, and if you do like blue cheese you'll still enjoy it. But it doesn't hit you on the nose with that sort of Roquefort-esque blue cheese note, it's more subtle and it's a lighter cheese."
Hurt suggests crumbling the Glacier cheese in salad with Door County dried cherries, spiced nuts, a light vinaigrette, pickled red onions and red pepper. Or enjoy it on its own, of course!
Renards — Cherry Cheddar
Hurt says you don't need much more of a descriptor for this natural and winning combination, but it's not an overly sweet or sharp cheddar and has a good balance between the cheese and the dried fruit.
"It’s cheese made with Door County milk and Door County cherries, and I think it’s one of those cheeses, if you slice it up and put it on a cheese platter it will be gone," she says. "There might be other cheeses that stick around, but that is one that won't stick around."
All three cheese suggestion above pair well with champagne-based cocktails for the holiday season. For Hurt, keeping the drink recipe simple with Kir Royales effectively compliments all the flavors from the cheese.
"The basis of most champagne cocktails are that they should be simple, and they're usually only two or three ingredient cocktails," she notes.
To make a Kir Royale, simply pour about an inch of fruit liqueur in the bottom of a champagne glass and top it off with champagne or sparkling wine. You can garnish the drink with a twist of lemon or orange if you'd like, but that's it.
"It's simple, it's really festive, it's delicious, and it's easy," says Hurt. "I really recommend using Great Lakes Distillery's Good Land either Door County cherry liqueur or cranberry liqueur."
If you prefer a bitter cocktail, Hurt recommends making an Aperol or Campari Spritz, which is sparkling wine with a bitter liqueur. But if you don't like the bitter liqueur as much you can also use Vermouth, and Hurt says Wisconsin-made Lasdon Vermouth is currently her go-to mixer.
"It's a new vermouth made with Wisconsin grapes, Wisconsin wine as a base and actually distilled at Central Standard Distillery," she says. It also comes in six-pack, mini bottles to keep things fresh.
"Unless you are a bartender, you usually don't go through a bottle of vermouth. Smaller, littler bottles are better."