It’s the holidays, and this time of year, everyone needs a cheese platter and, well, maybe a glass of wine to go with it.
Deanna of Wineivore is leading the Italian Food Wine & Travel Writers (#ItalianFWT) on an exploration of Italian Wine & Cheese for the Holidays. You can read her invitation post here.
Wine & Cheese of Northern Italy
Since we returned from Italy, where we learned about, and enjoyed, quite a bit of cheese and wine, I thought I would tell you about some cheese and wine from Northern Italy!
At the Wine Media Conference (#WMC2022), you could find both wine and cheese in abundance, more than enough for all of us. (Except for Steve. Steve always wants more cheese.)
Here are a few cheeses we learned about and some suggestions for wine to pair!
Valtenesi & Piave DOP
Piave DOP Cheese
Piave is a hard-cooked cheese made in Belluno in the northern part of the Veneto. This cheese is sweet, intense, and has aromas of Alpine herbs and flowers.
Piave cheese dates back to the 19th century with Italy’s first mountain, “turnarie” (cooperative) dairies. In these dairies, members would take turns making their own cheese.
The milk for this cheese comes exclusively from the province of Belluno, and at least 80% must be from the specific breeds of the area; Bruno Italiana, Grigio Alpina, Pezzata Rossa Italiana, and Frisona Italiana.
What makes this cheese unique is the bacterial floral specific to the region. The bacterial floral affects the milk enzymes and gives the cheese its signature flavor. You find this cheese in 5 different aged styles.
Pair this cheese with wines from the Garda DOC, which covers Valtènesi, Lugana, San Martino Della Battaglia, Bardolino, Valdadige, Valpolicella, Soave, Lessini Durello, Custoza, and Colli Mantovani.
The Consorzio Valtènesi Riviera del Garda Classico is a region for rosé, which here is often referred to as Chiaretto. This region sits on the West side of Lake Garda. The large lake gives them a beautiful climate for growing grapes, olives, and lemons. If you were transported there without knowing, you might guess you were on the Mediterranean.
The rosé here is based on the grape Groppello, which is native to the region. The wines are made in the Mollmenti method, called the “wine of one night” because the wine is only on the skins for one night before pressing, which gives it a light pink color. The wines will have tart cherry, strawberry, and citrus notes.
I will suggest two that we tried that were wonderful.
Costaripa Rosa Mara (The 2021 vintage can be found on Vivino)
Pasini San Giovanni Lettera C (Coeur Wine Co. Imports its wines, and you can reach them here)
Both of these wines are Gambero Rosso winners for trebicchieri, Rosamara in 2022 and Lettera C in 2023.
I would try a Piave Fresco (younger style) with a lovely Valtènesi Chiaretto (rosé) of Groppello. These delightful rosés are light but with a depth of flavor. (I’m picturing myself with a lake view, a bottle of Valtènesi, some of this cheese, and perhaps some local olives).
Visit the Consorzio Valtènesi page to learn more about these wines.
Grana Padano and Lambrusco
While at the Wine Media Conference, we did a tasting of Grana Padano at the Museo Rambotti in Desenzano.
This cheese has a long history. The Cistercian monks built the Chiaravalle Abbey in the Po River plain. They ended up with a surplus of milk and found a method to preserve the milk, slow cooking it and adding rennet and salt. This hard cheese was called grana in Italian because of its grainy texture.
Areas from Milan to Mantova made this type of cheese, which was important for its long shelf life and delicious flavor. Having a long shelf life was an important food, especially during times of famine.
This cheese is also lactose-free due to its production and aging process!
It is made in 3 styles, a young style aged for 9 to 16 months, another aged over 16 months, and a Riserva, which must be aged for over 20 months (you can see the delicious crystals in this one!)
Lambrusco from Mantova
Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine. In the 80s, this wine was hugely popular, and as it flooded the markets, quality often dropped, and it got a bad name. I’m here to tell you that quality Lambrusco is out there and is delicious.
It is made primarily in Emilia-Romagna, but there is a tiny DOC called Lambrusco Mantovano in Lombardia in the area around the city of Mantova (Mantua).
We visited Bugno Martino, a family-run organic vineyard in San Benedetto Po. They are organic and biodiverse, using green manure and some biodynamic preparations. (We will have an entire Discovering Wine Country episode devoted to our visit with Rafaella.)
I suggest a bottle from Bugno Martino, where you will find high-quality Organic Lambrusco, like their Essentia, with a mature Grana Padano. The Essentia is a dry Lambrusco made in the ancestral Pet Nat style. For something a bit more traditionally Lambrusco, try the Rosso Matilde with a younger, perhaps middle-aged Grano Padano.
(you can find both of these wines in the US at VeroVino Craft Wines.
More cheese and Wine
Okay, I know I said Piave and Grana Padano, but I have another pairing that might be harder to find but is delicious.
Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva and Montasio DOP Stagionato (Aged Stagionato cheese)
Fabio Zenato, the president of the Lugana Consorzio, introduced Alberto Ugolini consultant in Sensory Analysis for 20 years.
Alberto took us through a sensory experience, pairing wine with sound, texture, aromas, and, finally, taste. Our final sensory pairing was with a Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva and Montasio DOP Stagionato cheese.
Montasio DOP Stagionato
Montasio DOP Stagionato is a cooked hard cheese made exclusively from cow’s milk. It is made in 4 styles depending on aging, from Fresco (fresh) to Semistagionatao, Stagionato, and Stravecchio. The aromas and flavors intensify as it ages, and the cheese takes on a pleasant sharpness.
The Stagionato, which we tasted, must be ripened for more than 10 months.
Montasio cheese dates back to the 1700s when the Monks of the Moggio Udinese Abbey in Friuli refined the making of this cheese. This method spread through the nearby valleys and finally to the Veneto.
Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva
Lugana is a wine made in the region south of Lake Garda from the Turbiana grape. Turbiana has been called Trebbiano del Garda, this grape is a relative of Trebbiano, but it is different. Like genetically different. It is also related to Verdicchio. This wine can age to beautiful nuttiness.
The Vendemmia Tardiva is a late-harvest wine that is harvested in late October or early November, allowing the sugars to accumulate. The wine is medium dry with about 14 grams of residual sugar.
You will find honey and caramel notes but still the salty mineral notes of all Lugana wines and good acidity.
Visit the Consorzio Lugana page to learn more about these wines!
Italy is a place with many, many wines and cheeses to explore! The holidays are a perfect time to dig a little deeper and find these regional pairings.
There is more wine and cheese! My colleagues at #ItalianFWT have all created pairings! So your cheese and wine pairings this holiday can be festive (and Italian!)
Read on for more great pairings!
Camilla is preparing “A Cheese Board Anchored on a Trio of Italian Cheeses + A Pinot Nero from Alto Adige” at Culinary Cam
Jennifer is having “Caprese Paired with Prosecco” at Vino Travels
Robin is tasting “Piave, Grana Padano and the wines of Lombardia” at Crushed Grape Chronicles
Deanna is drinking “Abbondanza Montelpuciano d’Abruzzo: A Way of Life” at Wineivore
Gwendolyn is trying an “Intriguing Italian Alpine Wine and Cheese: Foradori Bio Teroldego Paired with Their Tyrolean Grey Cow Cheese and Taleggio Mushroom Risotto” at Wine Predator
Wendy is having “A Perfect Start to a Perfect Evening” at A Day in the Life on the Farm
Nicole is traveling to “A Dairy in Veneto: Cheese (& Wine) Tasting at Latteria Perenzin” at Somm’s Table
More on wines of Italy from Crushed Grape Chronicles
The 12 Days of Wine 2022
To get you more in the holiday mood, check out our 12 Days of Wine Series!
This year this will begin on December 13th and there will be a book and e-book coming out with recipes, so you can join in for tastings and pairings perfect for holiday gatherings.
We will be Discovering Wine Country around the globe with easy to find wines and spoon size pairings!
Until the 13th, you can check out last years 12 days posts and videos here!
Check out our book “Tempting Spoonfuls” available through Amazon!
Inspired by the flavors and aromas in wines, this book creates “tempting spoonfuls” of flavors to pair with wines.
Robin has always had a love for spoons, with a drawer full of them in all different shapes and sizes. There is comfort in eating something from a spoon and something very sensual also.
Creating a spoon filled with flavors and aromas that will be eaten in a single bite, allowing the flavors to meld and pop in your mouth, is a joyful endeavor, and you are encouraged to make these your own.
The spoons range from savory to sweet, with something for everyone, and while they are paired with wines, they are delicious on their own.
These recipes are wonderful for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres or simple to create something delicious to spoil yourself, much like a pint of ice cream.
Each of these spoons is paired with a specific wine, and you get a bit of background on the wine, its flavors, aromas, and a bit of its story. She also includes other suggestions for wines to pair with the spoon.
The book is a feast for your eyes, with photos of each layered spoonful.
There are also photos of the wines with the elements of their flavor profile surrounding them. Those elements often inspire the pairing.
The goal is to make your mouth water and encourage you to create your own “Tempting Spoonfuls.”
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.