Wine with cheese? Of course. Wine on cheese? Absolutely. It may seem gimmicky, but steeping cheese in wine has a long history, especially in Italy. Some say it dates to World War I, when people would bury their wheels in wine barrels to hide them from soldiers. I would bet it’s an older practice than that. In any case, the niche has a new entry—and a particularly tasty one. The newcomer is on the right, above, alongside one of the category’s best sellers. With autumn coming at us and the wine-grape harvest underway, it’s a nice time to get acquainted with these “drunken” beauties.
“It’s funny that there aren’t more of them, with California being a premier wine region and a place with a lot of artisan cheese,” says Jack Rudolph who created the lovely new cheese on the right. Christened Paso Vino, it’s a cow’s milk wheel from Rudolph’s Stepladder Creamery near Cambria, on California’s Central Coast.
Stepladder is a goat dairy, but Rudolph buys cow’s milk to keep the cheesemaking going when the goats are dry. His idea for Paso Vino was to riff on the popular Drunken Goat (above on the left) but to age the wheels longer and aim for a firmer Manchego-type texture.
I love the result. Rudolph uses local wine—an inky Syrah-Petite Sirah blend from nearby Castoro Cellars —and steeps the two-week-old wheels for 48 hours. Then they spend another four to five months in the cellar before release. I don’t actually discern much wine aroma—Rudolph says he does—but you can’t miss the nuttiness. Everything is so right about this cheese: the salting is spot on and there’s acidity to balance the sweetness. Two thumbs up.
I wondered if Spain’s Drunken Goat had launched this category in the U.S. so I called the woman who introduced and named it, Michele Buster of Forever Cheese, the New York importer. No, Ubriaco from Italy was here first, Buster told me. She found the cheese that became Drunken Goat at a trade show in Spain 22 years ago.
“I didn’t like goat cheese at the time but this was amazing,” recalls Buster. “I thought, ‘Ohmigod, a goat cheese I like. I want this for the States.’”
It needed a catchier name than queso de cabra al vino, and Buster remembers being on the StairMaster when it came to her. Drunken Goat has been so successful that the region of Murcia, where the cheese is made, gave her an award for boosting the economy. “I saw it as a gateway to goat cheese because it was my gateway to goat cheese,” says Buster.
Compared to Paso Vino, Drunken Goat is softer, mellower, sweeter—easy for anybody to like, as Buster sensed. Paso Vino is more complex, more ambitious, and likely to shine with just about any red wine.
For now, Stepladder Creamery’s Paso Vino is sold only in California. Rudolph makes about 35 five-pound wheels a week and takes them to several farmers markets. Look for the cheese also at Milkfarm in Los Angeles; Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa; and Bi-Rite Market (Divisadero Street), Cowgirl Creamery and Market on Market in San Francisco.