Feeling the Bleu

Look for “artisan” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy. His cheeses radiate those virtues of artisanality: quality, distinctiveness and deliciousness. Like great wine makers who believe that great wine begins in the vineyard, Lehner believes that great cheese begins in the field.

Lehner seeks out the best milk in the area from grass-fed, healthy cows. From there, he makes cheese right outside of his home and ages it in a custom-designed cave. Perhaps it’s a poetic impulse, but when savoring Bleu Mont cheese I look for wines that speak of place.

Havarti and Huet “Les Mont Sec” Vouvray 2007, $36
Bleu Mont Havarti brings this Danish classic to a different dimension. Huet is among the greatest of all white wines. The subtle beeswax of this dry Chenin Blanc adds a delightful contrast to the sweet milkiness of the cheese—like drizzling honey on it!

Bandaged Cheddar and Quivera Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2007, $26
Here, a little oak and nuttiness provide a savory complement to the cheese’s complex cheddar flavors. A Zinfandel such as Quivera gives such flavors but also adds a lovely cherry fruit component that brings out some of the fruit in the cheese.

Lil Wil’s Big Cheese and Cerretto Barbaresco, Italy, 2006, $40
The smoky flavors and gentle tartness of the wine are a lovely foil for the sweet pungency of Lil Wil’s. Ceretto remains a perennial bargain for Barbaresco, one of the greatest red wine regions in the world.

Blue and Olivares “Dulce” Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain, 2006, $30 (.500ml)
Not overly pungent, Bleu Mont blue sings with this late-harvest Mourvedre. It’s richness and sweetness may remind you of Port, but it is unfortified; the winemakers do no not add any brandy to boost its alcohol. The wine tastes more wild than Port with a tendon of acidity that matches the cheese.

Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested. Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

Read more Off the Vine columns here.

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