My Recap of Our Secret Supper Leap Dinner

Today’s post is a photo journal of a the Our Secret Supper Leap Dinner. Our Secret Supper is another one of my picks for the EaterPDX Top Pop Ups and Supper Clubs in PDX. Our Secret Supper, led by Eva Kosmas Flores with Danielle Firle of Table Culture and working with Tournant, is differentiated from others in the Portland area because they bring together food and people with scenery. The location is generally at a destination guests must travel to (and often spend the night), making it an adventure event outside the meal itself.

The exact location of the dinner is kept secret until 24 hours before hand, adding an element of surprise – all you know is everyone always shares one long table usually set up outside at a beautifully tablescaped and thoughtfully curated space. Each event almost seems like you have stepped into a fairytale or glossy magazine photoshoot that you get to live in for a few hours.
Our Secret Supper Leap Dinner Our Secret Supper Leap Dinner Menu

Our Secret Supper has been on my to do list for a while, but this past April when I saw their date of their spring dinner, “Leap“, coincided with my birthday to the exact date, I decided to stop waiting for friends’ budgets and schedules to free up and treat myself. Here are the photos and my experience from my guest perspective of the Our Secret Supper Leap Dinner. [Read more…]

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Renata’s Italian Happy Hour – Aperitivo

I’ve been a big fan of Renata since they first opened, as I first wrote about almost a year ago. Back then, I was really impressed by their beautiful patio as well as their incredible pastas and in house aged whole animal (which would appear once in a while when the aging was complete as a special dish on the menu) and the craft cocktails. And then came the rush of the people when Renata was announced as Oregonian’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year, and they went through a trial by fire every day.

Now the rush of the trendy crowds have calmed down – on recent visits I dined with sweet senior citizens and families with kids during early dinner seatings, and then with a range of ages of professionals on business or on date night or with a boisterous group of friends later in the evening. The breathing room now gives Renata the opportunity instead of focusing on executing all the food to the necessary volumes, a chance to experiment and tweak the menu based on new ideas. One of those new ideas is Renata’s Italian Happy Hour – Aperitivo.
Bar of Renata Bar of Renata Bar of Renata Patio of Renata

During Aperitivo, located in the bar and patio only from 4 PM – 6:00 PM Monday – Friday, what was once a Punch Hour before they begin Dinner Service now celebrates Italian Street Food and seasonal cocktails. For spring, this included for instance on their menu the Spring Cocktails of Arrossire with cappelletti, punt e mes, benedictine, soda or Paper Moon with pisco, vermouth, bay leaf, chamomile, egg white, lemon.
Renata Spring Cocktail of Arrossire with cappelletti, punt e mes, benedictine, soda Renata Spring Cocktail of Paper Moon with pisco, vermouth, bay leaf, chamomile, egg white, lemon

I tried the pretty pink house cocktail of Occam’s Razor with vodka, elderflower, blackberry, citrus and prosecco. Or go for the Old Fashioned Flight included one rye with demerara, one bourbon with smoked maple. and one made with scotch and burnt honey.
Renata house cocktail of Occam’s Razor with vodka, elderflower, blackberry, citrus and prosecco Renata Old Fashioned Flight included one rye with demerara, one bourbon with smoked maple. and one made with scotch and burnt honey

Meanwhile, on the food menu enjoy bites such as

Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds which have this light airy feel of a pork rind but then you pucker up after a bite!
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds

Salumi alla Casa plate, this visit with spicy coppa, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, Vacca Bruna parmigian
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Salumi alla Casa with spicy coppa, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, Vacca Bruna parmigian

Formaggio plate, for this visit that included Sheep with bloomy rind cheese Valentine, Cow hard rind cheese Andrea Menzazana, and a Sheep + Cow washed rind cheese Willow Creek
Renata's updated happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Formaggio that includes Sheep with bloomy rind cheese Valentine, Cow hard rind cheese Andrea Menzazana, and a Sheep + Cow washed rind cheese Willow Creek

Stuffed Fried Olives with Trotter and Calabrian Chili Aioli look like aracini, but don’t be fooled – there is an olive in there, adding a nice counterpoint to the deep fried exterior
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Stuffed Fried Olives with Trotter and Calabrian Chili Aioli

Aracini with pork sugo and fontina are creamy and rich
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Aracini with pork sugo and fontina Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Aracini with pork sugo and fontina

The other tasty “ball” item on the menu (besides the marinated olives which I did not try – but those are more like ovals right?) are these juicy and large Polpettine, a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta that are decadant just like the aracini.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Polpettine a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Polpettine a dish of lamb and beef meatballs with polenta

While the Ceci Bean Panelle with pecorino and lemon are light ceci bean fritter that’s impossible to only have 3 or 4 of them…
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Ceci Bean Panelle with pecorino and lemon

Dumplings are given a crispy crunchy exterior but oozy cheesy interior via these Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara, which is one of my recommendations as it’s one of my favorites of the Aperitivo menu.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Panzerotti with mozzarella and marinara

My other recommendation and outstanding item on the menu are these Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta which make use of the pizza oven and dough to make a flatbread sandwich that is crispy like a quesadilla’s tortilla on the outside but stuffed with goodness like a panini but without all the heavy bread.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Piadina with broccoli pesto, ham, and ricotta

In Chicago, one of my super fond food memories that I haven’t been able to find very often is enjoying smelt – back then we got them from DiCola’s Seafood, with mom driving after school to order us the fried smelt by the pound that we started eating just barely past the door. Now Renata has offered me an outlet via their Fritto Misto with calamari and smelt that unlike most calamari you find (I should know – my brother loves calamari and orders it every time it’s on a menu when we dine out), Renata’s version is very lightly battered to a crisp and not soggy with oil.
Renata's Italian happy hour, called Aperitivo, is available M-F 4-5:30 in the bar and patio only. This is one of the available dishes, Fritto Misto with calamari and smelt

I know their Aperitivo is only a short period of time on weekdays – and coming in from Hillsboro where I work, sometimes public transit doesn’t work in my favor and I get there too late. But, I still encourage you to visit. One of the obvious pleasures of Renata is the incredible pastas they have there – I’ve ever had one I didn’t enjoy. There are pasta shapes that I’ve encounted for the first time here, such as when I had Pici with roasted suckling pig and green garlic which is a firm tubelike pasta to when I had Squid Ink Corzetti with Lamb sausage, clams, and breadcrumbs where corzetti is a stamped flat pasta.
"Pici Squid Ink Corzetti with Lamb sausage, clams, and breadcrumbs where corzetti is a stamped flat pasta

One of the more secret pleasures is that Renata buys whole animals and ages them after doing their own butchering and often uses the whole animal. So, whenever I see for instance any beef on the menu, I am there, enjoying a secret steak that I think is among the top 3 in Portland when it appears.
Renata Renata 20 oz Ribeye with roasted garlic butter

Don’t overlook the smaller ways that the meat may show up on the menu – from being in the pasta to on Chef Matt Sigler’s super on point crostini in the Bites section of the menu (more like half an open faced sandwich!) like this Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese. I was torn on whether to enjoy the beef brisket as part of the whole dish or pick off bits of that melt in your mouth beef to enjoy on its own. I did both.
Renata Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese Renata Crostini with Beef Brisket, Horseradish, and Potato Artichoke Puree on that perfectly chewy Pugliese

And look for anything on their grill and fire, like here Grilled Octopus or a side of Coal Roasted Polenta with Gorgonzola picante
Renata Grilled Octopus with English peas, olive, mint Renata Coal Roasted Polenta with Gorgonzola picante

In checking out their wine list, ask about the wine selections from the Lava Bar section. These are incredible selections of wine where the grapes are grown on volcanic soil. It was only after a friend who took notes and always asked about vineyards and soil that I started taking those same notes, and I realized that whenever at a tasting event or room I tried volcanic soil wine 8 out of 10 I would end up purchasing a bottle. So clearly I have a preference for it – regardless of grape. Maybe you do too – come give it a try!

One of my favorite patios in Portland is the one at Renata, and I confess I’m there pretty often. What do you think of the updated Italian Street food Aperitivo happy hour there, what would you order? Where is your favorite outdoor patio for dining in Portland?

Disclosure: I attended a complimentary shared blogger Aperitivo happy hour, but I also returned on my own and on my own dime multiple times. I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own. 

Renata Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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A Visit to Cheese & Crack, Portland

I still remember my first meeting with Cheese & Crack in Portland, which was then a fledgling food cart a few years ago. Besides delicious offerings of cheese plates and also homemade crackers, the cart owner William Steuernagel really showcased a sense of presentation and style that helped them really stand out on the food cart scene.
Cheese & Crack's food cart offers cheese plates and homemade crackers Eat Mobile 2013: Cheese & Crack's map of their taste Eat Mobile 2013: Cheese & Crack's map of their taste

In 2012 he launched a successful Kickstarter which ended up with twice what he was asking for to start that little cart (and proving that the demand for cheese and the number of cheese addicts in Portland is real), and then grew up into a store on SE 28th by Burnside that opened around this time last year, though that also meant he sadly closed his cute cart. The snack shop is charmingly adorable.
Cheese & Crack Snack Shop in Portland, on SE 28th just a few steps south of Burnside Cheese & Crack Snack Shop in Portland, on SE 28th just a few steps south of Burnside Cheese & Crack Snack Shop in Portland, on SE 28th just a few steps south of Burnside

Their regular menu has about half a dozen cheese plates, and there may be a special cheese plate or special sundae or special snack on their Specials Board, so make sure you check it out. This is the only part about Cheese & Crack that I don’t like – in the multiple times I have visited, people assume that the only offerings are what is on the board, not realizing there is a printed menu once they reach the register that has a listing of more cheese plates and snacks. I wish they would make a large sign with their regular menu offerings for the wall as well. The service works in that you go up to the register to order and pay, and then they prepare your order and bring it to you, and then you bus it to some shelves with dish-bins.
Cheese & Crack Snack Shop in Portland, on SE 28th just a few steps south of Burnside. This is their specials board, they also have a printed menu with more cheese delights Cheese & Crack Snack Shop in Portland, on SE 28th just a few steps south of Burnside. This is their specials board, they also have a printed menu with more cheese delights

It’s hard to believe he was inspired by simple Lunchables and their little boxes of cheese and crackers into this.
Cheese and Crack plate of Shaft's Bleu and Cypress Grove Fromage Blanc with Marionberry Jam, plus an additional side of cheese I requested of the brie brulee on the right hand side

As you can see, there are quite an assortment on your cheese plate: rustic butter crackers they make in house, homemade savory oatmeal cookie, baguette slices, olives, cornichons, dijon mustard, honey, and even a dessert teaspoon of chocolate ganache. My favorite plate is to put together the Shaft’s Bleu and Cypress Grove Fromage Blanc with Marionberry Jam, plus an additional side of cheese. Below, I requested of the brie brulee on the right hand side, but I change out that cheese – I like the blue and the fresh cheese as a base. Make you you sip the blue cheese in the honey! Be careful with the dijon mustard, it is quite pungent – and make use of the olives and cornichons acidity to balance out your little bites.
Cheese and Crack plate of Shaft's Bleu and Cypress Grove Fromage Blanc with Marionberry Jam Cheese and Crack additional side of cheese I requested, the brie brulee

If you are looking for more to fulfill your appetite, get their Seasonal Sandwich. When I visited below it was a Coppa Sandwich with Alps Provisions Dry Cured Pork Collar, Swiss Cheese, Apple Butter, and Greens all on a Grand Central Baguette.
Cheese & Crack Portland's Seasonal Sandwich, a Coppa Sandwich with Alps Provisions Dry Cured Pork Collar, Swiss Cheese, Apple Butter, and Greens all on a Grand Central Baguette Cheese & Crack Portland's Seasonal Sandwich, a Coppa Sandwich with Alps Provisions Dry Cured Pork Collar, Swiss Cheese, Apple Butter, and Greens all on a Grand Central Baguette Cheese & Crack Portland's Seasonal Sandwich, a Coppa Sandwich with Alps Provisions Dry Cured Pork Collar, Swiss Cheese, Apple Butter, and Greens all on a Grand Central Baguette

Add a side salad for $2 or Mornay sauce for $2 – but I think you should add the Macaroni and Mornay instead of putting the Mornay on your sandwich. Go ahead and get the salad so you get some veggies in with the large amount of cheese you are eating.
Cheese & Crack Portland's Seasonal Sandwich, a Coppa Sandwich with Alps Provisions Dry Cured Pork Collar, Swiss Cheese, Apple Butter, and Greens all on a Grand Central Baguette. Add Mornay sauce to your sandwich for $2, but I recommend adding the Macaroni and Mornay instead! You can also add a side salad for $2 Side Salad at Crack and Cheese comes with pickled lentils for fun texture

For the Macaroni and Mornay, they make it with Trofie Pasta to make it even more melt in your mouth, along with Sauce Mornay made with Gruyere & Beecher’s Flagship White Cheddar and then topped with a touch of garlic, herbs, and olive oil.
Cheese & Crack's Macaroni and Mornay, with Trofie Pasta to make it even more melt in your mouth along with Sauce Mornay made with Gruyere & Beecher's Flagship White Cheddar and topped with a touch of garlic, herbs, and olive oil

Alternatively, get your Mornay fix on in the form of “Nachos”, that is Potato Chip Nachos with Sauce Mornay and Pickled Lentils
Cheese & Crack Portland's Snack of Potato Chip Nachos with Sauce Mornay and  Pickled Lentils Cheese & Crack Portland's Snack of Potato Chip Nachos with Sauce Mornay and  Pickled Lentils

Another visit, they had a Special Snack of Grilled Halloumi with seared halloumi cheese, toast, honey, lemon and greens. I thought it was well worth the price as I assembled by little bites with bread, arugula, warm seared halloumi, a tiny squeeze of lemon and smear of honey.
Cheese & Crack Snack Special of Grilled Halloumi with seared halloumi cheese, toast, honey, lemon and greens. Cheese & Crack Snack Special of Grilled Halloumi with seared halloumi cheese, toast, honey, lemon and greens.

Perhaps you even have room for dessert? I tried the seasonal dessert of a Port Wine Cheese Sundae with Vanilla Soft Serve layered with Ruby Port Wine Reduction and Hazelnut Granola, and then there’s the grated Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar.
Cheese & Crack dessert of a Port Wine Cheese Sundae with Vanilla Soft Serve layered with Ruby Port Wine Reduction and Hazelnut Granola, and then there's the grated Beecher's Flagship Cheddar Cheese & Crack dessert of a Port Wine Cheese Sundae with Vanilla Soft Serve layered with Ruby Port Wine Reduction and Hazelnut Granola, and then there's the grated Beecher's Flagship Cheddar

For their 1 year birthday recently they had a Birthday Sundae with vanilla soft serve, cake mix dusting, sprinkles, and almond whipped cream. This month, I believe it’s a new sundae called Ten Dollar Banana Split boasting Brûléed Bananas, Buttered Chocolate Sauce, Freddy Guys Hazelnuts, Sea Salt, Brown Sugar Whipped Cream and Local Bordeaux Maraschino Cherries. Yep, they are pretty fun with their sundae of the month. This is dangerous to have on your Instagram feed.

 

A photo posted by Cheese & Crack (@cheeseandcrack) on

Their usual Cheese & Crack sundae boasts their vanilla soft serve with torched marshmallow, cracker crumb crumble, and chocolate ganache. Their regular soft serve, a steal at $3, was very popular in the recent wonderful spring weather with the vanilla soft serve with the cone bottom filled with chocolate ganache and optional espresso dust sprinkle on top.

I enjoy following their Instagram @CheeseandCrack which continues the charm pictorially even when I’m not at the shop, and the Cheese & Crack Facebook page is usually the one updated with specials (and food porn images of those specials).

Cheese & Crack Snack Shop on Urbanspoon

 

Have you been to Cheese & Crack? Have you heard of it? What do you think you would try if you visited?

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Whole Foods Top 10 Holiday Wines + Free Wine Tasting Placemat Printable

Disclosure: This wine and cheese tasting event was complimentary, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

Last week I attended a Whole Foods Twitter tasting event (#wfmwine). I and a few other bloggers and media had the opportunity to taste four of the Top Ten selection of the Whole Foods 2013 top holiday wines, paired with cheese. Being as delicious as the Holiday Wines were, even better is what an incredible value they are – every wine on the list is under $25 –  so I wanted to share in case you are looking for some Holiday Wine picks to host or bring to a holiday get together.
Whole Foods Holiday 2013 Top 10 Wines

Not only that, but if you happen to be putting together a cheese plate, well these four are already wonderfully matched and ready for you to pick up at your local Whole Foods! This is great because even though I attended the event here in Portland, when I return to Chicago for the holidays I know I will be able to acquire all of these wines instead of worrying about finding equivalents when I travel there (or lugging it with me in checked baggage)- this Twitter tasting event was nationwide.
Whole Foods Twitter tasting event (#wfmwine) where I and a few other bloggers and media had the opportunity to taste a four of the Top Ten selection of the Whole Foods 2013 top holiday wines, paired with cheese Whole Foods Twitter tasting event (#wfmwine) where I and a few other bloggers and media had the opportunity to taste a four of the Top Ten selection of the Whole Foods 2013 top holiday wines, paired with cheese

One of the advantages of going to Whole Foods for your holiday wine selection is that besides being able to get other gourmet treats for your party (also just grabbing something from the deli to put in servingware for  party is acceptable too!) is what a great wine and cheese selection they have so it’s one stop shopping. They have lots of unique wine and cheeses that they offer. Many times I have visited where a helpful cheesemonger is present to help recommend cheese pairings to go with wines, and vice versa.

At the Twitter tasting event, the group was able to taste the cheese pairings with four of the Top Ten wines. Also very cool was the fact that some of the group members are vegan, and Whole Foods was able to easily accommodate them- and if you also need to account for gluten free they can also help you out. As beautiful as this cheese plate for us normal eaters were, when I looked at the vegan cheese platter, it looked equally as beautiful.
Whole Foods Pearl District in Portland offers wine friend Erin here to help us learn about the wine and cheese pairings Cheese Plate by Whole Foods to pair with four of the Top 10 Holiday Wines... they can also help you put together a vegan an/or gluten free cheese plate as well

The Whole Foods Blog listing of the Holiday 2013 Top 10 Wines not only includes tasting notes and pairing recommendations, but also each wine has a link to a recommended recipe. As a teaser, I’ve only shared the 4 I experienced at the Twitter tasting below… but there are 8 more! 8? Well, that’s because apparently they couldn’t only recommend 10, so the Top 10 Wines list actually includes 12 wines. There are also specific details on each cheese they recommend as well.

Whole Foods Top 10 Holiday Wines

WF WINE NOTES PECH’S EXPERIENCE TASTING PEEK
Roger d’Anoia Cava

Roger d’Anoia Cava

Whole Foods Tasting Note: Lively effervescence, bright notes of green apple and pear. Ripe and round, a touch of sweetness in the well-balanced finish. This Spanish sparkler pairs well with everything! Recommended pairings include Uniekaas Parrano cheese, cocktail shrimp, eggs Benedict, sweet savory Chinese food Recipe: Shrimp Cocktail with Creamy-Spicy Green Onion Dipping Sauce

This Brut provides some toasty flavors to help balance out the creamy richness of the cheese we paired with it, a Mt. Townsend Creamery Cirrus which is a Camembert style cheese from Mt. Townsend, WA. The Roger d’Anoia Cava got second (and third) pours at the tasting because we all loved it, and is a very affordable pick for a New Year’s Eve at less than $10 so you can keep the bubbling flowing all night long, and save a bottle or two for mimosas and brunch while watching the Rose Parade the next morning. Effervescent, easy pleasing Roger d'Anoia Cava Brut paired with a creamy Mt Townsend Cirrus, a camembert style cheese, this pairing was a big pleaser at the Whole Foods #wfmwine event

Skouras Anássa

Whole Foods Tasting Note: Moscofilero, the main grape used in this wine, is unique to Greece, thriving on the mountainous coastlines of the Peloponnese peninsula. Opulent aromas of ripe apricot and orange peel in this crisp, Greek White. Brisk fruit with a fresh clean finish. Recommended pairings include Red Leaf aged Cheddar, roasted chicken or salmon, roasted acorn squash, Greek salad Recipe: Roasted Salmon Stuffed with Spinach, Feta and Ricotta

In Portland we paired this with a Uniekaas 18 month Reserve Gouda, which made for an interesting experience as these are “fighting friends”. That is, this is a wine and cheese pairing that relies on contrast, rather than being complimentary. The Skouras is very clean, bright, and refreshing, while the Reserve Gouda has a crystalline crunch that is a bit salty, nutty, and leans towards dry but thanks to the Skouras this dryness is filled in The Greek White Skouras Anassa is very crisp and refreshing and clean, a fighting friend for the crystally bite of the Uniekaas 18 mo Reserve Gouda. In this case, the contrast is used instead of complimentary to pair these two at the Whole Foods #wfmwine event

Santa Julia Innovación Bonarda-Cabernet

This wonderful Argentine Red is a fantastic party wine and comes in a 1-liter bottle–a great value at more than 6 glasses per bottle. Deeply complex and full-bodied. Forward notes of plum and cigar box, and then jammy flavors of dark ripe berries. Smoky savory notes show in the luscious finish. Recommended Pairings include Borough Market Cheddar, BBQ ribs, lamb chops, sausage-stuffed mushrooms, classic Swiss fondue Recipe: Apple, Sausage and Sage Sourdough Stuffing

This Santa Julia Innovacion Bonarda-Cabernet is a 2013 vintage but already is ready to drink, and a huge deal at its $9.99 price for the 1 liter bottle. If you are hosting a party where you want the wine to flow freely, this is a great value, and the profile is flexible enough to please any palate. Although this wine is young, it stood up admirably to the strong flavors of the Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Flagship cheddar paired with it at this event. This Santa Julia Innovacion Bonarda-Cabernet is a 2013 vintage but already is ready to drink, and a huge deal at its $9.99 price for the 1 liter bottle. If you are hosting a party where you want the wine to flow freely, this is a great value, and the profile is flexible enough to please any palate

Mat Kearney Verse & Chorus Napa Valley Red Wine

Nashville-based musician Mat Kearney teamed up with the winemakers at Peju Winery of Napa Valley to create this wonderfully complex Red. Intense notes of black currant, plum and cocoa lead to rich juicy dark berry flavors. Toasty hazelnut and roasted coffee in the very long finish. Recommended Pairings include Emmi Le Gruyère cheese, beef tenderloin medallions, prime rib, lamb stew, marinated and grilled portobellos Recipe: Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta

The Mat Kearney Verse & Chorus was my favorite of the four wines I tried because of it’s roasty coffee flavors with hints of chocolate that made me think this was a wine version of a beer stout! This wine was the only one of the four that was more than $15, but at $25 this wine tastes like something 2 or 3x as much. It does have a unique and bold flavor profile, so needs a pretty bold pairing so that its flavors don’t overwhelm, or enjoy its complex layering of flavors on its own. At the PDX event this was matched with L’Or des Domes Fourme d’Ambert. The Mat Kearney Verse & Chorus was my favorite of the four wines I tried because of it's roasty coffee flavors that made me think this was a wine version of a beer stout at this Whole Foods #wfmwine event!

Free Wine Tasting Placemat Printable

Did you think the placemat you saw up there for this event was adorable? So did I. In case you want to host a wine tasting party, or a wine/cheese pairing party, how useful would it be to have a placemat like that for each person that identifies the wine and cheese that you can take notes on? I could also imagine that if you wanted to compare a flight having a little place for each wine glass to go helps you remember which is which. So I’ve made a free wine tasting placemat printable for you!

Free Printable- Wine Tasting Placemat to track your wines when having a wine flight

It’s a Wine Tasting Placemat in powerpoint which I’ve placed here in Google Drive, so you can go in after you save it and edit whether you want to actually write the name of the wine and tasting notes, or perhaps you want to do a blind tasting and/or just bare-bones like a style and region write numbers and leave a place for notes. Update the graphics as desired to match your theme and other printables. The top reminds you of various things to look for in tasting wine, such as looking for the color and body (thin? sticky?), to swirl and smell, and in terms of taste to break it down into the initial flavors, the mouthfeel, the length, and the finish. Meanwhile, there are some example adjectives to help you think of what you might be experiencing in your taste- obviously not an all encompassing list but might inspire more descriptors.

Thanks Whole Foods for the learning experience with the wine and cheese tasting – I’m ready for more schooling anytime! If you’re in Portland, check out the Whole Foods PDX Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on events and sales at the various local stores- and if you’re not from Portland look up what your local Whole Foods media is.

Disclosure: This wine and cheese tasting event was complimentary, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.

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Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese – Portland Release Party

I was super thrilled when Tiffany from Thyme of Taste shared that there was a special event for Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese occurring at Steve Jones’ Cheese Bar. First of all, I love cheese, and I will take any excuse/rationalization necessary to go to cheese.

Book cover for Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese cookbook

I also love Steve Jones, as I have enjoyed all the cheese education he has been imparting on me since the best cheese extravaganza I have ever experienced, his Cheese Bar Spectacular with Ten 01 back in 2010 with its 101 cheeses. That was a one time event, my first time meeting Steve, and was an important jumpstart of my cheese knowledge as it really upped my familiarity with local cheeses. Thankfully, there are still Steve’s annual pairing of beers and cheese (recaps of Portland Beer & Cheese Fest 2012 and Portland Beer & Cheese Fest 2013 as examples, and has done events with Lardo and Raven & Rose, among others). He also helps curate cheese plates for so many of the amazing restaurants in Portland.

Steve Jones of Cheese Bar offering cheeses and charcuterie at Bailey's Taproom- 2007-2012 5th Anniversary Gloriousness

Cheese plates are a great way to try lots of cheeses affordably, rather than buying them by weight $7-10 at a time – instead, you have the opportunity to taste several cheeses for the same price. You can never go wrong with a cheese plate curated with Steve’s Cheese- such as this one below of 11/17/2013, a Cheese Board of Remeker Pure Borenkaas (Raw Cow – Holland), Gran Cacio Etrusco (Sheep – Italy), and the Crottin (Goat – France). This was my first crottin! I’m a big fan of Borenkaas as they go wonderfully with beer with its nuttiness- this is true of most Dutch cheeses I think. The sheep cheese went best with the chutney you see on the board, and the Crottin’s grassiness was balanced out by the glass of red wine I was having.

11/17/2013 Steve's Cheese Bar Cheese Board: Remeker Pure Borenkaas (Raw Cow - Holland), Gran Cacio Etrusco (Sheep - Italy), and the Crottin (Goat - France) 11/17/2013 Steve's Cheese Bar Cheese Board: Remeker Pure Borenkaas (Raw Cow - Holland), Gran Cacio Etrusco (Sheep - Italy), and the Crottin (Goat - France) 11/17/2013 Steve's Cheese Bar Cheese Board: Focusing in on the Gran Cacio Etrusco (Sheep - Italy), and the Crottin (Goat - France)

If you want to appreciate cheese more, the key thing I would suggest you do is keep notes of what cheeses you had- particularly ones that you really love, or really hate. This will help you understand your tastes. An easy way to do this is to just have one document on your phone/cloud that you can use to make your notations. I often take photos of the cheese and the label if I’m dining out so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time typing into my phone instead of socializing. BTW this same trick works with wine!

The Cheese Bar is Steve’s place, a great cheese shop where you can procure marvelous exquisite cheeses from around the world, plus get access to the genius award winning knowledge of cheesemonger Steve or whoever is behind the counter to help select cheeses (and often sample as well to help make decisions!). But you don’t have to just subsist on the samples of cheese alone. Cheese Bar is also a beer/wine bar and cafe, offering multiple types of cheese plates (a cheese plate of the day, soft ripened cheese plate, blue cheese plate, etc) as well as other small plates of food varying from pimento spread to grilled cheese or fondue in order for you to try lots of kinds of cheeses.

Even more enthralling for this last visit for me however was the fact that Stephanie Stiavetti of the Culinary Life blog was hosting the Portland launch party for the book Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese (co authored with Garrett McCord of food blog, Vanilla Garlic) at Cheese Bar. At the book launch party, she was offering two examples of the mac dishes from the cookbook! Amazon link: http://bit.ly/meltmacaroni. And this was a free public event!

PS. Stephanie has cut her hair and is even more adorable than the photo below. Check out her Facebook or Google+ for more updates and photos from the tour.
Stephanie Stiavetti of the Culinary Life blog, one of the authors of Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese Garrett McCord of food blog, Vanilla Garlic, one of the authors of Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese

I was so there!

The first sample was a cold pasta salad of Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini. I was surprised how fresh and salady with herbaciousness this take on mac and cheese was, with only the cubes of Drunken Goat cheese and a light lemony oil dressing.
Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese recipe, a cold pasta salad of Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini

The second sample she offered was the Lincolnshire Poacher with Cotija, Chorizo and Penne. Of course she used real chorizo meat, but based on the flavor profile I think Soyrizo would work just as well- they key is the grassy contribution of the Lincolnshire Poacher cheese with the salty crumble of the Cotija.
Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese recipe, Lincolnshire Poacher with Cotija, Chorizo and Penne

Although that sounds so specific to pick out Lincolnshire Poacher or the Drunken Goat as the cheese to utilize, the book does suggest several other alternate cheeses that can be substituted in, and she’s great at pointing out the specific flavors of the cheese she was looking for, so you can also chat with your local cheesemonger.

The key differentiator here for me is that Stephanie and Garrett really focused on highlighting the unique exquisite flavors of high quality artisan cheeses, and they prepare them in a large variety of kinds of dishes to really expand the what you can do with these cheeses besides enjoying them on a cheese plate. Though, nothing wrong with a cheese plate of course, brimming with multiple cheeses.  🙂

The recipes really run the gamut, from salad to stovetop baked and casserole to dessert, and also bring in influences of flavor profiles internationally, such as Greek, Mexican, Indian, and even Asian! That’s what really drew me to the book- even though the book title starts out with “Melt”, it’ s not always about throwing in cheese and cream over pasta into the oven. The recipes are a lot more diverse than that so that you could possibly be making more than one of these dishes in a week without feeling like it’s a repeat, since the recipes can be so unique in taste.

Some examples that I am so so excited to make:

  • Pumpkin stuffed with sausage and fontina recipe,
  • Raclette with Farfalle, Cornichons, and Sauteed Onions
  • Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselet (perfect after Thanksgiving as a way to use up some leftover turkey!!)
  • Chicken Breast Stuffed with Leonora Goat Cheese, Star Pasta, and Gingersnap

Pumpkin stuffed with sausage and fontina recipe from Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese Raclette with Farfalle, Cornichons, and Sauteed Onions recipe from Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese
Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselet (perfect after Thanksgiving as a way to use up some leftover turkey!!) recipe from Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese Chicken Breast Stuffed with Leonora Goat Cheese, Star Pasta, and Gingersnap from Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese
Photo Credit: Matt Armendariz, courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

Each recipe also suggest wine pairings, as well as other snacky pairings with the cheese (such as certain fruit) in case you are assembling a cheese plate or perhaps brainstorming another recipe. The book, which has about 75 recipes, is chock full of gorgeous, enticing photos that make you want to cook everything in the book. After only flipping through a few chapters I was already ready to throw out the Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe I had earmarked for Thanksgiving this year in order to try some of the recipes above.

Thankfully, wiser minds prevailed, and instead my friend and I discussed how we could just ADD another recipe for another day during our Thanksgiving vacation instead.

Also, maybe I bought 4 cheeses from Cheese Bar for the cheese plate on Thanksgiving Day. Until Thanksgiving early dinner is ready, a bottle of wine and a cheese tray and vegetable tray are the snacks to keep us fueled during our Thanksgiving meal is ready. I said I was going to buy 3, but I bought 4. This seems to always happen. I mean, it only added up to 1.25 pounds of cheese. For four people. And that’s only half the cheese plate.

I’ll report back on what I make from the Melt: the Art of Macaroni & Cheese cookbook, but meanwhile, here is a bit more on the book, including their cookbook trailer! I am SO RECOMMENDING THIS BOOK. And this is not a sponsored post- I just really love it!

Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese – The Official Trailer from Stephanie/SJS on Vimeo.

MELT: THE ART OF MACARONI AND CHEESE is a cookbook that reinvents the American classic, macaroni and cheese, with gourmet ingredients, handcrafted artisan cheeses, and unique flavor combinations. It is the first book to marry the American standard, macaroni and cheese, with handcrafted artisan cheeses and a wide array of pastas, producing dishes that are both classic and chic.

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