Imagine a wedge of handcrafted bleu cheese, drizzled with prairie blossom honey and served with a chilled ice wine. Or a fun holiday aperitif of bright cranberry wine, splashed with bubbling champagne, paired with white stilton, or a grassy farmstead herbed goat cheese, followed by a crisp sauvignon blanc.
Thanks to a growing variety of delicious and award-winning, locally produced wine and cheese, you don’t have to imagine.
A Winning Wine
When Fox Valley Winery in Oswego began 12 years ago, they produced 1,000 gallons of wine and sold out in two months. “We vastly underestimated the market for it,” says Michael Faltz, owner and winemaker. “Today we have 12 different varieties like chardonnay, riesling, and our most popular, blue (a blueberry-blackberry wine),” explains Faltz. His vineyard now produces 100,000 bottles a year of stellar dry reds and whites, as well as sweet, that recently earned multiple gold and silver awards at this year’s Illinois State Fair.
“Interest in local wine is absolutely growing,” says Jane Bristow at this summer’s Festival of the Vine in Geneva. Bristow, the gourmet food and wine manager at Little Traveler in Geneva, attributes the growing interest of local wines to the unique flavor created by our unique climate and soil.
There is also a growing interest in the handcrafted production of wine’s favorite partner: cheese.
Unlike commercial cheese, many local varieties are being developed from single breed, single herd farmsteads that have distinct flavors that reflect the uniqueness of our locale, from the grasses they eat, to the air they breathe.
“Many of the cheese makers go back to Europe and to their family’s cheese dairies,” says Rob Murphy of Curds and Whey in La Fox. “There is a huge flow of back and forth information. The local cheeses aren’t made in a vacuum, but from tremendous inspiration from their European muses.”
This summer’s grand champion at the Illinois State Fair was an Italian-style hard cheese from Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, a 200-year old family owned farm famous for its top-breed animals. Its creator, Fons Smidt, is a world-class cheese maker originally from Friesland in the Netherlands. “The quality of the farmstead-produced cheese is high,” said Smidt. “We have great milk to work with and we’re innovative.”
A Winning Combination
What better time than Thanksgiving to enjoy the quality of our new-world wine and cheese.
“Our hybrids go very well with local sharp cheddars and stronger bleu cheese,” suggests Donna Goodwin with Midwest Wine Selections, a distributor to Tasting DeVine Cellars in Naperville.
Christina Anderson-Heller, with Tasting DeVine Cellars, teaches her wine-tasting students to broaden their scope and think outside the box. “Wine can go with everything—you can even have a chardonnay with popcorn. One of my local favorites is cranberry wine. It goes great with a white stilton,” said Anderson-Heller.
There are no right or wrong combinations when it comes to wine and cheese. It comes down to personal preference. There are guidelines, such as the more intense the cheese, the more full bodied the wine, but with many wineries offering wine tasting and cheese pairings (like Acquaviva in Maple Park, DeVine in Naperville, or The Wine Exchange in St. Charles), there are many opportunities to explore and discover what you like.
Check out these local resources for more information and to enjoy one of our region’s most delicious treasures.
Fox Valley Winery: www.foxvalleywinery.com
Peterson’s Spirits and Fine Wine: www.petersonwinecellars.com
Tasting DeVine Cellars: www.lynfredwinery.com
Little Traveler: www.littletraveler.com
The Wine Exchange: www.thewineexchange.net
Illinois River Winery: www.illinoisriverwinery.com
Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurants: coopershawkwinery.com/locations/illinois/naperville.php
Sleepy Creek Vineyards: www.sleepycreekvineyards.com
Curds and Whey: www.curdsandwheycheesecompany.com
Ludwig Farmstead Creamery: www.ludwigfarmsteadcreamery.com
Prairie Fruit Farms: www.prairiefruits.com
Ropp Jersey Cheese: www.roppcheese.com
Whole Foods: www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/naperville/
Geneva Green Market: www.genevagreenmarket.org
Logan Square Farmer’s Market: www.logansquarefarmersmarket.org