The first serving of raclette cheese comes melted over fingerling potatoes, with a sprinkling of chopped chives. The pairing, to put things plainly, is delicious.
This creamy, buttery and tangy cheese was the star of “Raclette & Riesling,” a food and wine pairing event held at Jedediah Hawkins Inn restaurant in Jamesport last Saturday. The two-hour event featured wine from Jamesport Vineyards and offerings from The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck.
For those unfamiliar with this style of fromage, it’s a semi-firm cow’s cheese intended to be melted and served atop foods like bread, meats and potatoes. “Raclette” is a French word meaning ‘to scrape,’ according to Village Cheese Shop owner Michael Affatato.
“This is what Europeans do in winter,” said Affatato, a Long Island native who owned the Bordeaux vineyard Chateau La Gatte for several years. “They go for raclette at night with some wine. It’s done all along the borders of France and Switzerland and is a ritual that goes back centuries.”
On this particular evening, the first serving of raclette was a French version of the cheese. It was pasteurized, but Affatato described it as retaining a barnyard taste.
“When it’s not heated, it’s fairly mild,” he told the crowd. “But when it’s heated, it picks up a lot more aromatics and more of what we call farmyard flavors — more of a wild taste.”
Affatato, along with Jamesport Vineyards president Ron Goerler, guided participants through the evening in Jedediah Hawkins’ speakeasy bar. There, on the restaurant’s lower level, the décor is overtly masculine, with stone walls, brown leather chairs and wooden tables.
On this night, the bar was set for dinner. Wherever a place setting could fit there was one; even the coffee table and bar were set with dishes. Although the event was planned to accommodate about 25 guests, it looked like it may be expecting more.
People began to arrive, seating themselves at intimate tables for two or joining a larger group.
Affatato jokingly dispelled any fears that there wouldn’t be enough cheese, assuring us that he brought plenty for all.
The first riesling served with the raclette-topped potatoes was Jamesport Vineyard’s Dry Reisling. The wine was slightly sweet, crisp and refreshing. Described as having a perfect balance of acidity and fruit, it boasted aromas of apricot, pear and apple.
“Riesling was one of the first wines that we planted,” Goerler explained to the crowd. “We felt it was a natural because of the beautiful acidity that it has in this wine.”
The second course was a plate of dried cured meats, or “bresaola,” served with dried fruit. Affatato descibed it as air-dried, cured spiced beef that was aged for several months.
The flavor was mildly salty, like ham or a dry prosciutto.
By then the first wine had run out, so everyone was treated to a glass of Jamesport Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc. With aromas of sweet cherry, spice and cedar, it was a delicious surprise.
Along with the cab franc came the third course, a plate of warm flatbread topped with roasted tomatoes and warm goat cheese. The tomatoes were art and juicy, with the goat cheese adding the right amount of zest.
The final course was a Swiss raclette melted over small slices of French bread. Since it was unpasteurized, it was stronger than the French version. The dish was served with Jamesport Vineyard’s Late Harvest Riesling. Because the grapes for this wine were picked later in the season, it was very sweet, with aromas of crème brulee, vanilla and butterscotch.
“This is wonderful winter dish,” Affatato said. “It’s also a wonderful way to finish up an outing.”
Throughout the event, small plates of melted raclette atop medallion-sized pieces of bread were served intermittently while waiting for the next course. At this point in the evening, those plates were now coming fast and furious. Customers were literally holding up their hands to fend off the cheese plates since they were so full.
“I think this is really great,” said participant Hank Wells of Shelter Island. “They have hit on something really, really good here.”
The relaxed casual setting, it turns out, was a great way to showcase Jamesport Vineyard’s portfolio — especially for those who might not be as familiar with their offerings.
“It’s nice to have these intimate gatherings,” Goerler said. “These, I think, are the more memorable ones.”
Affatato was still giving away cheese as he said goodnight and thanked everyone for coming.
“It’s a very simple formula, molten cheese and good wine,” he said. “The possibilities and pairings are fairly limitless.”