Orange rinds are familiar turf for cheese lovers, but orange wine-washed cheeses are new territory. I plodded through post-nor’easter NYC slush to get to Brooklyn to taste six such cheeses together with the wines they were washed with, and the results more than made up for the messy commute.
The cheeses are the product of a collaboration among Alessandro Trezza and Monia Solighetto, owners of Have & Meyer, a natural wine bar and kitchen in Williamsburg; six Italian wine producers; five small farms in the US and Italy; and Crown Finish Caves cheese aging facility in Crown Heights. Trezza and Solighetto first encountered Crown Finish aged cheeses at a farmer’s market in Park Slope. When the couple learned that the caves were located in Brooklyn, they were very curious to see the space, which is housed 30 feet underground in an 1850s lagering tunnel of a former brewery.
“Being Italian, we are mostly used to aging facilities that are located in the countryside,” said Solighetto. “So we knew this was something we had to check out.” They visited the caves and met with owner Benton Brown last September, and it was then that they proposed the idea of washing artisanal cheeses with orange wines.
For those who are unfamiliar with orange wine, also known as skin-contact wine, the term refers to white wines that are made like reds, leaving the colored skins of the grapes in contact with the juice for prolonged maceration. This process results in heartier, more tannic whites. Trezza and Solighetto chose producers from several different regions of Italy for the orange wine-washed cheese project, called Rinds & Skins. With the help of Crown Finish, they also selected cheeses representing a range of milks and textures.
“Cheese and wine are both agricultural creations that are alive and that complement each other. We were curious about how they would interact . . . and also wanted to join the two cultures of Italy and the US, mix Italian soil and American soil,” said Solighetto.
The cheese and orange wine marriages include:
Paymaster and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (Cheesemaker: Coach Farm from NY; Winegrower: Francesco Cirelli from Abruzzo)
Pruner and Ribolla (Cheesemaker: Old Chatham Sheepherding Company from NY; Winegrower: Gravner from Friuli Venezia Giulia)
After the cheeses arrive at Crown Finish Caves, they are washed with a brush saturated with the chosen wine (which is cut with a four percent brine to reduce the alcohol content). They are then stored in the aging cellar and washed three times a week for two weeks up to four months, depending on the ripening process.
The wines were carefully selected to balance the flavors of each cheese; Trezza described the pairing of the goat cheese Paymaster with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo as un abbraccio (a hug), with the pungent cheese embraced by the acidity of the fresh, drinkable wine. In the case of Bismark, a rich, raw sheep milk’s cheese, the Serragghia wine was chosen for its aromatic, fruity flavor, imparting nuanced notes of caramel and a hint of sweetness to the cheese.
These six orange wine-washed cheeses will be a fixture on Have & Meyer’s menu going forward. I highly recommend making contact with these “Rinds & Skins!”