Spirited Away.

I love to try new things, food-wise.

There is no food that I won’t try at least once, and as all of my friends know, there is only one (yes, only one)food that I will not eat, a fact that I am very proud of. I will, however, eat it if it’s cooked. I have nothing against raw stuff, just this particular thing. Maybe because I used to have to shuck hundreds of them a night…who knows?

I got to try something new at an amazing dinner Friday night at Mercat a la Planxa, in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Ave. The tapas-style menu allows guests to try several different dishes and each one was more delicious than the next. Chef de Cuisine Michael Fiorello was kind enough to sign a menu for me. My favorites were cider-glazed pork belly, hamachi with smoked potato puree and spicy potatoes with paprika aioli. The bacon-wrapped dates were also a hit. My coworker, Mary, had to close her eyes while eating one. When that happens, you know it’s gotta be good.

I got to try a new wine with dessert, an Olivares Monastrell Dulce from Spain. It was a lovely inky red, earthy and delicious, and as I savored it I thought it would be good…no, fantastic… with a piece of cheesecake.

Cheesecake is sometimes difficult to pair with wines, especially our Original Plain. A sweet dessert wine would be my first inclination but the sour cream and cultured cream cheese in our batter creates more of a challenge. The Monastrell Dulce was sweet but had an earthiness and acidity that would hold up well against a wedge of Eli’s Original Plain.

Speaking of pairings, last Monday night we had the Windy City chapter of the American Culinary Federation at our bakery for a meeting. Diane Kelley of Southern Wine and Spirits gave a great presentation on pairing cheeses and cheesecakes with spirits. One of our favs was the St. Germain (made of elderflowers) with our Fresh Cheeses Cheesecake. At first sip it had the essence of a fruity wine – that was great with the lemon curd in the cheesecake – but the alcohol gives you a little kick at the end. Our White Chocolate Raspberry with Grand Marnier was another favorite. The deep orange has a special affinity for the raspberry flavor. One sip and you’ll be hooked.

Below are a few cheesecake pairings for you to try. If you don’t recognize some of the names below, do some research and give them a taste.

-Apple Bavarian Tart with a Beerenauslese
I love a Beerenauslese with apples!

-Burnt Caramel Cheesecake Flan with an Icewine

-Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake with a Tokaji
Grapes used in Tokajis are affected by Botrytis, a beneficial mold that causes the grapes to shrivel up so their sugars are concentrated, also known as Noble Rot. Also known as Deliciousness.

-Totally Turtle Cheesecake with a Moscato d’ asti
There is so much going on in this cheesecake so I always serve it with this. This wine is also fantastic for people who “don’t like wine” or just want something fun, sweet, and not too serious.

-And, just for fun, Lime Coconut Passion Cheesecake (should be available next month) with a frozen Pina Colada. Bring on the summertime!
Let me know how you liked them, or post your own pairing ideas.

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