Thursday, August 24, 2023

Bear With Me


My Bear Character Wine



I think I was the first on staff to get sucked into The Bear, the wildly popular, and wickedly intense series about a family operated Chicago Beef stand that is in the middle of absolute heartbreak and turmoil, now in its second season on Hulu. I tried to watch it when it first came out but, there was something in the first episode that failed to hook me, even though I am a fan of most shows involving food, cooking, and crazy ass family drama. Might have been that I put it on as one of those last of the night shows, you know that, just-one-more-before-bed kind of deals, and the intensity was too much. All the yelling, cacophonous slamming of pots, pans, plates and attitudes, along with the actual bear in the first episode, well it was too damn much and I turned it off and forgot about it.

A few months later I had read some interesting comments and reviews for the show I decided to give it another go one evening. Hours later I felt like Tom of Tom & Jerry, holding my eyelids open with toothpicks trying to stay awake to consume more. Finally fell asleep and woke at 5:30am to watch the rest. That my friends, is binging of the first order. Brought my way-too-tired butt to work the next day, a disciple on my soapbox telling anyone that would listen that they, “Have to watch this show!” And watch they did.



Now that the second season is out, and rightly devoured, it seems the series is bigger than ever and the world it appears to have fallen in love with the richly textured, multi-dimensional, erratic, emotionally saturated, brilliantly acted and stunningly shot show. It can be too intense for some but if you can, forgive me, bear through it, you will be gorgeously rewarded with a gift you just want to keep unwrapping. Much like the original star of the show, a Chicago Beef, the show is meaty, spicy, dripping with complexity and at times, undeniably perfect. Sink your teeth in everyone and bring some napkins.

Jeremy sent out an email asking the team if we thought it might be cool to pick a character in the series and see if there are any wines that remind us of them. I admit that at first I flashed on those insipid pairing wines with music, breakfast cereal or any other such silly thing it has nothing to do with but, the more I thought about it the more it made sense to me. I often write descriptions for wine that read more emotionally, or as if I were speaking about a person and in that context, I loved the idea, and I knew exactly whom I would pick and which wine I thought they would be most like.




Cousin Richie Jerimovich



Identity Crisis







Exceptional, when given the chance


Syrah shares many of these same characteristics as the very charismatic cousin Richie. The variety is grown in many places throughout the world and shows so differently depending on where it’s from, thus a little tricky for those trying to figure out Syrah’s temperament. Bit of an identity crisis, right?

French Syrah, from the northern Rhone, can be lean, floral, more savory and packed with cured black olives and pepper. Many new world wines have those same notes, but you often find more generous, more extracted, and deeper fruit, and in the case of Australia you can throw in a bit of mint on top of all that chewy fruit. There are always exceptions of course, which is why it can be a little difficult to understand the variety. Just like cousin Richie, you never know exactly which version you are going to get, but given a chance, and in the hands of a great winemaker, they can be some of the best red wines there are.



French Syrah

2018 Domaine Des Combat Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone

2019 Verzier Chante-Perdrix Saint-Joseph, “Madone”, Rhone


New World

2019 Savage Red Coastal Region, South Africa

2019 d'Arenberg "The Foot Bolt"Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia

2020 Melville Syrah "Donna's", Sta. Rita Hills

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Flakey, Salty, Cheesy



This is quite possibly one of the easiest dishes I make and it never arrives on the table without people gushing and acting like I should run out immediately rush out and audition for Top Chef or Chopped or some junk. While I love the praise, (actually, I am one of those super shy people that freaks out when given too much attention) and all the ohs and ahs I am very quick to confess that this particular dish was a full on cheater one.


Now, every chef I know has had to prepare puff pastry in cooking school, but most swear it is a hardly detectable difference between the scratch made and frozen store-bought versions. I am one of those home cooks that does not bake. I am crap at following directions and the very idea of lugging out my measuring cups and spoons gives my undies a right good twist. Before this dish, I loved the idea of things puddling or being planked between layers of buttery pastry that shatter when penetrated, sending a flourish of delicate shrapnel down your blissfully crunching front but, it was deemed as pastry/baking and I wasn’t doing it. Dammit. 




To this day I am not sure what inspired me to just get over it and try working with puff pastry but this dish was the first I made and it has stuck with me and served me, my family and friends, quite well and quite often.


15 Minutes Prep

25 Minutes Cooking Time


1 Package Frozen Puff Pastry Dough (thawed)

12-15 Slices Hobb’s Wine Cured Salami

7 oz Grated Gruyere

2 ½ Tablespoons Good Dijon Mustard Like Moutarde Forte au Vinagre, (seriously the best mustard I have had outside of Beaune in France)

1 Egg (beaten)

Place rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 450 degrees

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough is about 10-12 inches rectangular. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread mustard in even layer on dough leaving a 1-inch boarder on every side.

Arrange Hobb’s Wine Cured Salami on top of the mustard, slightly overlapping avoiding the boarder. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over salami.

Brush boarder with egg wash

Roll out second sheet of puff pastry to same size as the first. Gently place second sheet of puff pastry directly over the first doing your best to line up the edges. Gently press sides to seal and chill for 15-20 minutes.

Using a sharp knife trim edges and make three slits down the center of the pastry. Brush with egg wash and place in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, turning baking sheet halfway through to ensure even browning. Use your sniffer! If you can smell the dough getting to dark check. You want a nice deep golden-brown crust.

Let sit for a few minutes to set, slice, and enjoy.

This savory treat can be served hot or at room temp, up to you. We like ours after it has cooled off for about 10 minutes but there are days when we simply cannot wait to slice into it and watch the cheese ooze out. Can be served as an appetizer or a light lunch/dinner with a big, lemony dressed salad. 

Wine Pairing Suggestions

Because of the savory and salty nature of this dish it leaves lots and lots of options for wine.


Dry Lambrusco 



Saumur Blanc

Alsace Pinot Gris




Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Drawer That Is Never Empty


“You know, there is always a little something leftover for cheese” one of the times my mother’s voice would sound fuller than normal. She even looked taller when she could, with all confidence, assure me that no matter how long the phone might be cut off or worse, ringing off the hook with people looking for payment, there was a little savory crumble or smear of utter indulgence and joy tucked away in the skinny flat drawer of our oft sparsely stocked refrigerator.


Those early years my mother struggled being a single mother, and she did the absolute best she could to try and help me find joy in the little things seeing as the “big ones” weren’t available to us at the time. I learned to blow my wishes into a wand saturated with sudsy bubble liquid. Dream big, deep chest filling breath, wish telepathically whispered into the bubble that formed before my wide eyes. I would then stand there watching as those hopes and dreams floated way above my head and down the street, hoping the whole time that they would go as far as they could before bursting spreading my desires to places out of my reach. Never knowing that one day bubbles would play an instrumental role in a career that took me places I could never have dreamed of standing there on the grass, barefooted, a little hungry, bubbles trailing down the street, my attention drifting to a tiny nibble from the special drawer of the refrigerator. 




My adoration and appreciation of great cheese followed me into my adult life and the cheese department at The Wine Country was the very first department I was fully in charge of twenty something years ago. I started by bringing in the standards, Brie, Camembert, New York Cheddar and a smattering of my beloved blue cheeses. The more confident I got watching people grab handfuls of various wrapped wedges, the more I began to explore, but for the most part sticking with the vast world of cheeses from Europe. That began changing, like a lot, about 6 years ago.


When I began as the cheese buyer for The Wine Country the term “American Cheese” held with it a very different connotation. Most of us were immediately picturing those thin, waxy slabs wrapped in, and frankly tasted a little like, plastic. Good for a comforting, old school, grilled cheese or melted over a burger patty at a backyard barbeque, but maybe not one wants to nibble on while enjoying a wine from your local wine merchant. I can assure you that American cheese has been folded into the foodie world. People are not only open to trying artisanal cheeses from The United States, they are devouring them and coming back for more. I for one now believe with all my cheese loving heart, the cheeses from The United States have surpassed, in terms of diversity, many cheeses from the Old World. There. I said it. 




I think, for us anyway, the real awakening came with the cheeses from right here in California. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk and Mt. Tam, the mild offerings from Central Coast Creamery and the bold Blue from Point Reyes. We had access to these fine local gooey offerings and the quality, well like I said, pried our palates and minds right open. This led to local purveyors seeking more incredible cheeses from around the U.S. for us to discover and the things they have brought for us, game changing. Period. Now some of the cheeses I am reordering, suggesting, and taking home to feed my inner cheese monster are, you guessed it, “American Cheese”


Still stocking those beloved eye-opening, or palate prying, favorites like Humboldt Fog, Mt. Tam and Red Hawk but we are always bringing in cool new thinks from small U.S. creameries and below are some of my new all-time favorites. Happy snacking from the cheese drawer everyone!

Your Local Wine & Cheese Nerd,

Samantha Dugan




Sweet Grass Dairy Pimento Cheese 6oz, $7.99

Now this cheese has been featured a lot on our social media pages, blogs and my face. We are crazy in love with this spreadable, smokey, mild but immensely addictive cheese. The grated bits offer texture, the pimento gives us a gloriously smokey note and we have eaten it pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, as a dip for fresh veggies and I have been known to smear it on a bagel or toast. Limited only by your imagination. 




Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze 6oz, $6.99

This is such a brilliantly intense cow’s milk, Cheddar styled cheese. Just a big blast of almost caramelized milk flavor. Like a cross between great Cheddar, Parmesan and aged Gouda with a rich mouth feel and a super long, almost sweet finish. A favorite for grating over salads, burgers, and simply nibbling on with fresh fruit. Gorgeous cheese.




Milton Creamery 4 Alarm Cheddar 6oz, $4.99

Not for the weak of palate! They aren’t kidding about 4 alarm here, this is wicked fiery cheese that is great grated into a more mild cheese for tacos, burritos, chili or if you are a fire eater, again, just to nibble. 




Jasper Hill Farm Harbison 9oz, $16.99

This is a super sexy, oozing, pungent, silky cheese that has a bloomy rind and is wrapped in a band of spruce bark which imparts a wicked cool herbal flavor. Not the most beautiful on the outside but this stinker is spilling out with sumptuous feral and olive oil flavors. Crusty bread, crackers and fresh fruit, heavenly. 




Boxcarr Rocket’s Robiola No size indicated but it is a thick hunk, $21.99

This is another more pungent, gooey cheese that ranges from being fudgy to being running and silky. Cow’s milk washed with vegetable ash that takes on a wrinkly outer skin. Inside you get mushrooms, grass, creamy milky notes, and it finishes with a bright tang. Lovely spreadable cheese for a cheese plate or dolloped into mushroom dishes, like pizzas.




Beecher’s Smoked Flagship Cheddar. No size indicated but about 4oz, $9.99

Beecher’s was another creamery that started it all in terms of artisanal domestic cheeses and they have a massive following even outside their shop in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. The regular Flagship has won awards for years, but fewer people know about this smoked version. Great crumbly texture, like Cheddar but with a powerful smoked flavor. A favorite for grilled ham and cheese, burgers, nibbling with sweet fruit and adds tremendous punch to grilled pizzas.