For the past decade, one of the premiere events in Oklahoma has been held biennially at Oklahoma State University. The Wine Forum of Oklahoma is not just another fundraising "party" where guests gather to eat and drink. It is an educational experience, for both patrons, and for the students who present it.
It is no secret that I love the Oklahoma State University School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration. Their team of educators do a tremendous job of shaping the next generation of the hospitality industry, in Oklahoma and beyond. The Wine Forum brings together chefs, vintners, sommeliers, and other industry professionals for a weekend of food, wine, and education. Sure, there is plenty of eating, drinking, and merriment, but the real value of the event is in the seminars. It brings Oklahomans the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most impressive names in the wine industry.
I attended the event the first year it began and had a wonderful experience, so in 2012 when I was asked by chef and educator extraordinaire Phillippe Garmy to present a seminar at the next year's event, I was honored. This year was the third Wine Forum at which I have hosted my cheesy talk, a I decided to switch things up a bit.
When the opening date for the new Wayne Hirst Center for Beverage Education was announced for November of 2016, it seemed like the perfect time to debut the schools newest event, the Craft Beer Forum of Oklahoma. I was excited to be hosting the "Cheese and Beer" seminar, as that is one of my favorite classes to teach. When it became apparent that the final stages of construction were going to be cutting a bit too close for comfort, the event was postponed until April of 2018, which would be it's regular time in the future.
Talking with some bummed out craft beer lovers about their disappointment in the cancellation of the event, I decided to integrate both beer and wine into my talk at the 2017 Wine Forum. It is a question I raise frequently in my cheese classes. Which actually pairs better, beer or wine? There are mixed opinions, and I believe it not only depends on your overall preference between the two, but also very much on the cheese. I decided to let the audience decide, by pairing both a beer and a wine with each segment of the cheese selection.
Our wine selections were provided by Scott Large, of Provisions Fine Beverage Purveyors. I wasn't familiar with Bodkin wines, so when Scott told me he wanted to bring Chris Christianson in from Sonoma County to present the class with me, it was a great opportunity to get to taste through his selections as I worked on the cheese lineup.
From the Bodkin lineup, I first chose the Cuvee Agincourt, Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc, which is actually the first sparkling Sauvignon Blanc produced in the united States. Since I was pairing both beer and wine, I had room to select 4 wines and 4 beers. This covered 2 of my usual bases at once, since I often use a Sauvignon Blanc as my first wine selection due to it pairs so well with goat's milk cheeses, and I always showcase a sparkling of some sort. It was perfect for my first 3 cheeses (Cypress Grove Chevre's "Bermuda Triangle," Vermont Creamery's "Cremont," and Marin French Cheese Co.'s Triple Crème Brie). For the second section of the cheese wheel, I went rosé, which can be a tricky pairing with cheese. The Hotspur, a rosé of Syrah, actually made a perfect partner for the Cremont, and worked well with. Big, bold reds can also be tricky, as they will often overpower the cheese. Bodkin's The Hill and the Vale Zinfandel was a wonderful match for a cheese produced by another Sonoma Country artisan, Vella Cheese Company. The 7-month-aged Dry Monterey Jack, which is rubbed with oil, unsweetened cocoa, and black pepper, served as a formidable match. The spicy notes of each complimented one another, and the richness of the paste more than held its own with a bold wine. Besides that, I just love examples of great terroir pairings. The fourth wine was specifically chosen to match with a blue, since it almost always rounds out my cheese selections. The Crown Jewels is a dessert wine, made from a blend of red varietals. The sweetness is the perfect balance for a creamy, salty Bleu d'Auvergne.
Bring on the Beer!
Adding in the beer component this year added an extra challenge: choosing beers that weould pair well with the same cheeses that paired with the wines. Again, it took a few tasting sessions (it's a dirty job, and I'm glad it is mine!) but I found 4 beers that worked with the prospective lineup. My friends Chris Converse and David Ernst at Atlas Brands were kind enough to provide their expansive international portfolio of beers, and the fine folks over at Roughtail Brewing Co. represented the local craft beer community with their popular Roughtail India Pale Ale. Brasserie DuPont's Saison DuPont was a great match for the soft creamy cheeses at the start of the wheel. The Roughtail IPA was an excellent match with the Barber's 1833 Cheddar
Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout was a great match for the cheddar, as well as the Dry Jack, Uplands Cheese's Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and the Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda from Westland Kaas. To pair with the blue, I would normally go with a Barleywine, but since they are out of season and the selections are slim, I chose Ayinger's Celebrator Doppelbock. The rich maltiness was a great match for the boldness of the blue.
Probably partly due to the large number of wine lovers in the group, wine appeared to win by a hair, but overall, a delicious time was had by all. I think a lot of at attendees found some new favorite pairings they might not have thought of, and I had a great time presenting with Chris, Chris, and Dave.
A Grand Finale
As always, the Grand Tasting was a wonderful end to the day. WInemakers from around the globe were on hand to present their wines to thirsty guests. An impressive spread of food was provided by the HRAD students and staff, as well as many Oklahoma chefs who volunteered their time to help.
A Fond Farewell
This year's Wine Forum, as always included a special patron dinner on Friday night. Alumni, and generous contributors to the program gathered for what is always an enjoyable evening, but this year's was bittersweet. The featured chef for the evening was to join us from Paris, in keeping with this year's French theme. A few weeks before the event, he became unavailable, so the school's own, chef Phillippe Garmy stepped in. Chef Garmy has been a part of Wine Forum since its inception, and at the end of the school year, he will begin his retirement. He and his wife will be beginning their next adventure, when they move to France. It seemed the perfect farewell to such a valuable member of the HRAD family.
For announcements on the next Wine Forum of Oklahoma in 2019, you can follow their Facebook page. Up next however, will be the long-awaited inaugural Craft Beer Forum of Oklahoma, on April 7, 2018. I hope to see you there!