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Food & Wine Festival
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, AllEars®
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial (red)
Don Olegario Abarino (white)
While I was visiting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival this past weekend, I had the chance to attend a Cheese Seminar in the Festival Center. This week's cheeses were Spanish, in keeping with the theme for the week's Party for the Senses, to be held later that same day, Saturday, September 26.
I confess that I am a cheese-aholic -- I would rather sit down to snack on a few wedges of Herbed Havarti than chocolate chip cookies (well, most of the time!) -- so I was really looking forward to this tasting. Not being very familiar with Spanish cheeses, I felt this was going to be the perfect opportunity to broaden my horizons a bit.
In talking with some of my fellow attendees, I found that many had booked the event online well in advance, as I had. It was wonderful to have a guaranteed spot in the seminar without having to queue for an hour beforehand. I checked in with the cast member at the podium near the entrance of the seating area about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time and received a ticket with my table assignment (specific seats weren't assigned, but tables were labeled with the names of herbs and spices -- I was at "BASIL" for this event). Then I could wander around the pavilion, returning just a few minutes before the seminar was supposed to begin.
Once seated, a quick glance around the room led me to think that the seminar was fully booked, but I discovered later that at least a few walk-ups were available.
Hosted, as many of the Festival's ticketed events are, by cookbook author and dietician Pam Smith, the seminar got off to a jovial start as she recited her familiar line, "Wine before 9 makes the day fine," then joked that at 10:30 we were already late. She then introduced the seminar's cheese expert, Waldemar Albrecht from New York's Artisanal Premium Cheese, and Missi Holle, a representative of Kobrand Wines.
Before Albrecht began talking about the four cheeses at our places, Holle gave us an overview of the wines we'd been poured -- one red, one white. The white, Don Olegario Albarino, was a crisp, citrusy varietal, while the red, Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial, was a tempranillo/cabernet/merlot blend that hinted at berries and a bit of spice. I liked the latter a lot -- it's just a shame that my server saw fit to pour me significantly less of each wine, as compared to my fellow tasters, even after I joked about it with him!
Albrecht then gave us a brief history of cheese-making in Spain, emphasizing how the Spanish were influenced heavily by invading cultures (the English, the Romans) who wanted cheeses similar to those made in their native lands. He then described each of the cheeses at some length as we tasted them first alone, then paired with the wines. Starting at 6 o'clock on our plates and moving clockwise, the cheeses were: Garrotxa, a semi-firm goat's cheese; Los Beyos, a very hard, dry cow's milk cheese; Ibores, another semi-firm goat's milk cheese with a paprika rind, very similar to the Garrotxa; and Roncal, a sheep's milk cheese quite like the much better-known Manchego.
All in all, the program was very informative and you couldn't ask for a more knowledgable cheese enthusiast than Albrecht. But I have to ask myself -- was it really worth $75 for four chunks of cheese and two sips of wine? Not really. As educational as the program was, I really can't recommend it.