Café du Midi Chardonnay
“This wine rains kisses in your mouth.” –Insatiable By Gael Greene
The first Wednesday of every month is Wine Wednesday! Spectacular wines under $10.00. Yep. Under $10.00. Sometimes wine is less expensive where I am, but most of the time it’s more expensive. Hopefully that means that I will pick wines that are well below the $10.00 limit for most of you.
I will post wines that I particularly like. I am no specialist by any means, but I do love wine. I know the basics of the different varietals, what regions generally produce, how wines are made, but this space is all about preference. We all like what we like, and you might like what I like too. I will post food pairings and why those pairings are suitable for the specific wine.
Café du Midi 2015 Chardonnay
Awards: 85 points/ Best Buy by Wine Enthusiast
The Super Bowl is upon us which has one thing I get extremely excited about—the snacks! And can anything be more tempting than these soup shooters? They’ve got cheese, pretzels, and everything good all rolled into one handheld package. So fun! And delicious to-boot.
I’ve decided to feature one of the most wine-iest wines to stick my nose up at the assumption that you need a Bud or Miller to enjoy football. Chardonnay! Chardonnay is buttery while still being crisp and refreshing—a perfect easy breezy beverage for day drinking and snacking. This particular Chardonnay is affordable yet awarded the title of Best Buy by Wine Enthusiast. It’s soft with apricot and pear. Buttery with the slight acidity I mentioned earlier on the tip of your tongue. From France, the Café du Midi 2015 Chardonnay is highly recommended for your enjoyment!
It also goes really well with this soup shooter. The buttery character blends with the velvety smooth soup, but the acidity and fruit flavors cut through the richness and cheesiness of the soup. The nuttiness and saltiness of the pretzel bowls adds another complexity to the mouthful as it finishes dry on the palate. Delish!
As a side note, the post on soft pretzels remains one of my most popular posts, and it explores why we need to boil pretzels before baking. I’ll give you a hint–Maillard Browning. Check it out!
But you know what I’m really excited about? The cheese. I’m sure you all remember Pat’s Cheese Science knowledge that I drop your way from time to time. Well I’m sharing his words of wisdom on melty cheese which goes a long way to creating a bulk of the flavor in this soup. Why does cheese melt? And which cheeses melt the best? Take it away Pat! (And seriously visit his site like six times a day, but in particular clink on the link to this post so you can follow along with fun infographics and more information)
As we’ve discussed before, cheese is mostly protein, fat, and water. The casein protein makes up the structure of the cheese. Casein proteins form a 3-D mesh that has calcium acting as the “glue” holding the casein micelles together. Oftentimes this mesh is compared to a sponge. The holes in this casein “sponge” are embedded fat and water (or serum as it’s called).
Adding more fat or water to this structure can soften it and often means the cheese is prone to be a better melter. Higher moisture cheeses like young Gouda or Mozzarella are pretty good melting cheeses. Drier cheeses like aged Gouda and Parmigiano Reggiano won’t melt so well unless there is added moisture around. Similarly, higher fat cheeses like Havarti usually melt better than cheeses like non-fat mozzarella.
Now that we’ve looked at cheese structure very close up, let’s look at it in a different way. You can think of cheese melt/stretch as those chains sliding past each other; all the while bonds between them are being broken and reformed. Imagine pulling the edges of those strands in the picture below.
This is where you go to Pat’s site to look at this amazing infographics.
Using this picture, two main things become apparent: (1) removing some of that calcium “glue” would allow those strands to stretch farther, and (2) if those strands got all chopped up (i.e. proteolysis), the stretch would be weak and perhaps non-existent. And by a stroke of fate, the next two sections address just that!
Acid production is an important step for many different cheeses. Acid can be introduced to cheese in several ways. Cheesemakers will add acid directly or add cultures (bacteria) that produce acid. Some cheeses are made by coagulating milk with the direct addition of acid, like cottage cheese and chèvre. In cheeses like these, all that acid causes the casein micelles to attract to each other and aggregate together. All that attraction means the cheese won’t melt very well. It may soften upon heating, but not melt very much. In some cases, the bacterial cultures that cheese makers add are left to their own devices and produce a lot of acid. This will have a similar effect. Feta cheese for example, will only get soft when heated, it won’t melt or get gooey and stretchy.
On the other end of the spectrum, some cheeses have little-to-no acid. These cheeses won’t melt very well either. In this case, the cause is the calcium “glue” we mentioned earlier. Low acid cheeses will have lots of calcium in their structure. All that glue prevents cheese from melting well. Cheeses like Juustoleipa (i.e. bread cheese) and many Latin American cheeses fall into this category. They get soft upon heating, but still don’t flow and stretch all that much.
In the middle, we have cheeses that have some acid. Acid dissolves the calcium “glue” from the casein mesh. An easy way to remember this is that acidic sodas dissolve the calcium in your teeth. With some of the calcium dissolved, this allows the protein structure to melt and stretch. Mozzarella, young Gouda, and other good melters fall into this category.
The swiss cheese I use in this soup is a soft swiss with moderate acidity and high moisture which makes it great at melting! But what about the cheddar?
As we’ve seen, associations between those protein strands are crucial to getting the stretch we want. Just as important is the protein strands themselves. With time, those proteins could break down (i.e. proteolysis) and get all chopped up. Not having that intact network means stretch will be negatively affected. Often times there will be very little stretch and lots of free oil. The structure is so weak it can no longer be elastic or hold onto the embedded fat.
The cheddar used here is young which means that relatively little proteolysis has gone down. That means that the protein structure is rather intact. What does that mean exactly for us? The protein matrix will hold onto fat which prevents the mixture from becoming greasy.
Hooray for swiss and cheddar and all the cheese. And this soup. And this wine! Seriously don’t hesitate to run to the store right now. Get it! (However, I speak from experience when I say that this soup also goes exceptionally well with a beer. An IPA is wonderful–use it in the cooking of the soup as well to really get the pairing of beer and pretzel and cheese in there) Happy Wine Wednesday, and happy sports watching!
Mini Corn Chowder Pretzel Soup Shooters
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small yellow onions, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
¼ cup white wine—like this one highlighted here
3 bell peppers, diced
4 cups corn (either fresh or frozen and thawed)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Red pepper flakes
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup swiss cheese, grated
⅓ cup green onions, chopped
Mini Pretzel Buns
See this recipe from my previous post. The only changes I made were that I split the dough into 14 equal pieces and rolled into balls. Each ball was boiled in the water bath for 50 seconds and baked for about 12 minutes. This soup makes enough for about 4 batches of pretzel rolls, so plan ahead if you’re going that route. I made one batch and refrigerated the rest for future lunches and dinners.
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and garlic. Cook until softened and slightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the bacon and cook through, stirring often. When the edges of the bacon are just slightly browning, add the white wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
- Once the liquid is reduced to about a tablespoon, add the bell peppers. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the corn and stir to combine. Cook for another two minutes to meld everything together.
- Sprinkle the flour on top of the mixture and stir to combine. Add the chicken stock and stir well. Continue to stir often as you cook and thicken the liquid. This will take about 5-8 minutes or so to cause the starch to gelatinize.
- Reduce heat to low and add the milk and heavy cream. Stir to mix. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes.
- Bring the soup to a low boil and then reduce the heat to low, simmering. Cover the pot and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the grated cheeses and green onions. When cheese is melted, about 1-2 minutes later, taste for seasoning. Add additional pepper, salt, or red pepper as needed.
- For serving: spoon into hollowed-out mini pretzel bowls and top with additional chopped green onions and grated cheese for an optional garnish. (I’ve found that a grapefruit spoon with the jagged edges works especially well for hollowing out pretzel buns!)
- See note on pretzel bun/soup ratio above. Additionally, this soup is absolutely delicious on its own without a pretzel bowl, so feel free to serve by the (flatware) bowl!