Hirtenkäse (HEER – tan – kay – sa) translates to “herdsman’s cheese.” This is a dense-bodied, medium-aged mountain cheese with a firm texture that is easily shaved, shredded or chunked and served in any dish calling for asiago, parmesan, or even aged Swiss. The flavor is reminiscent of all three, yet distinctive.
Produced exclusively from the milk of small herds naturally grazed at over 2600 feet elevation, this is truly a mountain cheese. Buttery yellow in color, it is aged around eight months to develop a hard, natural rind and intense nuttiness. It’s excellent shaved on salads, over pasta, shredded into risotto or polenta, topping gratins or melted in fondue. Hirtenkäse is extremely versatile for cooking applications, as is also a great table cheese, paired as shown below.
Gewürztraminer translates to “spicy traminer” or spicy grape and refers to the somewhat racy flavors in this wine. Considered one of the great grapes of the Alsace and Germany, gewürztraminer can produce wines in a breathtaking array of sweetness. Alsatian versions are bone dry, with their spicy character accentuated by bracing acidity. German versions range from dry (kabinett) through off-dry (spätlese) to sweet (auslese), sweeter (beerenauslese) and sweetest (eiswein and trockenbeerenauslese).
A lover of cool weather growing areas, this grape does best in America in Washington, Oregon and the cooler regions of California, like the Carneros, the Anderson Valley and the Monterey coast and hills. When grown properly, gewürztraminer displays amazing aromas of clove, nutmeg, flowers and litchis. It has more color than most white wine grapes and can be a bit peachy or melon-colored. This wine is at home as an aperitif with light hors d’oeuvres, or as an accompaniment to heavily spiced Thai, Indian and Southeast Asian dishes.
This pair can be accompanied by a variety of fruits (consider dried tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, coconut and papaya), toasted hazelnuts, and butter crackers such Bretons, Club and Ritz. Keep it simple, to complement rather than overwhelm the subtleties of this pairing.
Why it Works
This is a subdued version of the “Italian Roller-coaster”—a dessert course featuring Parmesan, dried apricots, salted, buttered & toasted walnuts and Vin Santo. The richness and mild saltiness in this mountain cheese is balanced by the combination of sweetness and tartness in this wine. While fermented technically “dry,” this grape has so much fruit flavor and aroma that it tastes sweet, even when it isn’t. The hazelnuts accentuate the nuttiness in this cheese, and the dried fruit reinforces the flavors in the wine.