|Upper Bench King Cole Blue Cheese Walnut Crackers with Gold and Roasted Grapes|
On a warm day in April two savvy food enthusiasts, a small contingent of the "Chicks Who Wine," met up with Shana and Gavin Miller, owners of Upper Bench Winery and Creamery situated in Penticton, at the gateway to the picturesque Naramata Bench to find out their story. This deeply rooted couple has a rich history that helps explain their approach to viticulture, winemaking and cheese making at Upper Bench. It was a combination of passions that brought these passionate owners together many years ago. Now married 16 years he is a former salesman originally from the UK, she is a former accountant originally from Nova Scotia, who with their two teenage children Max and Chloe are knee deep in the family business. This engaging couple have always shared the dream of owning their own winery and combining their crafts. That magical day arrived in 2010 when a former Holman property on Penticton’s Upper Bench came up for auction. The stars aligned, partners Margareta and Wayne Nystrom were found, and the deal was sealed. There is a buzz about their winery and creamery lately that may change the course of not only their history but the history of the area.
Upper Bench Winery and Creamery offers a unique experience to locals and visitors alike by offering pairings of their two passions... artisan wine and hand‐crafted cheese. Opened in 2011 this husband-and-wife team owned winery is the perfect marriage (pun intended) of winemaker (Gavin) and cheese maker (Shana). In season they also sell local seasonal fruit at their shop, so it’s a picnic basket waiting to happen. You can choose to either relax with a glass of wine on their sunny patio and enjoy a flight of their latest releases perfectly paired with one of their cheese platters and daily fresh bread, or, fill up your shopping basket with goodies to take home or on an impromptu picnic. This is one-stop shopping for food and wine aficionados at this easily accessible, euro-like, farm gate-style winery. Wine, cheese, bread, fruit … a gourmand’s dream combination. The winery has also started weekly pizza nights, partnering with Flat Bread Farms from Cawston to create pizzas using Upper Bench cheeses and, naturally, pairing them with one of their wines.
We were lucky enough to not only try several of these award winning wines on a blustery Spring day but to pair them with Shana's creamy bries and silky blues after a tour of her brand spanking new CFIA registered state of the art creamery. Shana Miller, a.k.a. "The Big Cheese," discovered her passion for making cheese in 2002. She was fortunate enough to have been taught the art of making hand‐crafted cheeses by the original cheese maker for Poplar Grove, Sandra Chalmers. When Shana began creating her own cows milk cheeses for Upper Bench, almost ten years later, she wanted to mix things up and branch out. By customizing every aspect of the cheese‐making process and listening to her inner creativity Shana has been able to lovingly cultivate 60 to 80 kilograms of her own unique cheeses per week. She turns 100% Canadian pasteurized cow's milk into an extraordinary collection of blue cheeses, brie and a few washed rind cheeses. According to the Ace Bakery site, "Shana completes every step in the cheese making process by hand. This includes cutting the curd, hooping, flipping, piercing, washing, wrapping and labelling. She believes that the real difference is made when the formed curds are brined and put into the temperature and humidity controlled aging room. This is the “affinage” stage where she coaxes each wheel of cheese to its full potential."
"A self-proclaimed curd nerd,
Cheesemaking is like raising children.
The more love, nurturing,
and attention they receive,
the better they turn out.”
-- Shana Miller --
|Shana Miller and her King Cole|
She has been asked to bring along her King Cole blue, named for both branches of her family, which is a bold-flavoured, velvety semi-soft, surface ripened blue cheese with veining through out and hints of apple and pear. She has also been asked to bring her Gold which is a semi soft surface-ripened cheese, similar and yet distinct, from an Oka or Port Salut.
|Shana and her Gold|
Leading the initiative is Anita Stewart, Canadian culinary activist and chair of the Tastemaker committee for the ACE Bakery Artisan Incubator. Shana will receive advice from renowned Tastemakers, attend seminars covering branding, marketing and business planning, as well as small business financing and management from lead sponsor BMO Financial Group. The Tastemakers will co‐host and work directly with the artisans on developing recipes, hosting workshops and providing advice on their business. The Tastemakers include the likes of Lynn Crawford (Pitchin' In and Ruby Watchco), Pete Luckett (Luckett Vineyards) Anne Desjardins L'eau a la Bouche), Connie DeSousa (Top Chef Canada), John Jackson (CHARCUT Roast House), Robert McCullough (Random House), Michele Genest (Boreal Chef Cooking, North Of Ordinary Magazine).
For todays experiment into Artisan cheese and wine I decide to make Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers that are reminiscent of cheese straws and biscuits which are popular party fare. Traditionally these are made with sharp cheddar cheese. With Upper Bench Winery and Creamery King Cole these provide an alternative flavour profile combined with the classic pairing of walnuts. These shortbread-like crackers can be made up into logs and kept tightly wrapped in the freezer to have on hand for a quick accompaniment to a cheese tray whenever a glass of wine is needed. They are very tasty solo but equally stunning topped with another winery cheese Upper Bench Gold, or paired with Roasted Grapes. Roasted Grapes sound a little odd, but this is one of those recipes where the end result is more than the sum of its parts. Something wonderful happens when you apply heat to grapes tossed in fragrant olive oil. The transformation is unexpected; familiar and exotic at the same time with tasting notes of figs or plums. The recipe will be coming in an upcoming post.
I paired all with Upper Bench Chardonnay which is mentioned delivers "notes of lemon drop, honey, ripe banana and toffee to the nose. Its crisp acidity, citrus, stone fruit, mango and papaya satisfy the taste buds while subtle French oak provides a lush mid-palette and a long rich finish."
Sadly for us, for the moment, Shana's cheeses are only available at Upper Bench Winery and through the talents of some of our local notable chefs, such as Mark Filatow of Waterfront Wines in Kelowna, who feature her cheeses in their restaurants. Not only are their individual passions evident in the products they are creating, but Gavin and Shana are also an incredibly fun, warm and inviting couple who are always willing to share the love of their craft.
Kudos to Upper Bench Winery and Shana and Gavin Miller for their vision. With their passion for outstanding flavour and quality I look forward to "celebrating your flavour" every time I visit the Naramata Bench.
Read my friend Roz' account of our day with the "Chicks Who Wine."
Upper Bench Winery and Creamery
170 Upper Bench Road South, Penticton, BCPhone: 250-770-1733
|Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers with Roasted Grapes and Gold|
**Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers with Gold Cheese and Roasted Grapes**
8 ounces (1/2 cup) King Cole Upper Bench Winery blue cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts (1/4 cup to be ground)
Upper Bench Gold
Roasted grapes (recipe to follow next time)
In a food processor grind 1/4 cup of toasted walnuts. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter , ground walnuts, and blue cheese together for 1 minute, or until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it's in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.
Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log to cover it completely. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days to allow the flavours to mingle.
When ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the log 1/4-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 18-22 minutes, depending on your oven, until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and store in airtight container. Serve at room temperature. In a dry location they will stay fresh for 3 - 4 weeks.
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