ITALIAN CHEESECAKE & SAUTERNES
Any sommelier’s mouth will salivate over the pairing of Sauternes and Foie Gras. It is one of those decadent matches that are written about and lusted over, but typically accessible to very few. First, most shopping center wine shops will either not carry any Sauternes, or if they do, its the cheapest quarter bottle this side of France. And then Foie Gras is, well, in addition to being difficult to even say without stuttering, not something you’ll find in your local grocery store. In other words, this is not a everyman’s pairing. Try it if you can find it, checking it off your YOLO bucket list, but I wouldn’t hold your breath in most of the country.
That being said, Sauternes is one of my favorite wines, and I wish for everyone to experience it at least once in their lives. So if you need to resort to online shopping to get your hands on a small bottle, then do it. And then open it, sufficiently chilled to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and instead of Fois Gras make yourself my mom's Italian cheesecake (if done right, you'll forget that you ever couldn't pronounce Fois Gras).
Sauternes is a sweet white wine made in the Bordeaux region of France. The grapes go through a process called botrytis where they literally rot on the vine. The resulting fungus strips the grapes of most of their water content leaving just the sugars behind and causing their flavors to become highly concentrated. (The wine in the bottle is, rest assured, absent of any fungus).
And what will you taste? Think honeyed apricots, tropical fruits, butterscotch, marmalade, and caramel (to name a few)…and all from some shriveled up and rotted grapes. Crazy what lemonade a master winemaker can make with the lemons nature deals them.
Now let's get started with my mom's Italian cheesecake recipe.
For the crust…
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons amaretto
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons butter, melted
For the filling…
2 pounds ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon amaretto
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set rack in the middle of the oven.
To make the crust...
- Butter and flour a 9 1/2 inch springform pan, and tap out excess flour.
- Mix all of your ingredients for the crust in a mixing bowl.
- Press your crust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the springform pan and bake for ten minutes.
To make the filling...
- Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl, and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula.
- Stir the sugar and flour together thoroughly into the ricotta.
- Stir in the eggs 1 at a time.
- Blend in the vanilla, cinnamon, amaretto, orange zest, and salt.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake in a water bath [see below on how to create one] in the center of the oven for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until a light golden color. Make sure the center is fairly firm, and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack. Cover, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before removing from pan.
- [optional] Top with your favorite fresh berries
Making a water bath for your cheesecake...the result of which will be a cheesecake free of cracks.
What will you need:
- A larger baking or roasting pan that will fit your springform pan inside, and be able to hold boiling water.
- Heavy duty aluminum foil.
- Heat safe oven bag.
What you will do:
- Wrap your springform pan in the heat safe oven bag
- Then wrap the heavy duty aluminum foil around the sides. The top of your springform pan should not be covered.
- Pour boiling water into the larger pan without splashing any on the cheesecake batter.
Sauternes, that goddess of wine, will be more expensive than you’re likely used to spending on wine, but it’s important to understand why.
Not only does the exact perfect weather need to happen for the grapes to be right for Sauternes (so in some years, an entire crop of grapes is left unsuited to make Sauternes), but each and every grape must be selected by hand (no machines have yet been invented to do the work).
Is it worth it? Every sip, both preceding and immediately following a delicate bite of creamy cheese cake, is both a reminder and an expression of respect for the incredible skill and dedicated labor that went into creating this liquid piece of art. And a perfect way to end a meal.
Primary Grapes: Sémillon.
Secondary Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
Flavors: Honeyed apricots, peaches, candied citrus fruits, tropical fruits, butterscotch, marmalade, caramel and baking spices.
When visiting Chateau Climens in Barsac, Bordeaux, I took this picture while walking their rows of Sémillon grape vines. Their staff were incredibly kind, courteous, and generous with us as we participated in a vertical tasting spanning over 25 years. The acidity in Sauternes allows it to hold up nicely to time, and ages into mature, deep, rich baked notes not yet showing in younger years.
Expressing to you so much more than simply "enjoy your meal".