Last Saturday I took a mid-day trip to Seneca Lake with my friend and co-worker, Caitlin, for the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s March Preferred Pairings event. We both enjoy visiting Seneca, even in winter weather, and we were extra-excited to see one of our friends from our work at Rev, Ithaca’s business incubator: Tumino Cheese Company.
For Preferred Pairings, Mariann and John Fessenden of Tumino partnered with Lakewood Vineyards. Neither Caitlin nor I had been to Lakewood before, and we agreed that we were glad we had been guided to their tasting room. The view was lovely, the staff friendly, and the wines they poured were all great pairings.
Tumino focused very closely on a particular style of Italian cheese called toma. Toma is a farmer’s cheese, and the Tumino team experiments with different aging and flavoring to get maximum variety out of this style. Tumino also uses exclusively Jersey milk, which is richer than the milk you buy in bottles at the store. The higher fat content gives their cheese a delectable smoothness.
I love meeting people who love their work, and everyone working this event was visibly brimming with happy energy. I was impressed with Mariann’s expertise and enthusiasm for the subtleties of the cheese-making process; when she’s describing curd, she glows! Her husband, John, was working the sample table, and he walked us through the styles with a relaxed, friendly attitude. Working for Lakewood was Tracy – a great addition to the crew, since he’s clearly sampled the cheeses himself and can speak clearly about both the wine and the food.
For the tasting, we sampled:
- Kidders Toma with Black Pepper, paired with Lakewood’s Cabernet Franc 2014
- This cheese is one of Tumino’s flagship products, featuring a light touch of black peppercorns. Mariann says the addition of the black pepper early on changes the fermentation ever so slightly (by reducing some types of bacteria and not others), resulting in a noticeably different texture. The cheese was firm but creamy, a really enjoyable mouth-feel, and it paired nicely with the light Cabernet Franc. Caitlin, who is a black pepper fiend, loved this cheese.
- Old Grey Mare Toma, paired with Sparkling Catawba 2015
- Described as a “cooking cheese,” Old Grey Mare falls somewhere on the asiago to dry mozzarella spectrum. It was a nice nibble, but I would have liked it best mixed into a pasta dish or salad. The bite of the cheese went well with the wine, which is made from an American grape variety. I don’t always enjoy the juicy wines made from American grapes, but this pairing was very tasty and completely won me over.
- Song Toma with Juniper Berries, paired with Niagara 2016
- This cheese was my favorite, with a lovely texture and the unique addition of strong juniper flavor. Mariann described this as an Italian alps riff on toma, because of the use of the juniper berries. While I must admit it was a good pairing with the Niagara, I would not personally drink this sweeter wine alone – I’m rarely interested in sweet wines. The Finger Lakes do produce some great “grape juice” varieties, and if you enjoy the juicy, higher residual sugar wines, take my disinterest in this one as a sign that you might enjoy it!
- Razzle’s Choice Toma, paired with Vignoles 2015
- A close second for favorite cheeses, the Razzle’s Choice includes a high dose of cayenne flakes. Unlike other “pepper” cheeses I’ve tasted, this one actually bursts with flavor and has a nice warm burn to it; I immediately imagined putting it on crackers with sweet jams and dried fruits, while Caitlin started talking about melting it on pasta. We were both quite inspired by the flavors. It was paired with the Vignoles, a wine that surprised me. Remember how I just said I’m not a fan of most sweeter wines? Well, I could certainly picture myself drinking this Vignoles on a hot day with mouth-searing tacos. Tracy, who was pouring for us, said he also likes this cheese with beer.
- Captain Ogden Toma, paired with Glaciovinum 2015
- This cheese is part skim and aged for longer than the other Tumino tomas, and my notes next to it state: YUM! It has a drier, firmer texture than the others on this list and a nice, nutty bite to it. I think this would make a great addition to any cheese plate, since even one bite of it shows of the unique flavor and texture. And, as you may have guessed, Glaciovium is ice wine… and my lack of enthusiasm for ice wines means I cannot give you an accurate picture of how you might like it. All the tasting notes were present (especially tropical fruits) and this wine is an award-winner, so I will let that speak to its quality. Anyone who enjoys ice wine and has tried this, please share a comment below to let us know what you think!
After our tasting, Tracy recommended we go on to Miles Wine Cellars for our next stop; it was great advice. If you live in the area, take a moment to visit their website; they are planning to host a whole variety of fun events in the warmer weather, including some in their boat house down on the lake!
I hope you enjoyed this post; I’m trying to hit more events in the region, to share with you the local flavors that I love. Finger Lakes wine hasn’t always had a great reputation, but I think the regional strengths in dry white wines and (in my non-sommelier opinion) increasingly good rosé of cabernet franc are worth a mention. I don’t recommend people come to the Finger Lakes looking for lush, full reds; I do stand by our crisp whites and summery rosés… and excellent cheeses to pair with any drink!
Be sure to visit the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s events website – they have more great events coming up very soon, including a Pasta and Wine Weekend that I wish I was able to attend. Instead, though, I suspect I’ll be on a mission to a certain sugar shack for buckwheat pancakes before the season is over… Stay tuned and follow me on Instagram for pictures of food, wine, and more.