Papa Joe's Gourmet Market is an extreme food emporium that should be visited by anyone who's serious about food and who isn't? Bill Schwab is their sommelier and maître de fromage (that's "wine and cheese expert" for you Anglophones). On Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22, Schwab will be introducing some unique wine and cheese pairings just in time for spring, unveiling some of the best in international and domestic cheese and wine.
Metro Times: Bill, tell me what your credentials mean.
Bill Schwab: I am a certified sommelier, having taken the master sommelier course and passed the test. It is really a restaurant title, but I use it because I pair so much food and wine together here at the store that I think it's appropriate. A year ago I took the course offered at the Artisanal Cheese Center for maître de fromage. It helped me see the difference between the cheeses we are used to and what cheese can be. I'm a huge cheese fan, but I rarely ate it until I tasted cheese in Europe. Cheese in the U.S. is usually wrapped in plastic, which mutes the flavors. It's when you get it alive and breathing when cheese is magical.
MT: Where can you find "good" cheese in Michigan?
Schwab: Zingerman's in Ann Arbor does a good job. I've had fine cheese courses at Vinotecca in Royal Oak, and I've had some great cheeses at Bacco, mostly Italian, of course, with great wines as well. Bacco is prime example of the European style of service that we attempt to provide here; that is to pamper the customer, to be knowledgeable about the food and wine that we offer.
MT: Let's talk about wine. I don't consider myself a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what appeals to my palate. How does someone like me enjoy wine without becoming an expert?
Schwab: First of all, find a good wine person, someone you can go to, and describe in general terms what you like. See what this wine guy gives you. You'll invest $20 or $30 to find out if this is someone you can rely on.
MT: Are you talking about one $20 or $30 bottle, which is more than many people typically spend?
Schwab: No. I mean two or three $10 bottles of wine will get you there. This will enable someone to determine the direction to take you. There are inexpensive wines that resemble the "finer" wines. Of course you won't find some of the characteristics in a $10 bottle that you'll find in a $60 bottle, but you can find an excellent Chilean wine, for instance, that gives you hints of a Bordeaux that is several times that price.
MT: How would you define the differences between wines at different price levels?
Schwab: All wines have attributes or nuances. You can get a nice tasting Cabernet Sauvignon for five or six dollars. If you want it to be rich and full-bodied, that costs more. If you want it to have a spicy, oaky finish, that costs more. It's somewhat like buying a car. You pay extra for power windows or an automatic transmission. If you want American oak, you pay extra.
MT: Car options are more quantifiable than "wine options." Power windows are power windows. I have no idea how American oak differs from French oak.
Schwab: If you don't know the difference, don't spend the money. Conversely, I can guide you to the wines that will help educate your palate, at any price level. Let's say that you have tried a Cabernet and you loved the American oak and the rich chewy fruit, but you don't want to spend more than $20. I might suggest an Australian Shiraz that has those same characteristics for a lot less money.
MT: Let's talk about cheese. I like grana padano and I like Parmesan Reggiano; both are a little salty and nutty flavored. The prices range from $7 to $20 a pound.
Schwab: They go even higher than that. It's similar to what we have been discussing about wine. Find what you like and determine whether the additional cost gives you the flavor that's worth it. We have cheeses from small producers that we are anxious for you to sample. Buy cheese in small quantities and consume them within a few days. Think of it as you would a bottle of wine or even a glass of wine. Most wines should be consumed when they are young. Cheeses, similarly, are mature when you buy them.
MT: People used to say that there were rules regarding the pairing of wine and food, especially forbidding us not to drink red wine with seafood or white wine with lamb. Please tell our readers and me that this no longer applies. I have been breaking those rules forever.
Schwab: You are forgiven. Eat the foods you like and drink the wine you like. They will be compatible if you enjoy them. Sure, there are some foods that will overpower the nuances of some wines, but in general eat and drink what you like.
Papa Joe's Gourmet Market is located at 34244 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-9400.Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly interview for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org