There are very few things in life more pleasurable than getting together with friends, sharing some wine and enjoying good food.
For those of us who like to cook, it gives us a chance to shop the farmers' markets, try out new recipes and revive old favorites, and perhaps indulge in appetizers and desserts that liven up the place rather than providing boring (and pretty dismal) bean dip and crinkle chips.
At The Wine Country, we have discovered some wonderful nibbles and nosh that can help add energy to the tables of cooks and non-cooks alike.
Crackers & Chips
Let's start with crackers and chips. As a wine store, we want to serve foods that don't fight our wines, and with crackers, we want them to have the crack and crunch that make them fun to eat, yet still provide satisfying flavor. Check out La Panzanella, Firehook and Rustic Bakery crackers in flavors like sea salt, sea salt and rosemary, olive oil and salt, black pepper and such.
For adventure, try some Spanish crackers called Regañas Tapas Crackers, but for pure pleasure, try a few of Beecher's Flagship Crackers, which are cheese-nips for grownups that act like catnip for me.
They all taste good with cheese, spreads or meats, and best of all, they won't fight your wine.
Patés That'll Rock Your World
Since the beginning of our store, we've served the Three Little Pigs (Trois Petits Cochons) Mousse Truffée at all of our Saturday wine tastings, and our customers have responded by buying tubs and tubs of the delicacy for their home wine accompaniment. Since then, we've added the luxurious Mousse de Canard de Foie Gras, a bit more expensive, but oh-so-worth-it.
Equally compelling, and favorites of Randy's, are our Alexian Patés--we're currently stocking nine of them. They are made in country-style, like Pheasant & Rosemary and Wild Mushroom, and in the smooth, elegant style typified by Duck Liver Mousse with Cognac, Grand Marnier Paté, Goose Liver with Port Wine and Truffle Mousse. For you vegetarians, Alexian also makes a Vegetable Paté that is as flavorful as it is colorful. I like adding a little Fallot Dijon, Green Tarragon or Seed Style Mustard to the country patés to give them a little flavorful zing
Spanish Chorizos & More
Bland deli meats have been a staple of American diets from schoolyard sandwiches to franks & bean picnic casseroles. A visit to The Wine Country can change all of that in a hurry. Cured and uncured (natural preservatives only) Spanish and Spanish-style chorizos add authenticity to your gatherings. If you are drinking Spanish wine, why serve anything named Oscar Meyer or Farmer John?
Brands like Doña Juana and Fermin provide flavorful meats, as well as pork superstar La Quercia who make authentic Prosciutto and Pancetta in Iowa! Olli makes flavorful sliced salamis, like Fennel Pollen, Genoa and Toscano, and we have fallen in love with the salamis of chef Paul Bertoli called Fra'Mani in Piemonte, Calabrese and Salametto flavors. If you have a hankering for mini hot dogs, look to Doña Juana Cantimpalitos for a flavor-bursting alternative.
Don't forget the spreads for your home spread. We've discovered some pretty righteous alternatives to Lipton soup onion dip (even though I've had a lifelong crush on the stuff).
Jimtown Ranch, named after the famous roadside store and vineyard in the sleepy part of Sonoma's Alexander Valley, has created three fresh olive spreads worth checking out: Chopped Olive, Artichoke, Olive & Caper and Fig & Olive. Tapenade perfection.
And you absolutely must try a local discovery, Bitchin' Sauce from Huntington Beach, in Original, Chipotle and Bombay (curry-flavored). They resemble hummus, but the base is made from almonds instead of chickpeas. One nibble of a cracker with Bitchin' Sauce on top and you'll not be able to stop eating it.