Photo by Chung Chow
There are few nicer ways to spend a summer Saturday evening in one’s community than sharing good food and good wine in good company.
That’s what Debbie Hertha, the gerontologist for the City of Richmond and Jens Hertha, proprietor of D Original Sausage Haus, have created at Village Books and Coffee House in Steveston. This pop-up meal and tasting is limited to 24 people.
A truly village effort, Ryan Lewis, whose day job is cutting hair at Steveston Barbers, uses his wine expertise, born of much research, to pair different BC wines with each of the charcuterie courses.
Angela and Ron Hill of Village Books offer the venue and the hot beverages at the end of the meal to complement the luscious dessert, a chocolate pot de crème from Steveston’s Sweet Spot Bakery.
The meal kicked off with two kinds of Weisswurst, or white sausage. This hot first course, actually a typical German breakfast food, came with half a pretzel bun and some sweet Bavarian mustard.
The flavour was gentle, the texture soft, and the whole course—hearty and delicious.
“Bavarians never eat weisswurst after noon and they usually have it with wheat beer,” says Hertha.
Paired with this course was a sparkling white wine from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards, a family that started out at Cedar Creek Winery.
The Fitzpatrick wine is only available in the Okanagan, Lewis says.
He elucidates the reason for his choice: “Think about texture when pairing food and wine. I find that the bubbles and the seeded mustard go well together.”
Trying not to to fill up on the two kinds of crackers, one a simple herbed crisp called Croccantini Crackers from la Panzanella and the other Kii Naturals’ Mediterranean Crisps with bit of Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes, presented a challenge.
They were eminently munchable making them very hard to leave alone as we sat in the quiet hum of happy voices, old friends and those newly made, with the faint aroma of good books lending a comfortable atmosphere.
The books also served to calm the sound, adding to the cozy and friendly atmosphere to this pop-up meal, a forté of Debbie Hertha’s.
The second course, a beautifully-arranged plate of white asparagus rolled in a variety of hams with a green salad was paired with a Cedar Creek Riesling.
This wine, available in BC Liquor Stores, Lewis described as high acid which, he said, meant it went well with rich food and also with spicy food, for example to cut the spice in some of the ham.
He pronounced it “a great pairing.”
The flavours did go well together. The slight sweetness of the wine went well with the hint of sugar in the white asparagus and hams.
With three different hams, ranging from Black Forest to a prosciutto-style Serrano to a country ham, we munchers had a chance to learn not only about different wines, but different hams.
And the variety was surprisingly broad with each having a separate but equally delicious taste.
White, European-style, asparagus has none of the bitterness of green asparagus. It’s grown by heaping sand or soil over the growing asparagus fern sprouts to keep the sun from turning them green, much like blanching celery to keep the sun from turning the stocks’ flavour too strong.
Hard to find here, most white asparagus comes canned from Europe and is expensive enough that using a few spears in ham rolls, instead of serving them as a vegetable dish, is a good way to explore the flavour without breaking the bank.
A crisp, local salad with a herb dressing rounded out this course.
The cold charcuterie course, the third, offered another Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards wine, this time a Rosé which was paired with German Shinken, which is a prosciutto style ham, a Nostrano salami, Lachsshinken which is a meat version of moist smoked salmon, an Italian-style fennel salami and a Terrine with cranberry, cognac and truffles in it.
Normally not a fan of liver, this terrine was mild, flavourful and creamy, offering a chance to eat more crackers as it spread well.
Each of the different kinds of charcuterie had a rich flavour of their own, distinctive but equally scrumptious.
That was a hallmark of the evening, a vast variety of flavours that went well with each other yet each tasted distinctly different.
The flavours of the rosé wine went particularly well with the paté-like terrine.
Also with this charcuterie course were three cheeses, an Italian brie which was soft, creamy and spread well on the crackers; Cambolzola –a German blue brie-style that also cried out for crackers; and two firmer, bolder-flavoured cheeses—the Bellavitano Ginger Citrus from the US and Le Marechal from Switzerland.
Their sharpness went with the Envy apple slices admirably.
The antipasto, dill cornichons which were tiny cucumber pickles, and John Greek brand green olives rounded out the plate and the locally-themed evening.
The olives are ethically-sourced by Richmond’s John Greek Trading Company which also offers locals olive oil and vinegars while supporting Canuck Place.
Jens Hertha says: “He started his olive company at the same time as I started our shop.”
And the flavour created a convert. “I never ate olives until I ate his,” says Jens, “Now I eat them all the time.”
After sampling John Greek’s fare at the charcuterie and wine evening, I can see why.
The flavour of these marinated olives was clear, mellow and above all tasty with none of the bitterness sometimes common in plain olives.
Usually used to crunchy red wines with cheeses and cured meats, I found the rosé a different choice that still worked with the course, and isn’t that why one goes to an evening like this, to try something different, to tweak your interest, or to challenge your taste buds and preconception?
The fourth course arrived. By this time, I was regretting enjoying quite so many crispy crackers. While the wine pourings were generous but not outrageous (though the hosts offered extra wine and food with each course), for someone not in the habit of drinking alcohol, the alcohol, while delicious, had a noticeable effect.
When the Cedar Creek Cabernet Merlot arrived, it tasted marvellous, as a good red should.
Our sommelier for the evening, Lewis, mentioned this wine had some Cabernet Frank in it to round out the flavour.
A lovely cheese and charcuterie wine, it had the added bonuses of not only being available at local liquor board stores but also is under $20 per bottle.
The wine went well with the assertive flavours, enhancing without overpowering each mouthful.
This course saw grilled sausages, one each of porchini/red wine and a slightly spicier bourbon whiskey sausage.
Both were Bratwust, German-style sausages meant to be cooked and served hot, often from the BBQ. With Dijon mustard for dipping and beautifully stewed red cabbage to round out the course. Interestingly enough, the texture of the red cabbage was perfect and gave no hint that it started the day dehydrated, the way it comes in the package. It might be an option for not just for dinners at home but also for glamping, a taste of luxury under the stars.
Of this wine pairing, Lewis said, “The sausages have the weight to go with a more robust red, like the Cedar Creek Cab Merlot.”
Debbie Hertha suggested using some of the dinner’s wine while cooking when a recipe calls for vino because then the dish’s flavour and the drink’s will go together well.
I took a miss on crackers this time round.
As I sipped the wine, I was all the more glad we had arranged for my companion’s daughter to chauffeur us as we tested out words in other languages for tipsy.
Others brought a designated driver or arranged for a cab.
Some lucky folks could just stroll home in the warm, velvet air of a summer night.
The pourings were generous enough that no one who drained even just one each of the tasting glasses should have driven. None did.
Just as we sipped the last of our glorious red wine, the fifth course arrived; Steveston’s Sweet Spot Bakery provided the grand finale, creamy chocolate Pot de Créme with slivers of translucent candied orange and crispy white chocolate balls gracing the top.
Sweet Spot’s Kirsten Degenhardt and Keiran Flaherty created a stunning end to the evening.
We’d eaten so well, so my companion and I each offered the last half of our desserts to our chauffeuse who arrived early.
I rarely regret my generosity, though, as I write this, the memory of that dessert clear in my senses, I regret not having that other rich, creamy chocolate half to eat now.
Asked what they thought of this charcuterie and wine evening, our table mates, regulars Les, Adeline and Sylvia, their designated driver for the evening, said, “This is a favourite!”
It was conviviality defined.
Like Steveston this evening was not pretentious.
It was not done to impress. It was done to enjoy. The price for what you got was reasonable.
The dinner was done to get friends together with a variety of fine foods they might not have tasted before, with wines they may not have thought of trying before particularly in those combinations, and to have a community enjoy each other’s company.
Could someone go by themselves? Absolutely. You won’t be friendless for long.
The conversation was good. The atmosphere comfortable and cozy.
Would I go again? Oh yes, but I’d go easy on the crackers.
And I’d arrange for a ride ahead of time. I’m glad we did.
For more information or tickets to the next Charcuterie and Wine Evening on September 9 at Village Books in Steveston, go to http://www.doriginalsausagehaus.ca/events
For more information also see https://www.facebook.com/villagebookscoffee/, http://www.stevestonbarbers.com/, http://www.johngreek.com/, https://www.thesweetspotbakery.ca/