Some cheeses have natural pairing affinity for beverages of all types and would go equally well with a beer as with a glass of cranberry juice. Other cheeses are just better enjoyed on their own. And then there are the cheeses that are made to match with wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, or anything else potent, as if it's their destiny to play the role of pairing partner to your Happy Hour beverage.
Perhaps no other cheese illustrates this concept quite as well as the Spanish cheese Murcia Al Vino, or Drunken Goat, destined by its time spent soaking in red wine to be just as friendly with your drinks as your neighborhood bartender is with his regulars.
From the pasteurized milk of local Murciana goats comes — go figure — "Murcia al Vino," made in the town of Jumilla in Murcia, Spain. Drunken Goat wheels are soaked for two to three days in "doble pasta," or "double paste" wine, thus the "vino" portion of its name. Doble Pasta wine is a richer, more heavy wine, due in part to the fact that it's made by fermenting the wine twice. The cheese is then aged for two and a half months, and retains a really pleasant semi-soft texture, and a lingering creaminess.
Drunken Goat is decidedly wine-y, and you'll sense this more by its smell than its taste, and by the rich color of the rind. Drunken Goat is one of those cheeses that is so safe to go with wine that we'd recommend it with just about anything, even a random bottle you pick up whose quality may be in question. In fact, this cheese would probably turn any not-so-great wine into one that's not-so-bad. Some cheeses have this magical ability.
But try this cheese not only with wine, but also with cocktails. Its flavor is sweet, with a goaty creaminess, which is what perhaps makes the cheese so great with such a slew of alcoholic beverages. And that underlying, winey brightness is what will make this cheese so amenable to other spirited liquids.
I can't say just how often customers came during my days as a retail cheesemonger, almost on auto-pilot, towards the cheese counter requesting this cheese. It was as though these devoted supporters had found their cheese; they needed nothing new in their repertoire to satisfy. And I couldn't blame them: it's a cheese that isn't overtly boozy. Rather, it's one that is floral and mellow, straight-up satisfying, and dreamy creamy.
Drunken Goat isn't overly complex. It won't have you contemplating its subtleties. But it is delicious and great with typical party fare: crackers, grapes, nuts. And any drink on offer. You'll love it, we promise. There's really nothing not to like about it, which is more than we can say for that questionable bottle of wine you chose on a whim.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.