What a PAIR

 NMU hosts wine, beer pairing event

Northern Michigan University hosted a Spanish tapas-themed menu for a wine and beer pairing event held Wednesday in partnership with other food vendors at NMU’s University Center. (Journal photos by Ryan Jarvi)

MARQUETTE — There’s a traditional school of thought when it comes to pairing drinks with foods.

Matching red wines with red meats, and white wines with white meats or fish, so that the flavors truly blend together, is somewhat the “rule of thumb,” said Nathan Mileski, executive chef and director at Northern Michigan University’s Simply Superior Catering and Events.

But there’s another school on pairing that Mileski said he’s seen chefs using more and more which isn’t just about creating that seamless blend of flavors.

“Kind of the newer one, kind of what we’re doing here a little bit, is we want the food to almost fight the pairing a little bit so you actually get the nuances of whatever you’re pairing it with — so that it’s not always the food that’s the center focus,” he said. “I think now, more, we’re focusing on what is the cocktail, what is the beer, what is the wine. By making it fight just a little bit and not being so perfect, you get to taste the orange peels in the beer … You kind of lose it if it’s matched too perfectly.”

Mileski and his culinary team created a Spanish tapas-themed menu for a wine and beer pairing event held Wednesday in partnership with other food vendors at NMU’s University Center.

At the event, now in its second year, participants had the opportunity to sample a variety of different foods and beverages, including those created by Mileski and his team.

“This started off as an event for students, something that the students were asking us for, kind of the upper classmen,” he said. “We’re getting some of those folks in, but … it’s really become a community event … and it’s kind of just a fun event on a Wednesday night to have.”

Mileski said they went with “vegetable-focused, plant-based foods” this year, which included a butternut squash empanada with green romesco on the bottom and pickled radish on top, and cold-smoked patatas bravas, a modern take on a traditional dish.

“We cold-smoked the potatoes and then we deep fry the potatoes, and the bravas sauce is nothing more than garlic, onions and tomatoes,” Mileski said. “Then we put a little bit of aioli on there, so like a garlic mayonaise.”

Cold smoking is a newer technique that involves using a temperature-controlled smoker at 100 degrees or lower, Mileski said. Anything above that mark, he added, is considered hot smoking.

“We do that so the potato doesn’t start to cook, and by doing that the potato absorbed more of the smoke,” Mileski explained. “Classically, too, this (bravas) sauce is really heavy with smoked paprika, and we left it out because the smoke is coming from the potatoes.”

The patatas bravas were paired with Cognition Brewing Company’s Suspended in Light lager, while the empanadas were paired with Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s Kamikaze Kaleidoscope.

“That has orange and lemon peel, it has a note of coriander, which the squash is roasted with — coriander and cumin — and it will help with the … freshness of the romesco,” Mileski said.

Though he admitted pairing may be more connected to European lifestyles, Mileski said a lot of local wine and beer stores are helpful resources for people looking for more information on pairing combinations.

“We don’t think about (pairing) as much here in America,” he said. “I think people are starting to come around with what’s out there, but I think if you’re having a dinner party or something, absolutely try to pair those things and enhance the experience for your guests.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.