Sunday, January 18, 2015

Up Close & Personal with The Sandwich King, Jeff Mauro

There are those of us who were born to entertain, imbued with a certain sense of timing, personality, drive and love of people that compels us to be the center of attention. It's a burning desire to make people laugh, or to somehow make an impact on an emotional level. Whether our preferred method of delivery is word or deed, song, painting, or plate of food, the desire to seek a public audience is something we are born with. As an entertainer most of my adult life, I understand. Some of us just have an innate need to bring joy, laughter, tears, or in some cases any type of emotional reaction from those around us, or in the audience. Something about type A personalities. Certainly my friend Jeff Mauro has it. Most of us with this affliction know early on what we want in a career. For me it was writing, music at first, and now well, here you are. For my friend Jeff Mauro, this was true at an early age as well.

I met Jeff back in 2012. We spent a few days together at the Fabulous Food Show in Ohio. We talked about careers, hopes and what the future might hold. He'd won the Next Food Network Star, and now into the 2 season of his show The Sandwich King, had gained attention, his momentum presenting a career upswing that would possibly propel him to household name status and bring him to a next level of public awareness. He was aware of the opportunity and it was very clear in our casual after-hours conversations that he was determined to work hard and take advantage of it. 

Flash ahead to December, 2014. Jeff Mauro is now the star of Food Network's Emmy-nominated Sandwich King, $24 in 24 hrs, and the immensely popular, The Kitchen, with co stars, Geoffrey Zakarian, Katie Lee, Marcela Valladolid and Sunny Anderson. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Steve Harvey Show, Chopped, Cupcake Wars and The Rachael Ray Show. When not making TV, Jeff  spends a great deal of time with his wife and first love Sarah, and roughousin’ with his five-year-old son and co-star, Lorenzo. I also hear that he plays above average blues guitar. If you know me at all, you know THAT was music to my ears. 

The thing about Jeff that I admire the most though has nothing to do with fame. It's the fact that no matter how overwhelming his schedule of TV shoots, live show appearances, as well as the frequent appearances on TV, his family stands hands above all the rest of his priorities. We'd talked for some time about him sitting down for an Up Close & Personal and the chance finally presented itself during the 2014 holiday season. His schedule is, to put it bluntly, insane. "Dude, it's crazy," he laughed. "I just got back from the Palm Beach Food & Wine, then flew out to NYC to film The Kitchen, it's nice now over the holidays I can slow down a bit. I'm going on vacation with the family, my wife and son, right after Christmas. But yeah, I basically live to get on a plane." 

Family, to most Italians, including Jeff, is most important. Born in 1978 in Chicago, IL, he was a ham on a roll from the very beginning. As one of 4 kids, he was the family comedian, making the whole family laugh.

Jeff’s flair for the stage was discovered early on in Roosevelt Jr. High 3rd grade's legendary production of "Let George Do It!" From that point on, he immersed himself in the performing arts and flourished. "I was always decent in sports, I kinda liked it, but between you and me, I hated moving. I didn't gravitate toward physical activity. If you see pictures of me I was a chubby kid."

He explained, "It started in the 3rd grade with that play. I went for the part, we all had to audition. I played King George IV. I was like, 'I can do a British accent!' I don''t know where I got it, TV, nursery rhymes, who knows...but I nailed it. Got the part." He continued, "My mom and dad had no idea I had the ability to perform, after all it was third grade. I went out there in the first scene, and breaking into an English accent, quoted lines, ('What ho, what is this nonsense..etc,)' in a Shakespearean manner. My parents from that point on encouraged me into that world. I took Youth Second City classes, was in all the schools plays. I was the funny kid at home and in class. I just wanted to make people laugh from a very young age."

Jeff graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, IL. I mentioned that I had an uncle who had attended Bradley and he replied, "Two of my three siblings, my wife and my sister-in-law all went to Bradley. Out here, everybody goes to Bradley. We don't stray far." Since he was talking about staying in the area close to his roots, I asked him about his keeping things local to his hometown, Elmwood Park and Chicago. He explained, "The only time I lived away from this area, this literal square mile, my whole life, was when my wife and I moved to LA. I was hustling back then, trying to get a cooking show. I went to culinary school out there, but this neighborhood, it always pulls me back. I'm six miles from downtown Chicago, the third largest city in the country. There really is no reason to leave. I notice that folks who've made it in this market (career wise) leave and go to New York or LA. I wanted to stay close and raise my kids here. Have them go to the same schools I went to."

Right after college, armed with a degree in communications, Jeff naturally opened up a deli called Prime Time with his cousin, a fellow chef. Because that's what you do with a degree in communications, you open a sandwich shop. It was there that he honed his people skills and fell in love with cooking and crafting sandwiches. I asked him about graduating top of his class from culinary school. He answered proudly, "Yup, top of my class; never was late, never missed a day." Jeff graduated Valedictorian, packed up his Honda and returned to Chicago. "I felt I needed to legitimize myself, especially if I wanted to be on camera as a professional cook. Practically, if this whole entertainment thing didn't work out, cheffing would be a
fallback." He expanded, "I was 25 or so, it was my second round of school, so I knuckled down....I didn't want to blow it. I showed up early, I cooked harder. I cleaned harder. I was yelling at all the 18-year old students, 'Let's hustle.'"

I asked him what from culinary school had the biggest impact on him as a chef. He answered immediately, "The fundamentals. You can learn from another chef at a restaurant, but I got a good, broad foundation, doing a spectrum of different foods correctly." Instead of going right back to pursuing his TV career, Jeff put in his chef time, as a culinary instructor and successful private chef, while still finding time to be a local comedic performer. "I answered an ad for a corporate chef, for their cafeteria. I went there and the place was a disaster." He remembered, "They had this cafe, the guy doing it all wrong. I transformed it into this destination for people in the offices. I was prepping and cleaning and cooking and interacting all day with all kinds of people. It was great training, steady work and I did my comedy at night."

After 3 unsuccessful audition attempts, he finally landed himself on Season 7 of Next Food Network Star, which he totally won. He offered, "The third time trying out I sent a video. It started because my wife had a premonition. She simply said, 'Send the video, it's going to change our lives,' and she was right." I then touched on his inclusion of his family into his TV show, speaking about the support of his family and especially his wife Sarah. He replied, "My wife was a nurse, I was a cook. We'd known each other since I was a freshman in college. We've been together since we were 21 years old, and she knew I had these dreams. She supported me. She came to LA with me. She was one of 3 people at a comedy show. I want to honor that commitment. I think a lot of people shy away from that, putting their kid, or family in front of the camera, I get that. We're all growing in this together. My son has done 30 episodes of television," he stated firmly. "My wife, my parents, aunts, uncles, they've all been on the show. I want to share this with them. I was approached to do a reality show, cus my family is a bunch of nutzos," he laughed, "but that's where I draw the line."

We talked about his success and accolades for his show Sandwich King and The Kitchen, but I wanted to step back a bit and asked why he stuck to his guns arguing 'sandwiches will sell,' when he won The Next Food Network Star. "It was authentic to me," he explained," I didn't want to change who I was. I think I embody what the sandwich represents, it's an extension of my personality; ya know, kinda fun, loose and creative. I'm not the guy whose going to do farm-to-table, or funky crazy food. Sandwiches was one of the only things not being done on TV that I thought could sustain a series."

Five years later, and a few Emmy nominations would prove Jeff was right. "Luckily I was never persuaded to veer off. I think I gave them a lot, I spoke my mind in those interviews, I hammed it up during the cooking portions." He remembered, "My goal was to show that I could make good television. To show I was producible. That is at least half of the equation, half the job requirements." Jeff brings something to the table that is part of the chemistry of good entertainers. Not only are they producible and able to follow direction, but some like Jeff, have an ability to self produce. They have a certain instinct for where the camera is, the timing, and an overall awareness of the bigger picture that the audience sees.

That brought his new show The Kitchen to the conversation "I love the puzzle of it (television). That's why I like The Kitchen so much, I sit back. I know who's talking when, when to jump in. We're getting into a rhythm now. Geoffery and I are very good friends. He and his wife were one of the first to welcome us with open arms, our wives are good friends." He laughed, "Even though we couldn't be more opposite, he laughs at my crap. We play off each other. When he and Sunny came along to the cast, all of us already had a history, so we were all glad to be working together."

I asked him about his little sidekick, Lorenzo. Does he know who dad is? How does he handle the notoriety, people coming up to Dad all the time, the cameras etc.? He replied candidly, "Oh yeah, he gets it. He's unaffected by it to a certain degree. We never talk about it. If someone brings it up we're honest and open about it. It's all about how we conduct ourselves," he continued. "We teach him you don't act all cooler than everyone else just because you're on TV. I raise him to believe that you work for your stuff. You bring your dish to the sink and clean it for yourself. We live in a normal house, I mean, we live in the same neighborhood I grew up in! We're ten feet from the sidewalk. We sit on the stoop. We are the same. We're normal. He goes to the same catholic school I went to. C'mon , I mean that's amazing! He goes to the same kindergarten classroom I did," he proclaims proudly."It's funny though. When we were out one time and he wanted quicker service, he said, 'you know my dad is The Sandwich King,' and we'll were' like...'Lorenzo!' He laughed, "Needless to say he's a typical Chicagoan. He'll grease a couple of palms, or drop a few names when he has to."

We talked blues guitar, my band days and his collection of guitars and there was some talk of my coming out to play a little blues. Seems Jeff, who's played since freshman year in college, gets together with some of the crew between shoots of his show and they jam. Here is just another example of a constantly creative mind, ever at work trying to find avenues of release. "Instead of sitting there in-between shoots, staring at my phone like a dolt, we play music. It's changed my motivation. The music settles me." With regard to what's coming up in the near future, he mentioned a possible book and some irons in the fire that he is considering, but was very close to the vest. To me, he seems content with the balance and direction of his life right now, and it's clearly evident he's in a good place, content to ride the wave and see where it leads. In wrapping up, on behalf of you my readers, I posed Jeff some questions on a series of topics I thought you might find interesting.

On his most embarrassing moment: 
"It was season two of Sandwich King," he remembers. "We had a brand new set, new production team. It was the first scene, of the first movement, of the first was the first everything. To raise the stakes a bit higher for me, the head of the network stops in to supervise, Bob Tishman. All new crew, all new director, everything new. I'm prepping for the first scene, chopping parsley and I cut off a good chunk of my thumb. Brand new knife, so sharp you could use it as a razor. Shut down production for three hours. Bob said, 'Don't worry, the  same thing happened to Rachael Ray so maybe it's good luck.'

Jeff's go to kitchen gadget at home:
"I would have to say my flat bottom griddle pan," he offered, "No ridges. You can do like 4 pancakes, 4 eggs, grilled cheese."

Favorite food his mom made growing up: 
"Without question, we would get this on special occasions, like birthdays, Christmas, etc.. Her Braciole. So good. So rich. So delicious."

I finished up and asked him what it's like coming full circle. Judging when he sits in on Chopped vs back when he started, being judged, his immediately response was "It's much better to judge than to be judged, let's get that straight right out of the box. But I love doing this. I sit there and think 'this is
the greatest thing in the world, what I do.' Between shooting episodes on the set, as I sit there it hits me and I can't believe that I'm doing this. It's surreal." With regard to his even more hectic TV and appearance schedule, he added, "I get in and I get out. Once the work is done, my priority is to get back here to my family. Home. As long as I can do that, I'm ok with it."
It's apparent that hard work and dedication pays off. Especially when you've got your priorities right.

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into the man behind the sandwich. You can get more information about Jeff on his website: Follow him on Social Media: twitter, facebook, instagram.

Til next time, 
All Photos courtesy of Jeff Mauro

Monday, December 29, 2014

Simple NY Style Bagels. Oy, what a recipe!

I don't know about you but, I love a good bagel. When I lived in Florida, trying to get a good NY style bagel was an adventure to say the least. So, for all you transplanted NY'ers as well as those who love a good bagel and a schmear, the following bagel recipe, along a link to my recipe for home-made lox found here, should keep you going. Both recipes are easy to do and well worth the effort!

The bagel was invented  in Kraków, Poland, as a competitor to the bublik, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent. Leo Rosten wrote in "The Joys of Yiddish" about the first known mention of the word bajgiel in the "Community Regulations" of the city of Kraków in 1610, which stated that the item was given as a gift to women in childbirth. In the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the bajgiel became a staple of the Polish national diet and a staple of the Slavic diet generally.

Bagels were brought to the United States by Polish-Jews, and first gained popularity in New York City, an industry that was controlled for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all the bagels by hand. The bagel came into more general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th century, which was due at least partly to the efforts of bagel baker Harry Lender,then sons Murray and Sam along with Florence Sender, who pioneered automated production and distribution of frozen bagels in the 1960s.

Fresh Homemade Bagel Recipe
1 1/4 cups warm water (80 degrees)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 quarts boiling water
3 tablespoons white sugar

 Optional Toppings
1/2 cup lightly toasted chopped onions (2 teaspoons each)
2 tablespoons poppy seeds (about 1/2 teaspoon each)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (about 1/2 teaspoon each)
1 tablespoon pretzel salt (about 1/4 teaspoon each)


Pre-heat oven to  350F (180C)
Mix water, salt, sugar, yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 min. Add remaining ingredients. Mix until it forms a single dough ball. (If using a bread machine, place water, salt, sugar, flour and yeast in the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Dough setting.) Allow bread to rise for 45 minutes (bread machine will beep when rising cycle is done). Place dough on a floured surface and cut into 9 equal pieces and roll each piece into a small ball. Flatten balls. Poke a hole in the middle of each with your thumb. Twirl the dough on your finger or thumb to enlarge the hole. Cover with a clean cloth and allow bagels to rise another 40-50 min or until double in size.

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 3 tbs of sugar. Boil bagels one minute on each side, then place on wire rack to allow water to drip off.

Brush bagels with either egg wash (1 egg white and 1/4 cup warm water). Top with your favorite topping. Sprinkle an un-greased baking sheet with cornmeal. Place bagels on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake
20 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 9 medium sized bagels. Just like Mr. Lender's, you can freeze and enjoy whenever you're in the mood for a delicious bagel.

Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy!

Bon Appetit,


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Simple Guide to Understanding Champagne

It's time for me cover my all time favorite result of the fermentation of grapes, champagne. I absolutely adore it in all its forms and will never, ever, turn down a glass of 'the bubbly'. While Champagne is quite popular throughout most of the year, I was not surprised to learn that a full quarter (25%) of all the champagne & sparkling wine sold in a given year, is done so during the final week of the year between Christmas and New Year's. I'm going to cover the ABC's of this wonderful sparkling beverage and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Let's start out by examining what makes champagne, well...champagne!

Champagne is produced exclusively in the Champagne region of France, the area from which it takes its name, and only wines made from this region are allowed and can properly be called champagne. While the term 'champagne' is used by some makers of sparkling wine in other parts of the world, most countries limit the use of the term to only those wines that come from the champagne appellation. In Europe, this is strictly adhered to due to its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Other countries, such as the United States, have some leeway with regard to the use of the term 'champagne' by use of a legal structure that allows those producers who have been making sparkling wine for a long period of time to continue to use the term 'champagne' under specific circumstances.

How It's Made
Champagne is a blend of, for the most part, three grape varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. When making the base wine, grapes are pressed in a very careful method so as not to allow the color or bitter qualities from the skin to flow into the juice. This is especially true of the black grape types. This juice is then set aside and starts the first fermentation and aging process. Each batch of juice is set aside separately and blending is not done until after fermentation. Once this process is done, the juices are blended to make the base wine which is known as cuvée. In some cases, aged samples, as well as those from many different vineyards, are used. In very rare situations, it is possible that close to 100 different samples have been used to make this base wine.

Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine. Around 1700, sparkling champagne, as we know it today, was born in France. However, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merrett documented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation six years before Dom Pérignon arrived in the Abbey of
Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk 'invented' champagne. This is the process that gives champagne and sparkling wine its 'bubbles'.

Méthode Champenoise is the traditional Dom Pérignon method by which champagne is produced. After primary and bottling, a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This second fermentation is induced by adding several grams of yeast and several grams of rock sugar. According to the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, a minimum of 1.5 years is required to completely develop all the flavor. In years where there is an exceptional harvest, a millesimé is declared. This means that the champagne will be very good and has to mature for at least 3 years. During this time the champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap similar to that used on beer bottles.

As the yeast consumes the sugars, alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. Since it is trapped in the bottle, it waits for you and I to 'pop' the cork and release it for all of us to enjoy, and yes, even to sometimes wear. A sediment is then formed that settles to the bottom of the bottle called lees. In the traditional labor intensive method of fermentation and aging, bottles are turned and rotated either manually or mechanically in a process called remuage for a period of up to three months to allow all the lees to settle into the necks of the bottles. After chilling the bottles, the neck is frozen, and the cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice containing the lees, and the bottle is quickly corked to maintain the carbon dioxide in the wine. Some syrup is sometimes added to maintain the level within the bottle.

I should note here that when buying 'cheaper', less expensive champagnes, the reason they are less expensive is that they do not go through méthode champenoise, the long and traditional process described above. They get their carbonation in the same way soda does, through compressed carbon dioxide gas blasted into the wine. This is the reason that truly well made champagnes are so delicate. The méthode champenoise creates very small bubbles that last quite a long time, while the compressed air carbonation method creates very large bubbles that have a short life and can actually be quite aggressive.

History of Champagne
Although the French monk Dom Perignon did not invent champagne, it is true he developed many advances in the production of this beverage, including holding the cork in place with a wire collar to withstand the fermentation pressure. In France, the first sparkling champagne was created accidentally; its pressure led it to be called 'the devil's wine' (le vin du diable) as bottles exploded or the cork jolted away. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, champagne was for a very long time, made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the only fermentation had finished. Champagne did not utilize the so-called méthode champenoise, the second fermentation of adding of the yeast and sugar, until the 19th century, 300 years after Christopher Merrett documented the process.

Although the first wine-producing vineyards in Champagne appeared between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, the events of the 17th century brought the beginning of champagne as we know it today. The vine-growers of Champagne had learned how to stabilize their wines and keep them fresh for several years. As a result of their hard work and the preciseness, the Champenois also obtained a white wine by combining both black and white grapes using grapes that had been grown in the Champagne region. By the last decades of that century, they mastered the mysteries of effervescence, which was their stroke of genius.

As with most great culinary discoveries, which seem to come from either Italy or France, champagne first gained world renown because of its association with the anointment of French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine from Champagne and its association with luxury and power. The leading manufacturers went well out of their way to make sure that they and the champagne they produced was associated with nobility and royalty. Through advertising and packaging, they sought to associate champagne with high luxury, festivities and rites of passage.

In 1866 the famous entertainer and star of his day, George Leybourne, began a career of making celebrity endorsements for champagne. The champagne maker Moët commissioned him to write and perform songs extolling the virtues of champagne, especially as a reflection of taste, affluence, and the good life. He agreed to drink nothing but champagne in public.

Types of Champagne

Vintage And Non-Vintage
Most of the champagne produced today is 'non-vintage,' meaning that is a blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Most of the base will be from a single year vintage with producers blending anywhere from 10-15% (even as high as 40%) of wine from older vintages. A designated 'vintage' is usually up to the wine maker and specifically tied to conditions that are very favorable. 'Vintage' wine must be composed of at least 85% of the grapes from the vintage year. Under champagne wine regulations, houses that make both vintage and non-vintage wines are allowed to use no more than 80% of the total vintage's harvest for the production of vintage champagne. This allows at least 20% of the harvest from favorable vintages to be reserved for use in non-vintage champagne. In less than ideal vintages, some producers will produce a wine from only that single vintage and still label it as non-vintage rather than as 'vintage' since the wine will be of lesser quality and the producers have little desire to reserve the wine for future blending.

Blanc de blancs
Blanc de Blancs means 'white of whites' and is used to designate champagnes made only from Chardonnay grapes. The term is occasionally used in other sparkling wine-producing regions, usually to denote Chardonnay-only wines rather than any sparkling wine made from other white grape varieties.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs are white champagnes made only from the black grape varieties of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Typically, these sparkling wines are full-bodied and deeper yellow-gold in color. They are ideal for full-flavored foods, including meats and cheeses.

Pink or Rosé
Pink or Rosé champagnes are produced by one of two methods. The traditional method involves the addition of a small amount of Pinot Noir still wine to the base wine or cuvée prior to the second fermentation. The maceration method, or skin contact method, involves the pressing of the grape skins, allowing them to soak with the juice of the grapes prior to fermentation.

Prestige cuvée
A prestige cuvée, or cuvée de prestige, is a proprietary blended wine (usually a champagne) that is considered to be the elite of a producer's range. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.

The original prestige cuvée was Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, launched in 1936 with the 1921 vintage. Until then, champagne houses produced different cuvées of varying quality, but a top-of-the-line wine produced to the highest standards (and priced accordingly) was a new idea. In fact, Louis Roederer had been producing Cristal since 1876, but this was strictly for the private consumption of the Russian tsar.

Cristal was made publicly available with the 1945 vintage. Then came Taittinger's Comtes de Champagne (first vintage 1952), and Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée' in 1960, a blend of three vintages (1952, 1953, and 1955). In the last three decades of the twentieth century, most champagne houses followed these with their own prestige cuvées, often named after notable people with a link to that producer (Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame, thenickname of the widow of the house's founder's son; Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, named for the British prime minister; and Laurent-Perrier's Cuvée Alexandra Rosé, to name just three examples, and presented in non-standard bottle shapes (following Dom Pérignon's lead with its eighteenth-century revival design).

Champagnes also come in a variety of sweet to the extra dry. Here is a brief chart that will help you in picking the type that best suits your tastes:

Doux: Sweet
Demi-sec: Half-dry
Sec: Dry
Extra sec: Extra dry
Brut: Nearly completely dry
Extra Brut / Brut zero: No added sugar at all

Sparkling Shiraz
This is a relatively new sparkling wine experience from the Shiraz producers of Australia, and I felt it deserved a mention here. As a fan of Shiraz, I was intrigued and found the wine to have all the characteristics of the traditional Shiraz that I admire, blackcurrants, blackberries, chocolate, cherries, strawberries, hints of tobacco with a rich smoky oak flavor and that trademark peppery finish. Sparkling Shiraz wines should be served slightly chilled. If it's summer, place in the fridge for 30 to 40 minutes. However, if it's mid winter, then room temperature will do fine. The bottom line is you want it slightly cooler than you would serve traditional Shiraz, yet not quite as cold as a Chardonnay.

Opening a Champagne Bottle
The trick to opening a bottle of champagne while maintaining its integrity is to avoid 'popping' the cork. Also note that the better the champagne, the less 'pop' you will experience. Begin by scoring the foil around the base of the wire cage. Then, carefully untwist and loosen the bottom of the cage, but do not remove it. In one hand, enclose the cage and cork while holding the base of the champagne bottle with your other hand. Twist both ends in the opposite direction. As soon as you feel pressure forcing the cork out, try to push it back in while continuing to twist gently until the cork is released with a sigh.

The Drinking
This, of course, is my favorite part. Champagne should always be served chilled (43 to 48 F) and served in a champagne flute, a long stemmed glass with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom. You should hold the flute by the stem or base as opposed to the bowl and since 'clinking' seems to be the norm when consuming champagne, don't overdue it and be careful. I am a perfect example of what not to do when holding a delicate champagne flute, as one New Year's Eve, while trying to make a point rather over-zealously, I found myself holding a base and stem while my bowl sailed across the room, getting the attention of a rather large guy who was none to pleased as it hit his forehead, but that, my friends, is a story for another day. I have included below a simple guide as to which particular champagne goes with certain types of food so the next time you are hosting, you can wow all your friends with your acute knowledge of 'the bubbly.'

Blanc de Blanc Champagne: Oysters, crustaceans and gently flavored white fish.
Blanc de Noirs: Lighter meat dishes (pigeon breast, partridge, veal, pork). If it's an aged wine, it can stand up to a bit richer protein such as kidneys or venison.
Non-Vintage Champagnes: Especially young and fruity versions are recommended with cheeses such as Beaufort, Gruyère, Emmental. Older non-vintage champagnes can cope with dishes with darker, nuttier flavors. (Caviar for instance)
Vintage Champagnes: Great with black truffle,scented foods, cheeses such as Parmesan and lightly smoked foods. Younger vintage champagnes can provide a foil for a wide variety of dishes, from fish with rich sauces to poultry (especially duck), light meats (veal and pork) and many cheeses (Chaource and Lancashire). Japanese dishes are also suggested.
Non-Vintage Rosé: Prawns, lobster and other seafood work here.
Vintage Rosé: Aged vintage rosé champagnes have a rich, savoury character that can pair well with meat dishes, and have the power to stand up to high levels of herbs and spices, specifically basil, mint and coriander.
Demi Sec Champagnes: These go superbly with savory dishes, foie gras is an obvious example. If there is an edge of sweetness to the food (caramelizing, a fruit ingredient or sugar,) then this style can provide a better match than a dry selection. These also pair well with most desserts as long as they are not overly sweet.

The only hazard in drinking champagne tends to be that it is so delicate in body and flavor, it is very easy to find yourself a bit buzzed rather quickly. As always, do enjoy it, but don't overdo it. As we all know, anything in excess tends to not be a good thing. I hope that you have learned a bit more about champagne than you already knew, but the learning here is not in the reading, my fellow Champagne-ites, it's in the drinking, so go out and eat, drink and enjoy!

Bon Appetit!