It’s been called everything from liquid gold to crème brulee in a glass but imagine what happens when it’s simmered in a pan to tease out the sweetness from a poached duck or slowly poured into a 5 lb wheel of cheese to become Bleu Ice.
For Niagara chefs, Icewine is a dream ingredient, helping to create signature dishes that speak to the bounty of the region.
“It’s magical – we are very blessed here in Niagara to have our Icewine,” says Jason Parsons, Chef of Peller Estates.
While most people know it as a dessert wine, local chefs like Parsons understand its full potential.
“There’s so much more you can do with Icewine, especially given the different varietals from Reisling with its acidity to Cab Franc with its strawberry rhubarb notes,” says Parsons who has more than 20 years in the business.
Take for example his duck breast which he cooks in Icewine juice then finishes by gently poaching in Cab Franc Icewine.
“The Cab Franc Icewine really opens up the natural flavors of the duck making it much more lively,” he says.
Creating new and unique dining experiences that family and friends can enjoy together energizes Parsons who loves to talk about his signature Bleu Ice, which take six weeks to create.
Envision a 5 lb wheel of Benedictine Bleu, with a hole cut at the top the size of a shot glass. Then watch as the first of two bottles of Icewine is poured into the cheese. After a week, the second bottle of wine is used, trickling in slowly as it follows the veins of the cheese, taking five weeks to completely absorb. Finally, Bleu Ice is ready, a cheese much smoother than the original and a flavor profile that is completely unique to Niagara.
The question often asked is why Icewine as opposed to just sugar to sweeten the food?
“You can use regular sweeteners in dishes but they won’t offer the added tasting notes that Icewine provides such as apricot or honey,” he explains.
Parsons makes it a point to bring a bottle of Icewine when he travels to restaurants around the world, wanting to share the opportunity for other chefs to explore and learn about the magic of cooking with Icewine.
“Some people think it’s an expensive way to cook but when I point out the cost of a high-end balsamic vinegar and other ingredients, it really isn’t any more expensive,” he says.
The considerations are many when cooking with Icewine – will you boil the luscious liquid or pour it in raw and how does this work within the context of the entire menu, he says.
“A meal is a progression so perhaps I start with a tuna tartare with spices like chili and cinnamon and then pair with an Icewine to balance the intensity,” he says.
Whether it’s a splash of Icewine cooked with his lobster linguine or mixing with figs to create a speciality jam, the options are endless, allowing Niagara chefs to create unique dishes distinct to the region.
Parsons says he feels blessed to work and live in Niagara and describes his job as a kid with a box of crayons who gets a new set each year.
“Every year there’s a new vintage so a new set to work with,” he says.