I love smoked cheeses of all kinds.

The idea of smoking cheese is rather frightening since cheese melts so easily. Before cured foods are smoked, they should be allowed to air-dry long enough to form a tacky skin, known as a pellicle. The pellicle plays a key role in producing excellent smoked items. It acts as a kind of protective barrier for the food, and also plays an important role in capturing the smoke’s flavor and color.

Cheeses, vegetables, and fruits can be cold smoked for an extra, unique flavor. Typically, a very small measure of smoke is best for these foods, just enough to produce a subtle change in the food’s color and flavor. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking should be maintained below 100 degrees F.

If you’re like me, I would rather just let someone else do the work and go pick some up at the store. Here’s a dish that only requires the stove top to boil some water for rotini pasta; everything else is either room temperature or right out of the refrigerator.

Pasta Salad With Smoked Mozzarella

Makes 6 servings

6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts

8 oz. rotini pasta, cooked and drained

7-oz. jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and cut into strips

8 oz. smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 of a 5-oz. bag baby spinach leaves

1/3 c. mayonnaise

1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 tsp. white pepper

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Sugar plum tomatoes, for garnish

Whole basil leaves, for garnish

Drain artichokes, reserving marinade. Cut artichokes into strips, and place in a large bowl. Add pasta to the next four ingredients and toss gently.

Stir together reserved artichoke marinade, mayonnaise, and the next four ingredients until blended. Add to pasta mixture, stirring to combine. Cover and chill. Garnish, if desired. 

This refreshing, but substantial pasta salad needs a white wine, but something with a little backbone to it. Pair this dish with Firestone’s 2015 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Barrel Select. Founded in 1972, Firestone was the first major estate winery to sink roots in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The fruit for their 2015 Barrel Select Sauvignon Blanc came from the upper Mesa portion of their estate where vines offer lower yields, resulting in more concentrated flavors. This wine opens with aromas of passion fruit, grapefruit and citrus. Fresh and crisp flavors of melon, fig and tropical fruit dance on the palate. The bright palate and body of this sauvignon blanc is followed by a long mineral finish. At 14.2% ABV and aged in neutral French Oak for nine months, this sauvignon blanc pairs well stand up to the rich flavors of the smoked mozzarella.

You may have to go to the winery to pick it up. Now that would be a tough assignment.

Enjoy!

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at sacredmeals@comcast.net.

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