Enthusiastic wine consumers know ell that wine varies from vine to vine, but the idea that cheese can vary in flavour and texture from one day to the next, let alone from one season to the next is perceived as a cheese lover’s phantasy.
Consumers are bombarded with information about grapes, farmers, barrels, oak trees, acids, winemakers and their philosophies about wine, but information on cheese is always a convoluted search and often ends up without much success.
Cheese is perceived, thanks to researchers about cholesterol and other assorted saturated fat-induced ailments, as a time bomb for arteries, pathogens, or a commodity to grate on pastas, put on hamburgers, or onion soup to be gratinated.
Most authors specializing in food mention cheese in relation to cooking and provide recipes in which cheese figures prominently. Generally, authors fail to write about cheese in the context of a course of its own or how to pair it with wine. Yet pairing food and wine has become an obsession with millions of consumers.
There are a few fundamental rules in matching food and wine that every consumer must know.
Asparagus and Beaujolais or in more general terms wine
Salads containing vinaigrette dressings
Champagne and smoked salmon
Champagne and poached or grilled or baked salmon
Champagne and caviar (contrary to what people think and do)
Overly oaked wines and seafood simply do not go together and must not be attempted.
On the other hand, tried and true matches as shown below work wonderfully well:
Roquefort and Sauternes (NOTE: St. Augur, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Danish Blue and any blue veined cheese go together with balanced sweet wines).
The sweet, luscious fruit of Sauternes cuts through the salty tang of Roquefort magnifying its spicy, herbal flavour, highlighting its sweetness of the ewes’ milk.
Sauternes is too distinct to be paired with less salty, creamier blues like Gorgonzola and St Augur. But then again, there are different shades of Sauternes.
Sweet wines enhance magnificently spicy, aromatic washed rind cheeses as well as blue cheeses.
Munster and gewürztraminer
This cheese created by Trappist monks in Alsace, is a robust, pungent, assertive washed rind cheese that demands strongly flavoured Alsace wines, like gewürztraminer, riesling, tokay d’Alsace, pinot blanc or sylvaner.
Cider and hoppy beers go well with Munster. Oka, from Quebec, is an excellent cheese suitable for gewürztraminer or rather the wine is suitable for the cheese.
Cheddar and cabernet sauvignon
Generally young cabernet sauvignon wines are tannic, and require dense, creamy hard cheeses like medium Cheddar or Double Gloucester The tannin cuts through the butterfat and entices the hidden character of the wine to emerge.
Old Cheddar, aged Pecorino sardo and other hard cheeses full of flavour stand up to fortified wines including LBV (Late Bottled Vintage port), Colheita and even vintage character ports.
The intensity of the wine must be taken into consideration. Australian cabernet sauvignon blends may be too fruity, but Napa Valley products and those of Bordeaux may be more suitable for strong cheeses.
Chevre and sauvignon blanc
The lively acidity, herbaceous character and grassy aromatic sauvignon blanc from Loire, or elsewhere in the world mirrors the zesty French goat’s cheese. The acidity of sauvignon blanc and French chevre are excellent matches. Aged chevre goes with rose wines from Loire or even with Chinon and others from the region.
If you have only one wine to match with cheese let it be pinot noir, but it must be a well-made pinot noir from a cool growing region.
Its gentle elegance, subtle flavours, succulence enhance all but the most acid cheeses.
The low tannin level and pigmentation of pinot noir and its sweet berry fruitiness bring out the best flavours in lovingly made, natural cheeses.
Oka, triple cream, Douanier from Quebec, mild Cheddar, Hermitage from Ontario would be unparalleled matches.
Amarone and Parmiggiano Regiano – the grand daddy of Valpolicellas and the king of hard cheeses Parmiggiano are unequalled matches. Once you try it, you will never seek another experimentation.
Chianti Classico and pecorino
Tuscany’s fine Chianti wines from the Classico part and flavourful pecorino have been paired in that part of Italy for centuries. Authentic pecorino and well-made Chianti Classico are a must for this pairing to work.
The whiter and brighter the cheese, the lighter and crisper should be the wine.
Stronger cheeses go well with stronger wines. Blue cheeses need sweetness to soften their angularity.
Enjoy cheese at room temperature (16 – 18 C or 65 – 68 F) and white wine (at 10 C=50F), young red wines at 15 C (65 F), and mature red wines and fortified wines at 18 C (70 F).