A couple strolls hand in hand down a pathway until they reach the perfect scenic, secluded spot. One lays out a blanket while the other unloads the picnic basket: meat, bread, fruit and wine and cheese. Sound familiar? It should. It’s been a staple in books and movies for decades, adding a touch of mystique and romance to the pairing of wine and cheese in the minds of the public.
It’s not all romance and cinematic manipulation, though. There are very good reasons why wine and cheese make a good pair, from cultural upbringing, to personal taste, to the science of food. Let’s look at science first. Briefly.
A Taste of Tannin
Tannins–the science behind them, where they come from, how many different ones there are, and there relationships to wine–can be complicated. And more than this little talk on why cheese and wine go together is prepared to address in depth. For the simple explanation, natural, organic tannins are added to wine in various quantities, and it is this that gives wine some of its flavor, strong or light. When you pair some wines with cheese, the salt in the cheese helps to dampen the acidic or bitter flavor of the wine, making both taste better.
Wine and Cheese Pairings
If you are not familiar with the practice, it’s only natural to be a bit anxious about pairing wine and cheese, which goes with what, and how best to display the feast. A few traditional or recommended wine and cheese combinations served on a platter can add a bit of panache to any party, but there is only one final judge of the right combination. What tastes good to each individual palate. Be a little adventurous, if you want, and combine your wine and cheese outside the lines. So to speak. A perfect, non-traditional pairing might be what works for you. Use the tips below as a guideline, but not necessarily the final authority.
- For maximum visual (and cinematic) effect, buy your cheese in large rounds. It looks great displayed on a table; wine glasses, as well as the colors of the wine itself, serve to highlight it.
- Cheese has its best flavor when it is at room temperature, not right out of the refrigerator. Give yourself enough time before your event to allow the cheese to reach that mellow state, but not to the point of melting. How long that is depends on the type of cheese you are serving.
- White wines – If you are new to wine and cheese pairings, or serving a variety of cheeses, it might be best to stick with white wines at first. The lighter flavor of many whites tend to taste better with a greater diversity of cheeses. Some good white wine and cheese combinations include Sauvignon Blanc and sharp cheddar, cheeses made from goat’s milk, Gruyer and mild blue cheeses. A nice Riesling will complement flavorful cheeses such as Gouda, Edam (which often has a lovely red casing) and Colby cheeses.
- Red Wines – Because red wines are often bolder than whites, they can usually handle cheeses with a strong, bold flavor. If you choose a full-bodied Bordeaux, for instance, don’t be afraid to serve an aged, very sharp cheddar. They, for many palates, are a luscious wine and cheese combination. If your red is lighter and fruitier, however, your cheeses should be milder as well. Perhaps a Beaujolais accompanied by slices of fresh Mozzarella, or a Muenster.
Take your time tasting the wine and cheese pairings, letting the flavor of each settle and combine on your palate. Once you’ve learned what works with what or, most importantly, what you love, you, too, can be a wine and cheese pairings connoisseur.