Cheese and Wine Pairing

Cheese and Wine Pairing

Keep in mind, these tips are from my own experience, I’m not a party organizer nor am I a sommelier or a turophile (a cheese connoisseur). I just love cheese, wine and spending time with my friends.

Wine and cheese can form a perfect union when adequately combined.

Don’t try to be a wine expert if you’re not. Your guests will feel more comfortable exploring flavours and sharing if the experience is authentic. Learning about wine tasting together can be loads of fun.

My advice is to ask the wine expert at the store and let him/her know what types of cheese you have.

Ask most people what the best wine is with cheese and most would choose a full-bodied red.
But is it really the best pairing?
It depends on the wine, it depends on the cheese and it depends on you.
If you LOVE red wine with cheese nothing is going to put you off the experience.

If you’re new to cheese or wine or both, there are a few simple generalities to get you by. As you learn & taste, you can become more specific & adventurous in your pairings.

It is important to know that taste can vary from person to person, so what is intensely salty & dry to someone can be pleasantly balanced to another.

That doesn’t make it a free-for-all. There are certain taste guidelines that enhance or detract from the flavours of the wine & cheese. This guide gives you the foundations of taste to create a stress-free cheese & wine pairing.

Decide which is the hero, the cheese or the wine

Remember, the goal is to create harmony and balance between the wine and the cheese and not overpower one with the other.

Should I start with the wine or the cheese? It’s up to you.

Choose whether you want to give the lead role to the wine or to the cheese.

Choosing your wines first to determine what cheeses would go with it or vice versa will always make sure things come together.

If it’s the cheese, pick a wine with less character that will just complement it in the background. If you want the wine to be the star, go easy on the forcefulness of the cheese.

Choose at least 2-4 different types of wine but no more than 6 for bigger parties. You can get away with serving only one red and one white, as long as they’re versatile. It’s always best to provide options for red wine and white, and/or blush wine to your guests.

Don’t overanalyze. Everyone has their own taste preferences, so offer at least one white wine and one red wine and let your guests decide.

But, which wine?

It’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got a glass of wine in one hand and cheese in the other. One marriage no one can object to is the mouth-watering combination of wine and cheese. Cheese will make any wine taste better.

How to pair wines?

Each is delicious on its own, but when you pair the two, magic can happen.

Wines range in acidity, complexity, weight, and savouriness. Some have floral or citrus notes or seem almost briny. Some are heavily textured, fruity, or tawny. Yet others feel chiseled and dark, even severe. Age adds another layer of complexity, too.

The same goes for cheese. They vary in moisture content, fat content, mouthfeel, flavour intensity.

When each element—the cheese and the wine—has such a distinctive personality, making a good match gets tricky. Some wines go well with cow’s milk cheese, but not with goat. Some pair with aged cheeses but swamp young ones. But when you do find a match that’s felicitous and the wine and cheese bloom together on your tongue: bliss.

The Artisanal cheese clock®

Artisanal Cheese, a cheese company from New York City, has created “The Artisanal cheese clock®”, an ingeniously simple way of approaching cheese selection for guiding you through the process of selecting a group of cheeses.

The idea is that you start in the 6 to 9 o’clock quadrant with simple, mild cheeses like Fresh goat or bloomy rind (e.g., Brie, Camembert) cheeses. As you progress clockwise around the circle, you introduce bolder and bolder varieties, till you get the final quadrant (3 to 6 o’clock) where you serve a blue cheese and/or a really stinky washed rind cheese. The clock also includes some guidance for pairing wine and beer as well. Very handy.

According to Artisanal Cheese:

Mild

“Start your cheese plate with 6-9 Mild quadrant of young goats, double or triple creamy, or bloomy rind cheeses.”

“Velvety, refreshing and aromatic, these cheeses listed in this Mild quadrant pair well with light white wines and champagnes. They also pair well with Pilsner beer, vodka, and gin”

“Once you’ve finished selecting from this Mild quadrant move on to a soft or semi-firm cheese from the 9-12 Medium quadrant.”

Medium

“After you’ve tried a young, creamy, or bloomy rind cheese from the previous Mild quadrant the next cheese on your plate should be from the 9-12 Medium quadrant. These cheeses are soft to semi-firm, like a mild cow, an aged goat or a sheep milk cheese.”

“Wonderfully textured, nutty and sweet, these cheeses pair well with Light Red Wine, Rosè Wine, Lagers, and Pilsner Beers, and rum.”

“Once you’ve finished selecting from this quadrant move onto a stronger, bolder, or stinkier cheese from the 12-3 Bold quadrant.”

Bold

“After tasting a soft to semi firm cheese it’s best to move on to a stronger, bolder and nuttier flavour. Cheeses listed in the 12-3 Bold quadrant are hard mountain cheeses, long-aged cheddars, and mild washed rind (“Stinky”) cheeses.”

“More distintive, with earth aromas, these cheese are great with Red Wine, Ales, and Lambic Beers, whiskey, and bourbon.”

“Once you’ve finished selecting from this quadrant move onto a cheese with a bigger presence like a classic blue cheese or an assertive wash rind from the 3-6 quadrant.”

Strong

“The 3-6 Strong quadrant will finish your cheese tasting. Choose cheeses with a bigger presence, such as more assertive washed rind cheese or a classic blue cheese like Roquefort.”

“Pungent, assertive, and memorable, these cheese stand up to Dessert Wines, Ports, Stout Beers, cognac, and scotch.”

Picture and information from Artisanal Cheese.

Note: I have included the quadrant colours to each cheese category to help you on how to select and pair cheeses.

Picture from Artisanal Cheese.

Pairing by Age and Intensity

Using a similar idea we can also pair by flavour intensity—which often correlates with age.

Like cheeses, wines also run the gamut from delicate to bold, and their depth and complexity can correlate with their age, too.

Fresh and young cheeses have a high water content and a milky and delicate texture.

High water content means delicate flavours.

As a cheese ages, a process called affinage, it slowly loses water, leaving behind fat and protein.

The loss of water concentrates the cheese’s flavour, and imparts new flavours, too.

Hard-aged cheeses have the least water, the strongest flavours and tend to be more rich and savoury.

Young wines—white and rosé released within a year of their harvest, and red wines with little time in the cellar—tend to be fresh and spirited, with lively aromas and bright flavours of fruits, flowers, citrus, herbs, or spice.

But wines that have aged in cask or bottle have had a chance to develop secondary flavours beyond those primary fruit flavours and take on secondary notes of oak, toast, earth, umami, oxidation, minerals, and more.

These aged wines tend to be more complex and savoury than their younger counterparts.

Putting this all together, the first rule of wine and cheese pairing is:
Pair by flavour intensity, and consider intensity’s correlation with age.

We can readily see how young cheeses might partner best with wines that are juicy, fruity, fresh and spirited—sparkling wines, crisp whites, dry rosés, and reds with good acidity and sprightly fruit.

Older cheeses would need wines with more body and complexity. The very oldest cheeses, those that are the most savoury and rich and nutty, pair best with wines that have ample body and structure, and maybe oxidative notes, too.

But age definitely isn’t the only factor to keep in mind. A cheese’s texture, saltiness, and pungency also influence a wine pairing, as do the wine’s structure and sweetness.

From fruity to sweet to nutty to tannic, these same pairing principles apply to wines, too.
When in doubt, try to imagine which food would pair best with a cheese, and let that guide you toward a wine.

It is noteworthy, that the two products have a similar set of characteristics, including age, texture, as well as many flavour and taste features. Considering them helps to find the best wine and cheese pairings which will become the gourmet highlights of any party.

Pairing general guidelines

While the possibilities are endless, it is important to take a few things into consideration to get just the right combination. Factors such as tannins, fat, acidity and texture will all play a role in how well cheese goes with your favourite wine.

There are no hard and fast rules for pairing wines with cheese, but pairing wine and cheese is tricky, there is much disagreement among cheese and wine experts as to matching them, but simple rules can assure success.

When choosing a cheese to go with a wine or vice versa, start with these 6 elements:

  1. Texture: Compare & contrast the textures of the wine or cheese you wish to pair in terms of creaminess, body, dryness & crispness.
  2. Intensity: Young or aged cheeses pair well with young or aged wines, respectively.
  3. Acidity: This is perhaps the most important, and tricky, component with pairings as both cheese & wine have levels of acidity that need to be taken into consideration.
  4. Sweetness: Cheeses with sweet overtones, like an aged Gouda or fruited Stilton, need to be balanced with off-dry dessert wines.
  5. Mold: Blue cheese molds negate the fruitiness of any wine but work wonderfully with ports, rich dessert wines & sparkling wines.
  6. Region: When in doubt, pair cheese & wine from the same region (though there are of course exceptions to this fall back plan).

Here are some basic guidelines that everyone agrees:

  • Pair wines and cheeses with equal intensity.
    • Wines over 14.5% ABV are more intense and taste better with more intensely flavoured cheeses.
    • Wines under 12% ABV are less intense and match nicely with more delicately flavoured cheeses.
  • Pair Strong Cheese with Robust Wine and Delicate Cheese with a Delicate Wine. Try not to pair a strong wine with a mild cheese. If one of the flavour profiles dominates the other, the taste experience will not be favourable. The secret here is to avoid having either overpowered by the other. Your cheeses and wines should complement each other:
    • Mild cheeses pair well with lighter wines. In other words, pair younger cheeses with bright, fresh, young wines.
    • For Goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses, you can break the rules, as long as you stick with a fresh wine with lively acidity, it is best to avoid very mature sheep or goat cheeses as they can be very strong.
    • Semi-aged and medium-hard cheeses have a firmer texture and stronger flavours. They need medium-bodied whites, fruity reds, vintage sparkling wine, and aperitif wines that offer a balance between acidity, fruit, and tannin. In other words, a wide range of wines, from youthful to vibrant, but stopping shy of the biggest, boldest reds.
    • Bold red wines pair best with aged cheeses. In other words, pair older cheeses with bigger, aged wines. As cheese ages and looses water-content, it becomes richer in flavour with its increased fat content. These two attributes are ideal for matching bold red wines because the fat content in the cheese counteracts the high-tannins in the wine. For the best results, select cheeses that have been aged at least a year.
    • More pungent cheeses pair well with more robust wines, generally, the richer the cheese, the richer the wine.
    • Match super funky cheeses with sweeter wines.
    • Serve after-dinner cheese plates with full-bodied or sweeter wines.
    • The classic match for Blue cheeses is sweet wine. It works particularly well if the cheese is creamy. You get the complement from the creamy texture of the cheese and structure of the wine, as well as the contrast from the salty and sweet.
  • Sparkling wine or Champagne is always welcome. If you are having a single wine to match an array of cheeses, you might consider a sparkling wine. Their ample acidity and toasty, nutty flavours complement cheeses from fresh through aged and the bubbles will physically lift cheese off your palate and offer a palate cleansing effect. They are incredible with soft, creamy, sticky cheeses. But seek out sparklers with moderate intensity. Champagne and other traditional method sparkling wines work well, especially aged versions whose savoury notes that are also supremely food- (and cheese-) friendly. A mixed plate of cheeses is a great excuse to open another bottle of Champagne—as if you needed one.
  • Off-dry wines can also pair quite broadly because they serve as a foil for salt: Riesling or Gewürztraminer, Lambrusco, and lighter dessert wines.
  • What grows together goes together – Pairing wines and cheeses from the same region is a good, “safe” place to start wine and cheese combinations. More often than not, you’ll do well to trust the local traditions and match wines and cheeses from the same region together. “What grows together goes together.” Just as the growing conditions impart particular characteristics (called “terroir”) to a region’s wines, these same characteristics may be imparted to the cheeses through the vegetation on which the animals graze.
  • Watch those tannins – Tannic red wines are terrific with rich, aged and harder types of cheese, because their tannins literally bind to protein and fat, cleaning your palate after each bite. But the same process makes tannic wines feel far too astringent with young cheeses; they tie up what little fat’s available, leaving you with a chalky sensation and a metallic aftertaste. If you must serve red wine with young cheeses, reach for one low in tannin, like Beaujolais or sparkling red Lambrusco.
  • Salt loves sweetSweet wines beautifully balance the saltiest cheeses like hard Grana, blue cheese, aged Gouda, or Feta. The salt in the cheese heightens the perception of sweetness in the wine, so a wine that’s already headed in that direction makes for a breezy pairing.
  • Cheese loves fruit and nuts – There’s a reason we adorn cheese plates with fresh fruits, dried fruits, and nuts. The juicy, tangy fruits go well with young cheeses like Brie. Sweet dried fruits are wonderful with salty cheeses like Stilton. Buttery, bitter nuts are tasty with rich Cheddar.
  • Texture: complement or contrastRich, creamy cheeses blend seamlessly with buttery, oaky white wines, creating a truly harmonious palate sensation. But contrast can be welcome, too. The bubbles in sparkling wines pose a nice counterpoint to a rich cheese, scrubbing your tongue clean and making you want another bite. That’s why Camembert and Champagne are a classic combination.

These are just guidelines, and sometimes despite these generalities, you can find some good pairings that break the rules.

The most important tip is to choose cheeses and wines that you like;
usually your own taste buds will guide you.

The flavours in the cheese and wine will complement each other to enhance their taste. Play with the combinations within these guidelines to find the pairing that you like best.

Wrong combinations/ to avoid:

Not all wines match all cheeses. If you pair cheese with the wrong wine, it can enhance unwanted flavours.

  • For example, if you pair a semi-soft cheese with a Cabernet Sauvignon, the cheese taste will be lost to the robust flavour of the Cabernet Sauvignon. A tannic red will feel too astringent and drying after a bite of fresh cheese, because it ties up whatever butterfat is available, leaving you with a chalky, unpleasant sensation.
  • For instance, blue cheese with a youthful, tannic red wine can make the wine taste metallic.
  • Fatter cheeses, like Parmesan, are hard to digest. If mixed with a very sweet and high alcohol content wine, such as Porto, the effect can be disastrous.
  • Pungent washed-rind cow’s cheeses will lose its stinky characteristics when paired with Chardonnay, but you can also opt for milder, traditional triple cream cheese to avoid the smell.
  • The full, buttery taste of Saint André can make a white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or even a crisp Chablis, taste sour and metallic, so it is best suggested with a light beer, dessert wine or a glass of light and fruity rosé.

Which wine for each cheese category?

Wine and cheese pairing possibilities are endless.

Classic Cheese and Wine Pairing Chart

Pairings are definitely subjective:
if it tastes good together to you;
then it’s a good pairing.

You can bet there’s a wine out there for every cheese. To simplify the strategy, we’ve broken things down by cheese category.

Also check “The Classic Cheese and Wine Pairing Chart”

Pick the wines first and then pick the cheeses

Sparkling Wine

White Wine

Rosé Wine

Red Wine

Dessert Wine

Wine and Cheese Pairing: A Personal Preference

You can enjoy numerous combinations and experiment with this guide as a starting reference point.

Remember that while the art and science of wine pairing seems daunting at first glance, the most important aspect of any food pairing experience is personal preference.

Because every palate is different, you may find that you prefer certain pairings over others. To find the right combination:

  • Take a bite of the cheese by itself to assess its taste.
  • Take another bite and hold it in your mouth with the wine.
  • Consider how the two mingle together to determine if it’s a match.
Respect tried and tested matches but don’t be afraid to take them a step further.

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Note: I get really excited about cheese and wine, so it’s difficult for me to be brief when there is so much wonderful information to share!

Also check:

***In Development, please keep checking.


Reference: Content and images based on information from: https://www.wikipedia.org/ https://cheese.com https://www.cookipedia.co.uk
https://culturecheesemag.com https://www.gourmetsleuth.com https://winefolly.com/ https://www.tasteatlas.com https://www.wine.com/ https://winemonger.com https://www.terroir-france.com/


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