Whether you’re new to wine or a seasoned veteran, the concept of wine and cheese is held on a pedestal as the ultimate wine pairing selection. But why is it that cheese makes it so high on our list? It isn’t just ‘tradition’.
Tannin VS Fats & Proteins
Tannin is a natural component in wine, especially reds. They chemically bind with fats and proteins. Wines high in tannins pair best with cheese that is high in fats and proteins (aged, rich) because when the wine is consumed, it will scrub the palate of the lingering cheese fats.
This is also why, when a highly tannic wine is paired with a young, low-fat cheese, the result is a chalky, metallic taste – the tannins bind with all of the available fats, which is the part of the cheese that gives it its flavour.
Salty VS Sweet
This particular concept isn’t reserved for just wine and cheese; in any flavour pairing, salt enhances the sweet sensation (and vice versa), elevating the experience. Sweet wines, such as Icewine, Gewurtz and other dessert wines, pair well with salty cheese, such as hard, aged cheddar or stinky blue cheese.
Wine and cheese both leave your mouth with a particular sensation, depending out the individual product is made. You can pair complements or contrasts and still have a successful tasting. For example, rich, creamy cheese pairs equally as well with buttery, oaky wine and fresh, bubbly wines. The former stands up to the cheese while the latter scrubs the palate and enhances the rich flavour.
There are what can seem like an infinite selection of both cheese and wine, so the following is a cheat sheet that will get you started. Since pairing any food with wine is a matter of personal taste, experiment with your pairings so that you can find the combinations that best suit your palate.
Soft & Creamy
Spreadable, tangy and (or) mild, these soft spoken cheeses need a quiet partner. Ex: Ricotta, Chèvre (goat cheese), Feta, Haloumi, Brillat Savrin
Try with: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Beaujolais, Tocai Friulano, unoaked Chardonnay, Chablis, Provençal rosé, Lambrusco
A sub category of "soft"; decadent and creamy with a soft rind, these deserve subtle bubbles and soft whites. Ex: Camembert, Brie, Robiola, Taleggio
Try with: Champagne, Chardonnay, Sparkling Wine, Pinot Blanc
Not quite soft, not quite hard, these middle sibling cheeses need medium-bodied whites and fruity reds that balance. Ex: Edam, Emmental, Gruyère, Jarlsberg, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Manchego, Tomme d'Alsace
Try with: Burgundy, white Bordeaux or white Rhône blends, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Riesling (off-dry), Gewürztraminer, Champagne, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Barbera, Merlot, Chardonnay
Read a complete list of medium cheeses.
These are stiff, sharp, salty and aged cheeses that can stand up to a flavourful wine. Ex: Cheshire, Comté, Gruyère, Gouda, Pecorino, Manchego, Asiago, Parmigiano Reggiano, Double Gloucester, Fontina
Try with: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône or California blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chianti, Valpolicella, Bardolino
Read a complete list of hard cheeses.
Blue & Stinky
Pungent, salty and blue tinged cheeses dance right up to the sweeter, dessert wines. Ex: Gorgonzola, Stilton, Blue, Cambozola, Époisses, Taleggio, Morbier, Roquefor, Bleu d’Auvergne
Try with: Port, Sauternes, Riesling, Icewine, Gewürztraminer, Sauternes, red Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Oloroso sherry, Banyuls, Recioto, Tokaji
Read a complete list of blue cheeses.
Here are two tips to get you through:
- Pair by region – Italian cheese with Italian wine, French cheese with French wine, etc.
- Pair by intensity – soft, young cheese with fresh, young wine; hard, aged cheese with complex, aged wine.
Now that you know which wines pair with which cheeses (and why) it’s time to get your friends in on the experiment with your very own wine and cheese tasting party. Here are some tips and tricks to help you prepare:
With so many different wine and cheese combinations, narrow down your evening to a specific theme. Try breaking it down to country (Italy is a good one to start with), wine style (maybe do just Pinots or Cabernet Sauvignons), cheese ‘family’ (soft & creamy, medium, hard, blue & stinky) or award winning cheeses - read the Canadian Cheese Awards list for inspiration.
Now that you have the theme, pick 3 to 5 different cheeses to feature. You’ll need 4.5 ounces/125g of cheese per person. Variety is the spice of life, so ensure the texture, appearance and taste of each cheese is different.
You’ll now need to select your wine – try for one per cheese, but remember that overlap is encouraged! Each bottle of wine can get about 12 glasses of wine, if you pour 2oz/60ml per person, so use that as your judge for how many bottles you’ll need.
Additional Tips & Tricks
Have one cheese knife per cheese.
Serve the cheese at room temperature on a cheese board.
Leave the rind on the cheese.
Make sure your glasses are the appropriate style for the wine.
Provide wine glass labels so that people don’t have to worry about where their glass is sitting.
Have on hand crackers, bread, fruit, nuts and chocolate for additional pairing options and palate cleansers.
Stock up on plastic sandwich baggies to store cheese after the event (and give some to your guests).
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