Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Pairing Wine and Cheese

By popular request, I decided to dedicate this post to a topic unknown to me: the matching/pairing of Cheese and Wine
Unlike most people, I’m not a Cheese eater, my mother suffered from eclampsia (high pressure) while expecting me, and one of her episodes ended up accelerating the early delivery of La Wina into this world.  I came one month before my time and I was a super tiny baby, only weighing 2 kgs when I was born and according to my family, I was too little to breastfeed, so the only way to feed me was via intubation, which means that basically my mother's milk went into my nose. 
To this day, I think this is the reason why, I can’t stand the smell of raw cheese and I only eat cheese when it is cooked like in a pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich. For many years I couldn’t stand butter or milk either! though I started eating butter in my early 20s. With milk, it was different, when I was about 6 years old, I stood my ground and told my mother that I was not going to have milk ever again… (she was forcing on me, two glasses of chocolate milk per day, one in the Am and one in the Pm). No wonder! all I consume these days is almond milk!

Later on, when I was studying wine, I took a class with MS Andrea Robinson to learn how to match wine with foods, guess what? One of her classes was about Cheese… I basically wanted to kill myself, how was I going to eat a whole plate of raw cheeses to master this combination? But thanks to my love for wine, that was so big, even then, I had a tiny little piece of each sample and agreed with Andrea in all her wine and cheese pairings. 

Personal taste aside, I’m fully aware that plenty of the winos love and consume cheese. And cheese and wine make not only an incredible combination, but dinner in many European countries. But most importantly, wine and cheese have a lot in common, for starters, both are the product of fermentation. And cheese like wine can be tasted and assessed by analyzing its basic elements. 

When tasting Cheese like in wine, a lot can be learned by looking at their color and appearance, it’s important also to touch the cheese with your hands to have a better feel of its texture and density, which is very important when pairing. Of course like in wine, Cheese aromas are important, the cheese connoisseur will usually smell the interior, as well as the rind of the Cheese to determine its intensity. On the palate, acidity is also noticed, as well as sweetness, savoriness, saltiness and bitterness. And of course the mouthfeel, is the body of the cheese soft as a mousse? Or maybe creamy? or hard or crumbly? What notes does one get? Dairy (buttery for example) or maybe vegetal or herbaceous, mineral, floral or fruity, fermented or with aromas and flavors of fungi? As I was listening… I started making some mental notes… since some of these things I know from smelling and tasting wines. Eureka! a connection was finally made. 

In the case of Cheese, besides considering their intensity and density, it is also important to check the aging. Fresh cheese has more water content and a delicate texture, while Aged cheese is richer, with more fat and protein. As a cheese ages and dries, it gets more complex flavors: earthy, nutty, or mushroomy notes for example and different levels of pungency that may collide with aromas and flavors in wine. So, always, try to keep the balance between them, remember what I wrote about food and wine pairings, click here to read this again.

Combine Fresh Cheese such as Ricotta, Mozzarella, Burrata, Feta, Halloumi, Camembert, Goat cheeses, etc with delicate and crisp whites, dry rosés and sparkling wines.  For example, combine Goat cheese with Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.  
Combine Semi Hard and Medium Aged Cheeses, that have more flavor and texture such as Edam, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Manchego, etc, with full bodied whites (white Burgundy) and fruity reds such Dolcetto.
Combine Stinky and Blue Cheeses that are savory and salty such as Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, with wines with sweetness for a nice contrast: Port, Oloroso Sherry, or Sauternes will be a perfect match.
Combine Hard Aged Cheeses that have a dense body, nuttiness and saltiness such as Aged Cheddar, Aged Gouda, Asiago and Parmigiano Reggiano with beefer reds such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Rhone Blends. Be careful with tannins, the best pairing to tannic wines will always be fat cheeses with plenty of proteins, tannins won’t go well with high acidity cheeses, since acid makes tannins more astringent and bitter in your palate.
To make things easier for the Cheese lover in you, here is a cheat sheet to some favorite wines and Cheese combinations.

Grape VarietyCheese
Cabernet Sauvignon Aged Cheddar, Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano
ChardonnayBrie, Gruyere, Parmesan, Provolone
Pinot Gris Brie, Edam, Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Ricotta 
Pinot Noir Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Muenster
Port/MadeiraBlue, Gorgonzola, Stilton 
Rioja/ TempranilloAsiago, Cheddar, Havarti, Manchego 
Chianti/SangioveseFontina, Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano 
Sauvignon BlancGoat Cheese, Feta, Gruyere
Syrah Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano

Remember to keep experimenting and spicing up your lives! Cheers, Silvina.

#wineandcheese #wineandfood #thoughtsoflawina #cheese