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Wine and Cheese Pairing

Blue Cheese and Port

Blue Cheese and Port with Dates and Candied Walnuts

At the restaurant, we offer cheese plates both on the main menu and on the dessert menu. We label our cheeses Red Wine Cheese Plate, White Wine Cheese Plate, and Blue Cheese Plate, mainly to give customers a convenient label by which to order the cheese, but also to provide some guidance about which cheeses pair best with which wines. Customers often ask how I know which cheeses go with red wines and which go with white wines.

You can alleviate much of the anxiety about wine and cheese pairings if you realize that there really are no hard and fast rules. At home, for our casual dinners, my wife and I grab whatever random cheeses we have in the refrigerator and grab a bottle of whatever wine it is that we want to drink, almost always red. What I’m saying is that although I’m going to give you some guidelines for which cheeses and wines pair together really well, I commonly disregard all these rules. In reality, most cheeses and most wines pair together fairly well.

Consider, but don’t live by, these guidelines:

  1. Cheese Age. As cheeses age, they develop more complex, nuttier, and more pronounced flavors. Red wines, especially older ones, tend to go through a similar development and seem to pair more naturally with older cheeses. On the other hand, youthful cheeses tend to be lighter, more herbaceous, and fresher and they tend to like lighter, fresher, and more herbaceous white wines.
  2. Cheese Texture. Texture is highly related to age. As a cheese ages, it tends to get harder (with some exceptions; see Stinky Cheeses below). In general, I like softer fresh cheeses with white wine, for example, a crisp young white wine with farmer’s cheese. Harder cheeses I like with red wine.
  3. Type of Milk. My palate finds that the acidity of a goat milk cheese almost always requires a high acid white. For example, the pairing of a sharp Crottin de Chavignol with Sancerre is fabulous. For sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheeses, I am guided by age and texture in pairing. Softer younger cheeses with white and harder more aged cheeses with reds.
  4. Blue Cheese. Blue cheeses are more difficult to pair with wine especially dry reds and they are often very salty (like Roquefort). I like to combat saltiness with sweetness, thus I almost always pair a sweet wine with blue cheese. Think about Sauternes or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise with that Roquefort. Don’t forget about sweet reds such as Port or Maury with blues. They often make amazing partners.
  5. Stinky Cheese. I have this thing for stinky cheese. Whether it is a washed rind or bloomed rind cheese, it develops certain aromas (mushrooms, earth, funk) that are not unlike the secondary bottle bouquet that an older red wine develops. I especially love Pinot Noir and older Burgundy in particular with these cheeses.
  6. Sparkling Wine. When in doubt, sparkling wine pairs with an awful lot of cheese.

I’ve tried to keep this short and sweet and not so complicated that it scares you. If you have any questions, drop me a note or leave a comment.

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