The art of pairing dairy and grapes

| October 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

Wine and cheese: At first, the pairing seems natural. Both are beautiful examples of nature and humanity working together. Both can express a time and place from whence they came, and both, perhaps a little less poetically, are the result of controlled spoilage. Unfortunately making the pairing pleasurable is not a simple task. With two complex, often intimidating histories and cultures, and so many varieties to select from to combine, the pairing of these two ancient forms of drink and food can prove difficult. However, with a little proper preparation, we can experience a terrific wine and food pairing.
To set the stage, the cheese needs to play its role properly. Stephen Whittaker, maitre d’fromage at Beckta dining & wine, has some insights on this.
“There are four basic things anybody can do to ensure a fantastic cheese tasting,” said the man who’s known to colleagues at the Cheese Whiz.
“First off, your cheese needs to be great.” But how do you know you’re getting the right cheese? Mr. Whittaker suggests, “Get to know your cheese monger and sample cheeses before you buy. And stay away from cheeses wrapped in plastic. There’s no way to know how long they’ve been suffocating like that.” As with purveyors of any fine product, buy your cheeses from people who care about what they sell.
Lesson two: Less is more. When tasting and appreciating cheese, it should be conducted as one would a wine tasting. “It’s always better to try four great cheeses than to overwhelm your palette with a dozen,” Mr. Whittaker says.
The third item is to set a theme for the cheese. Go for all goat milk cheeses, or sheep. Old world vs. new world is always fun, and all blue cheeses can be interesting.
The last point is the most critical. “Remember to take your cheeses out of the fridge an hour before serving so that they’re properly tempered,” Mr. Whittaker advises. Like wine, cheese has a temperature at which it’s best served. Served too cool, cheese will have less flavour and a less pleasurable texture. Let it warm to room temperature so the real joy can be had.
Now that we have our cheese arranged, what wines should we serve? Though often thought of as an ideal pairing with cheese, red table wine can prove to be a difficult and unpredictable match. Part of our belief in red wine’s role with cheese is based on Europeans historically pairing cheese with mediocre red wines which have high levels of rough tannins. Cheese softened the tannins and made the wine more palatable. But, cheese also has a tendency to dampen the qualities of good red wines. On the palate, such red wines can feel dissonant especially when paired with a variety of cheeses.
There are some exceptions, though: A big dense Shiraz with an aged Manchego or a plush dark-fruited Zinfandel with a soft, bloomy rind cheese for instance. However, much more success and joy can found with pairing cheese with white table, late harvest and fortified wines.
For a more specific pairing, younger cheeses made with goats’ milk shine when served with Sauvignon Blanc. Soft cheeses go well with Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, late harvest Riesling and Late Bottled Vintage Port. Washed rind cheeses with a strong sense of earthiness can be paired either a Chenin Blanc with a touch of residual sugar or Chardonnay with lots of rich, barrel-fermented character.
Hard cow and sheep’s milk cheeses are excellent with dry and slightly off-dry Sherry and Tawny Ports. As for blue cheese, botrytized whites such as Sauternes and Tokaji Aszu, Recioto-style Amarone, Vintage Port and Pedro Ximenez Sherry are all great partners.
Every genre of art and pleasure has its classic iconic combinations, and wine is no different. Wine and cheese can be explored by all those who enjoy wine and food pairings. With a little preparation, a proper pairing can deliver flavour both pleasant and lingering.

Pieter Van den Weghe is the sommelier at Beckta dining & wine.

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Category: Delights

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Pieter Van den Weghe is general manager and wine director at Beckta dining & wine.

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