How to pair wine and cheese is not as easy as one might think. Because there is more than one type of wine and one type of cheese, the variables are almost endless. Like any other food and wine pairings, some cheeses go better with certain wines.
By the way, there is no wrong way to pair wine and cheese but a few insights might help towards a better taste experience. Stay with me here and I’ll outline some pairing tips, provide you with a simple cheesy idea for home entertaining and finish off with some FAQs on cheese plates.
There is no wrong way to pair wine and cheese but a few insights might help towards a better taste experience #greenacresirl #discovercheese
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All About Cheese
Wikipedia tells us that “Cheese is a dairy product derived from milk that is produced in a wide range of flavours, textures, and forms by coagulation of the milk protein casein. It comprises proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep.”
If you want to really read-up on cheeses, there is an excellent website called cheese.com where you can search the database of 1831 varieties of cheese by names, by country of origin, by kind of milk that is used to produce it, or by texture.
Here in Green Acres, we are starting to plan for our Christmas cheese and wine offering and I thought it would be opportune to pen a few words on wine and cheese pairings. To me, experimenting with wines and cheeses is a welcome and ongoing challenge.
Why it is a challenge is that, just like wines varying in their sweetness, acidity and body so too do cheeses vary in moisture, fat content, texture, and flavour. Because of these variables, the pairing will always be a voyage of discovery, in my opinion.
So, with this post, I hope to provide you with a few basic guidelines for matching success. Whilst Green Acres do carry a comprehensive stock of cheeses, especially during the forthcoming Festive Season, I won’t restrict myself to pairing with just those.
Wines lie along a continuum from delicate to bold. Most of the time, their depth and complexity correspond with their age. Young wines are fresh with lively aromas, older wines acquire more refinement. Similarly, aged cheeses tend to be more complex and savoury than their younger equivalents.
Accordingly, it follows that fruity, fresh wines might partner best with younger cheeses. Older cheeses would partner better with wines that have more body and complexity. My first bit of advice, therefore, is to try and match the age and strength of flavour of the wine with the cheese.
Wine and Cheese Pairing
Before I provide you with actual wine and cheese pairings here are five general tips to consider:
- what grows together goes together e.g. burgundy and époisses.
- sweet wines balance salty cheeses
- pair fruit and nuts with young cheeses e.g. tangy fruits and brie; nuts and cheddar.
- tannins and rich aged cheeses complement each other
- bubbles love a rich cheese e.g. Champagne and camembert
Here are my suggestions for general pairings led by the type of wine –
- Cabernet Sauvignon – when paired with strong cheddar, the wine draws out the cheese’s flavours
- Merlot – a herb-infused cheese (e.g. garlic and herb) brings out the black cherry and plum taste in the wine
- Malbec – this full-bodied wine needs a reserve or vintage cheese which have robust flavours
- Zinfandel – pairs well with spicy cheeses
- Pinot Noir – works well with a nutty cheese such as gruyere
- Chianti – is a perfect example of where local cheeses pair best i.e. tomato and basil
- Syrah – pairs well with an aged cheese that is partially dry
- Chardonnay – pairs well with mild cheddar or triple cream cheeses
- Sauvignon Blanc – pairs well with subtly flavoured cheeses such as monterey jack
- Pinot Grigio – must be paired with mild cheeses
- Moscato – this sweet wine works well with spicy flavoured cheeses e.g. muenster
- Riesling – can handle spicy and powerful cheeses because of its acidity and sweetness
- Champagne – is versatile enough to work with any cheese style
- Vintage Port – the classic combination with blue cheeses e.g. stilton
Obviously, a lot of pairings come down to an individual’s taste preference but the guide above may help as a starting reference point. Here is a table that I have put together with more specific pairings.
If I was asked to pick one wine that I would open to cover a mixed plate of cheeses I would go for a Riesling, especially an off-dry one. Any sparkling wine would work well also.
On a separate note, there is much debate about pairing wine with goat’s cheese. Don’t overthink it and follow my tip above – what grows together goes together. As a rule of thumb, I would pair goat’s cheese with Sauvignon Blanc if you like white and Cabernet Franc if you like red.
A Cheesy Idea for Entertaining at Home
At the start of this post, I promised my tips for a simple cheese plate that will suffice for home entertainment. Before I do that, I want to share one of my favourite cheesy snacks– a wheel of baked brie. To my mind, it delivers a maximum impact with a minimum of effort. Baked brie is as simple as popping the cheese in the oven straight out of the carton (and you can add a topping if you wish) or with a little extra work -‘en croûte’.
For toppings –I like cranberry sauce. Also, it keeps well in the fridge because it’s so acidic. In Green Acres, we make our own preserves and jams on the premises, so ask for them when purchasing your wheel of brie. In fact another popular topping is honey!
The first thing to bear in mind is not to spend a lot on the cheese that’s going to heated and served as a snack (you wouldn’t use your best red wine to make sangria, would you?).
Here are my tips to baking brie successfully:
- Pierce or remove the top rind (to better expose the interior to the heat)
- Only cook for 25 mins at 170/180°C (35mins with puff pastry crust)
- Look for wheels labelled ‘triple-cream’ (has high butterfat which melts better)
- When ready, wait for about 5 mins before cutting open
- Serve warm from the oven with crackers, baguette slices or crudités
Questions on a Cheese Plate
– How much cheese do I need for entertaining?
- For four people: A quarter pound of each cheese (will leave some over for 2nds)
- For eight people: A quarter pound of each cheese
- For 12 people: A third to a half pound of each cheese
- For 16 people: A half to three-quarters of a pound of each cheese
– What accompaniments will I use?
Pick two items that can work well with several of the cheeses. I like fruit and crackers or crisps. They’re not as heavy as bread and there is a range of different crackers on the market nowadays. Then add some Green Acres fruit chutney or preserve.
– What cheeses should I include?
Four kinds of cheese are ample. I would go for the following:
- Something creamy (Brie)
- An aged goat (Manchester)
- A better cheddar (clothbound if you can get it)
- A little blue (cambozola)
– Any other tips?
- Provide separate knives for each cheese
- Soft, creamy cheeses are best cut with a thin-bladed a knife as possible (some blades have holes in them instead).
- Serve the cheeses on a single board with the mildest (generally creamiest) at 12 o’clock, moving clockwise through to the stronger, then harder, then eventually blue cheeses.
- Tell people to taste their way around the clock. Remind guests that soft, skin-like rinds are edible and not to be afraid to try them.
Cheeses vary in body, sweetness, and acidity depending on their aging processes and for how long they’ve been aged. And so does wine. That’s why they’re the perfect partners. Experiment and enjoy.
As usual, you can contact me if you would like to discuss anything about wine and cheese combos – they are very popular as gifts. We can put together a customised hamper for you. Also, if you’d like to receive future blog posts from us, directly to your email, just ‘click’ here.
We look forward to engaging with you again soon – Cheers, James.