But not every wine goes well with every cheese. If you're planning a fromage and vino pairing soiree, a little research can help you get the most out of each member of this dynamic duo.
- Sweet and Salty are natural counterpoints: perceptibly salty cheeses like Feta, Blue, or Asiago will highlight the sweetness in your beverage. An off-dry white or a wine with a sweet finish will show very well with these.
- Consider texture: a lusciously creamy Camembert folds straight into a softly buttery Chardonnay, but pairing it with a crisp dry Riesling will counterpoint and highlight that creaminess.
- Match intensity of flavor: just as you wouldn't pair Pinot Grigio with aged Stilton, you'd want to avoid Mascarpone and Old Vine Cabernet. Keeping each side of the match within the same level enhances them both.
Just like wine, cheese's flavours are muted at refrigerator temperature. Bring it out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Make sure the cheese doesn't get too warm, otherwise firm ones will start to sweat and soft cheeses will run off the plate. To simplify pairing choices, it helps to divide cheese into four broad styles, each with a distinct character that matches with specific styles of wine.
- Fresh and light: cheeses that have not been aged, or are only lightly cured. These mild and creamy, and have a high moisture content and soft texture. Think chèvre, mascarpone, feta.
- Aged/Firm: ranging from mild to sharp/pungent with a body that ranges from firm at room temperature, to hard grating cheeses. Think sharp cheddar, aged gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano, anything described as 'nutty'
- Creamy and/or funky: cheeses with a rind that covers a creamy interior that ranges from mellow to eye wateringly ripe, and usually runny at room temperature. Think Brie, Camembert, Epoisses.
- Blue: these cheeses that have blue/green veins, from penicillium mold, added during the cheese making process, giving them a distinct flavour ranging from mild to assertive. Think Danish blue, Stilton, Gorgonzola.
Fresh and Light
Fresh cheeses are typically delicate, but many have a subtle tartness. Remember, match the intensity of the beer or wine to the cheese.
For feta or chèvre, a softly lush Moscato will help tame the salty/tangy character of the cheese, and the slightly bolder Pinot Grigio will be more of a counterpoint, letting the cheese show off a bit. Soft but mellow cheeses like Mozzarella show well against bold whites like Chardonnay, or understated reds such as Pinot Noir, especially if it's just slightly chilled (60F) to take the edge off of the tannins.
Well-aged cheeses like Cheshire, Gruyère, Gouda, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano need a very full-bodied white, like Chardonnay, or tannic reds like Rossa Ardente, Chilean Malbec, or Italian Nebbiolo to tame their nuttiness, umami and saltiness.
Whether mellow or ripe, runny cheeses show better with more subdued aromas and flavours to complement rather than compete with them. Brie, Camembert, Époisses, or Taleggio all work with Carmenere or Pinot Noir.
Traditionally paired with Port, these cheeses need intense flavours to match their salty/savory body and sometimes impressive funk. A surprise winner with such powerful cheeses is Master Vintner Tropical Bliss Blackberry Pinot Noir: its combination or ripe blackberry fruit and balanced acidity and tartness make it a brilliant foil for the salt and savor of delicious blue cheese.
The Infallible Choice
If you're in a rush and there isn't time to carefully plan all of your options, a perfect match with most cheeses is whatever you want to drink—if it's cubes of cheddar and a bottle of good old Merlot or Monterey Jack and Green Apple Riesling, any pairing you enjoy is a good one.