Cheese & Wine Pairing Demystified

We often fret about pairing our wines appropriately with our foods. Not so sure that we should fret about it but there is something to be said for finding those “marriages-made-in-heaven” between your favorite wines and foods. Fortunately for cheeses, those good matches for wines pop up more often than with other foods. Cheese enjoys a leg-up compared to other foods, actually several leg-ups.

17CW301 Cheese & Wine Pairing DemystifiedCheese is, after all, a “near-perfect” and near-complete food with a stellar track record for food safety. Wine enjoys a similar track record as a beverage, certainly with regard to safety. When you are in a place where the water may be questionable, the wine is always a safer bet.

The fruit in a wine balances the savory qualities in a cheese. The acids in wine help to break down the good butterfats into nutritionally important fatty acids, and those acids helps to break down the proteins into amino acids; all this helps to make the cheese more easily digested. The acid in wine complements the flavor profile in cheese aesthetically too. In matching cheeses with wines we find that this more a relationship of harmony than the one of balance between the fruit in the wine and the savory in the cheese.

Because cheese is a fairly complex food it can present challenges to wine partners. This is one reason why it is helpful to find balance in the sizes of the overall flavor profiles among cheeses and wines. This is the basis of Artisanal’s CheeseClock. The bigger the cheese is, the bigger the wine should usually be. Not that a big cheese can’t find successful pairing with a lighter wine, the wine can however be overwhelmed by a cheese with bigger flavors.

What seals the deal between successful cheese and wine pairings is detected in the aromatics of the cheese and those of the wine, and how they get along at the finish. Everything can be working just fine between a cheese and wine, then at the “finish” they seem to go in separate directions, or they may even clash. A delightful surprising finish or a lesser one is indicated by the aromatic esters in the wine and in those of the cheese. The cheese may be a salty one that is pairing nicely with a fruitier or sweeter type of wine, the acids are complementing one another well, the size of the two may be in balance, yet in the finish something seems to go wrong. This poor finish may not be noticed until the cheese and wine are consumed, but when it surfaces you wish that you had chosen a different wine, or a different cheese.

This is one reason why I recommend having at least two types of wine when you are seeking those good matches with cheeses. If one wine does not work so well, maybe the second one will be a better one. More often than not, each of the wines will find some synergy with a cheese, either good or great.

One consideration that is often applied to predicting good matching of cheeses and wines is to follow the terroir application: that if it is a cheese and wine that are produced in the same region that they will naturally work. There is so much that goes into wine making and as much or more that goes into the production of cheeses, that to rely on the provenance factor is a little short-sighted. Some of the best pairings we’ve experienced have come from opposite sides of the planet. It is, of course, a good starting point for selecting good cheese and wine partners, and it can provide a thematic element to the occasion as well.

Spread the curd!
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Posted by Max McCalman

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