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Wine and Cheese Pairing Basics

A few years ago Linda and I conducted a wine and cheese pairing workshop in conjunction with the Zionsville Community Education summer program. And, while most of the pairings turned out pretty well, a couple of clunkers reminded us that wine and cheese pairing is an art, not a science. I prepared these Wine and Cheese pairing "rules of thumb" for the class and thought it was worth sharing here in the newsletter. Just be careful not to try and pair English Cotswold with anything except ale or beer...our entire class agreed!

The pairing of wines and cheeses involves the matching of two of the most diverse and complex products man produces. Is it any wonder that the three greatest wine producing nations – France, Spain and Italy – are also the world's greatest cheese producing nations. Yet, wine and cheese pairing still remains one of the most difficult of culinary challenges. These collisions of fruit, acid and butter fat often provide the possibility for matches that can wonderfully enhance or totally destroy the flavors of both the wine and the cheese. The following are a few guidelines that will help prevent pairing disasters as you experiment. The whiter and fresher the cheese, the whiter and crisper the wine; the darker and stronger the cheese, the darker and heavier the wine.

--The perception that cheese has to go with red wine is a misconception. Most cheeses go better with white wines, not red, and often better with sweet wines, not dry wines.

--Cheese is usually a bad idea as a hors d’ oeuvre since the butterfat coats the palate and dulls the taste buds. This is why the French always offer the cheese course after the entrée.

--Pair acidity with acidity, fruitiness with fruitiness, and weight with weight.

Soft Cheeseslike Brie, Camembert, St. Andre, young Gouda
Soft cheeses coat the mouth and will make red wines taste tart and acidic. The sparkle of Champagne or crisp aromatic whites like Riesling will cut through creaminess. A big, buttery Chardonnay will often complement the richness.

Blue Cheeseslike Stilton, Maytag, Gorgonzola or Roquefort
The creaminess and strong flavors of most blue cheeses tend to fight dry wines. Sweet wines like Port or late harvest whites tend to make the best matches.

Hard Cheeseslike Cheddar, Aged Gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Manchego
These firmer, drier cheeses lack the heavy butterfat of softer cheeses making them the wine- friendliest cheeses of all. These are often the best cheeses to pair with dry red wines like Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah. Fortified wines like Sherry, Maderia, aged Tawny or Vintage Ports also pair well with these mature, brittle cheeses.

Goat Cheeseslike Chèvre, Pecorino Romano or Manchego
The one thing that almost everyone who works around wine and cheese agree on is that fresh, crisp Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect match for fresh, young goat cheeses. Aged goat cheese, like other hard cheeses, will pair well with dry reds and fortified wines like Sherry or Port.

Extreme Cheeseslike Smoked Cheddar, Beemster, Cotswold or Limburger
Extreme cheeses are those with added ingredients like pepper, chives or sage or very strong, almost ammoniated flavors. They are the most difficult to match with wine. Look for very bold reds like Shiraz or Zinfandel or fortified wines as your first choice to pair up with these cheeses.