Whether you are attending a fancy party or just want to host a get-together at home, knowing how to pair wine and cheese can be a valuable skill. So I was thrilled when the owners of Sharrott Winery asked me to teach a class on wine and cheese pairing. Of course I didn’t know much about the topic other than the fact that I love wine and cheese! I needed to do my research. A tough job, I know.
Armed with a wine and cheese wheel (a great reference tool) and several books on the subject, I headed out to Bagliani’s Market in Hammonton to consult with Joe, a.k.a. The Cheese Guy. He assisted me in choosing a variety of cheeses for my class, from mild to stinky blue. Then it was off to the winery for the taste trials. After a grueling hour of nibbling cheese and sipping wine (I told you this was a tough job), I had my pairings in place.
So in honor of today being National Cheese Lover’s Day, I’d like to share with you seven tips I’ve learned for pairing wine and cheese.
1. Pair like flavors. You want a mild wine with a mild cheese, and a stronger, more flavorful wine with a stronger cheese. Think sauvignon blanc with a pale goat cheese or a French-style rosé with brie. Strong cheddar can handle a bold Bordeaux, while blue cheese loves Port wine.
2. Think balance. You want to balance the creaminess of the cheese with either acids (in white wine) or tannins (in red wine). Acids and tannins both work in your mouth like little scrubbers; they react with the fat in the cheese, cleansing the palate and enhancing flavors.
3. Stinky cheeses love sweet wines. Stilton, gorgonzola and blue cheese all play well with sweeter wines. Try pairing them with Moscato, Vignoles or Port wine.
4. Pair wine and cheese from the same region. Serve Italian Chianti with an aged parmesan, Gewürztraminer with muenster from the Alps, Champagne with a French brie, or cabernet sauvignon with an American cheddar. By the way, this trick works with your dinner entree, too!
5. Use food as a bridge between wine and cheese. Sometimes you can’t find a perfect wine and cheese match, and that’s okay. In that case, use food to build a bridge between the flavors—this is why we serve crackers, apples, dried fruit, or jam with cheese. Experiment with these flavor combinations to find your perfect match.
6. When in doubt, choose a white wine. I know what you’re thinking, and it surprised me, too, but most experts agree that white wine pairs better with cheese than red. This makes sense when you remember the fruits that pair well with cheese—apples, pears, grapes and pineapple—are the flavors in most white wines. Choose unoaked white wines for their fresh, crisp finish as a counterpoint to creamy cheese.
7. Eat and drink what you like. If you have a favorite wine and cheese combination that breaks all the rules, go for it! These things are meant to be enjoyed.
Remember, the right wine and cheese pairing will elevate the flavors of both the wine and the cheese. You may be surprised by a subtle burst of flavor, a creamy richness, or the the rightness (yes, I made that word up) of the match.
The great thing about wine and cheese is that there are so many of them – literally thousands of potential combinations to discover. You can make finding the perfect pairing a life-long pursuit.
Jennifer Malme is a writer based in Vineland, in Cumberland County. She is the author of Down-Home South Jersey, a lifestyle blog about her adventures living in the Garden State, and in addition to being a contributor to Jersey Bites, she contributes to Sharrott Winery blog. Jennifer enjoys reading, cooking and exploring the wineries of New Jersey.