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Pairing wines with cheese need not be complicated. While there are few considerations to follow, there is also flexibility. Santé Magazine asked Adam Centamore, a wine and food educator at Commonwealth Wine School in Boston and Founder of EatDrinkLearn for a few tips. Here is what he recommends:

Consider the timing of the cheese course and how it is being enjoyed. A small plate of cheese served as an aperitivo is a different setting and pairing than at the end of the meal.

Embrace “what grows together goes together.” Pairing wines and cheeses from the same region is a reliable way to explore a sense of place and terroir and to understand how the products are enjoyed locally.”

Decide whether you are going to contrast or complement characteristics and which to emphasize. This includes style (cow, goat, sheep), texture (soft and creamy vs hard), and flavor (salty, tangy, sweet, nutty).

Consider dominant flavors and textures of both the wine and cheeses. With wine, tannins, acidity, oak, dry versus sweet, and style (sparkling, still, fortified) all come into play when looking at the textures and flavors in the cheeses.

Let one be the star of the show. If you are opening a special bottle of wine, allow it to be the center of attention and build a cheese course around it that will complement and not compete.

Aging matters with both the cheese and the wines based on style. “Gouda, for example, is a family of cheeses that tends to retain lactic sweetness more than other aged cheeses. An 18 -month aged Gouda will act significantly different than an 18-month Parmigiano Reggiano or an18- month Gruyère.”

Add condiments to complement or temper flavors. Examples pairing fresh goat cheese with three high acid wines: Spanish Cava, fresh chevre and lime curd; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, fresh chevre and papaya; Loire Vouvray, fresh chevre and dried apricots.

Still, do what makes you happy and pleases your palate. “An all Spanish wine and cheese pairing makes sense, but if you are not drawn to a specific area it is more fun to introduce different combinations that are unexpected and equally enjoyable.”

Always practice.  Taste and test to find your tried and true.

Centamore provides practical and thorough guidelines by the style of wine in his book, Tasting Wine & Cheese: An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing (QuartoKnows.com). A few pointers are shared below.

Sparkling wines

Bubbles as a rule are great at countering fattier, rich cheeses. Do consider dryness and style. Examples

Champagne Brut with mild creamy cheeses: Langres (cow’s milk, local to Champagne), French brie (e.g., Coulommiers).

Spanish Cava: The bright, zesty flavors pair well with cheeses with high fat content and fuller flavor. Examples: Arzúa-Ulloa (Spain, cow’s milk), Gruyère Alpage (Switzerland, cow)

Lambrusco: This intensely fruity sparkling red pairs well with fattier, richer soft cheeses. Examples: Robiola Tre Latti, (Italian, blend of cow, sheep, goat milk)

Moscato: Pair this lighter, semi-sweet frizzante style wine with milder cheeses that do not overpower the palate. Examples: Fontal Nazionale (Italy, cow milk), Tronchetto Caprino al Miele (Italy, goat milk).

Whites

Here, consider the wine’s characteristics such as dryness, acidity, body, and dominant flavors. Centamore writes, “Softer cheeses like bright acidity found in wines such as Gruner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc. Heavy cheeses like oak and body- Chardonnay, anyone? Stinky, washed-rind cheese love wines with a little residual sugar, like that found in Gewurtztraminer. Blue cheeses need viscosity and floral notes, like those found in French Vouvray or Sauternes.”

Examples:

Chenin Blanc: Used in both still and sparkling wines, Chenins offer versatile pairings. Centamore suggests pairing dry Chenin wines with cheeses containing more milk fat such as a triple crème Brillat-Savarin (France, cow milk) or Caprino al Miele (Italy, goat milk). Or consider his “match made in heaven” – Selles dur Cher (French, goat milk) with Vouvray, both produced in the Loire Valley.

Chardonnay (with oak) and aged Gouda “The smooth vanilla and spice of a full-bodied California Chardonnay or Meursault from Burgundy is gorgeous with the sweetness of an aged Gouda. In contrast, Centamore notes that an unoaked Chardonnay such as Chablis will pick up the minerally flavors of a fresh goat cheese such as a Valançay from France.

Riesling pairs well with cheeses that carry body and weight. Centamore recommends Morbier and Tomme de Savoie (both France, cow’s milk), Gruyère (Swiss, cow’s milk), or a clothbound Cheddar.

Red Wines:

Centamore says, “Red wines with high tannins go with fat and salt. Lighter tannin wines mean usually mean more fruit forward so I tend to go for cheeses that are a little less direct with the salt and spice…..However, a misstep people make when pairing red wines with cheese is just tasting the wine by itself and assessing based on the taste. Tannins in general will change dramatically while you are eating.”

Examples:

A lightly tannin Spanish red wine (e.g., Joven) that has less time to develop a peppery and spicier backbone will go with a younger Manchego sheep’s milk cheese. An older Tempranillo has the shoulders to stand up to an aged Manchego.

Softer tannin Pinot Noir (Burgundy) an Old World wine pairs well with lightly aromatic cheeses such as these three French cow’s milk cheeses: Camembert, a washed rind L’Ami du Chambertin, and Époisses de Bourgogne. In contrast, a more fruit-forward New World Pinot Noir from Chile or California will stand up to age. Examples: Chevrot (France, goat’s milk) or Jasper Hill’s bloomy-rinded Moses Sleeper (the U.S.A., cow’s milk).

Plush wines like Primitivo/Zinfandel call for assertive cheeses and can shoulder the aging Examples: Gorgonzola (Italy, cow’s milk), Asiago Stravecchio (Italy, cow’s milk), Raclette and Gruyère Vieux (both Swiss cow’s milk).

Dessert and Fortified Wines

A light cheese course is a nice way to end a meal as an option to a sweet dessert. Centamore notes many dessert and fortified wines pair beautifully with more assertive cheeses.

He writes, “The biggest factor to remember when pairing dessert and fortified wines with cheese is these wines themselves may be bigger, more flavorful, and at times bolder than many cheeses.”

Other considerations are the wine’s characteristics, such as dryness and sweetness. A sweet, thick dessert wine would pair with a fuller flavored cheese. A drier wine – e.g., some sherries, are a match for aged cheeses.

Examples:

Vin Santo with whipped Ricotta drizzles with orange blossom honey. “The honey adds sweetness to the cheese….the light orange scent brings out the vanilla and oak in the aroma of the wine.”

Sauternes with Roquefort (France, sheep’s milk). The cheese’s minerality and slight saltiness are perfect matches to the wine’s deep fruit notes and viscous body.”

Tawny Port and Stilton (England, sheep’s milk). This is a classic pairing; add toasted hazelnuts or dried figs to add a depth of sweetness.

Adam Centamore’s G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) cheese and wine pairings:

Aged Comté cheese from Jura paired with a Morgon Cru Beaujolais, saucisson Lyonnais and Dijon mustard.

Valençay Frais (goat) and Valançay Sauvignon Blanc (Loire Valley) with a lemon curd or jam, something with sweetness.

Credit: Taste of France Magazine

Roquefort Carles and Pruneaux d’Agen (sun-dried plums soaked in Armagnac) with Bordeaux Rouge or Châteauneuf- du-Pape, ideally with a black currant loaf from Maison Poilâne.

www.roquefort-carles.fr 

Learn more and follow:

Commonwealth Wine School IG@commonwealthwineschool www.adamcentamore.com IG@eatdrinklearn

Featured photo Marco Mayer/Deposit Photos

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An engaging speaker and writer, Melanie Young hosts the weekly national radio shows, The Connected Table Live, featuring conversations with global thought leaders in wine, food, spirits and hospitality (a Feedspot Top 10 Food & Drink Podcasts for 2021), and Fearless Fabulous You, a lifestyle show for and about women (both on iHeart and more than 30 other podcast platforms). Young has contributed articles on wine, spirits, food, and culinary travel to Wine Enthusiast, Seven Fifty Daily, Wine4Food and Jewish Week. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Wine Media Guild, and Women of the Vine & Spirits. Young’s former marketing and events agency, M Young Communications, worked with global wine, food organizations, publishing companies and nonprofits. She had an integral role in the creation, launch and management of The James Beard Foundation Awards, New York Restaurant Week, and Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund (2001) which raised funds to provide for the families of restaurant workers killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. www.theconnectedtable.com www.melanieyoung.com Instagram @theconnectedtable

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