Photo: Amy Williams
France gets a lot of credit when to comes to all things cheese, but I absolutely love what Italy brings to the table in the word of formaggio. As far as the vino goes, nowhere on earth is wine such a central part of culture than in Italy! After all, in Italy, they never say a man has drunk too much wine; they just say he hasn't eaten enough food yet...
If your knowledge of Italian cheeses doesn't go far beyond Parmigiano Reggiano, you're in for a real treat because there's so much more to love. Add some sliced ciabatta, a bit of Prosciutto di Parma or Mortadella, olives and fruit (I love fresh figs when they’re in season) and make a night of it.
Here's an easy roadmap for throwing the perfect Italian wine and cheese party!
Note: If you can't find these specific wines or cheeses, others in the same style will work- so make friends with your cheesemonger and wine-shop girl if you haven't yet and have them help you with your selection. You can also shop the links below from cheese mecca Murray’s: they ship nationwide!
(Pssst: If you want to know how I came up with these pairings, don’t forget to check out our pairing primer here.)
Italian Wine and Cheese Party Lineup:
Pairing #1: Brunet + Gavi di Gavi
Brunet is a goat’s milk cheese crafted in the northern region of Piedmont. It has a delicate, goaty tang and a texture that's cakey at the core but creamy-silky-smooth out towards the rind! This is a little richer than the sharp, crumbly chevres from France- but the decadence is so very Italian. It's perfect with Gavi di Gavi, which is a white wine from Piedmont and made with the Cortese grape. In the biz, we always say, 'what grows together, goes together'- so pairing a cheese and wine from the same region is always a good bet. I love these two together because the wine is SO light and fresh with plenty of delicate green apple and pear flavors and a little bit of herbaceousness. It has a pretty high acidity which means it constantly keeps your palate refreshed and invigorated and can cut through the creaminess of the cheese. Bella!
Pairing #2: Castelrosso + Vermentino
Castelrosso, a cow's milk cheese also from Piedmont, is like a mashup of a smooth, creamy-driven French tomme and a firm, curdy English cheddar. It's got a dense, chalky core and a luscious, slightly salty cream line (ie. the silky, soft and runny part right below the rind). Its tanginess is even slightly lemony. I put this with a fabulous Vermentino! Vermentino is a white grape native to Tuscany and Sardinia, where the golden grapes get nicely ripe. The wine is mellow, with round texture and plenty of golden orchard fruit flavors and a little lemon-custard vibe. Even though the wine has a rich texture, it’s still very crisp and clean: a perfect texture match for this cheese.
Pairing #3: Salva Cremasco + Barbera
Salva Cremasco comes from hillside farms in Lombardy. Its surprisingly tart notes are balanced out by earthier tones, and under the natural rind the paste is aromatic, bright, and slightly herbal. I think that earthy-herbal flavor is best balanced out with a bright, fruity wine-- Barbera is one of my favorites! It's a true workhouse, my go-to for everything from pizza to Thanksgiving Turkey. It's a fruit-driven, medium bodied, versatile wonder and one of my MVPs in the world of Italian wines!
Pairing #4: Pecorino Foglie di Noce + Chianti Classico
This delicious Pecorino hails from the Emilia-Romagna region (the area that is also home to Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma.) It's a raw sheep's milk cheese that is aged amidst layers of autumn walnut-tree leaves! So romantic, so rustic, so Italian. Inside the incredible rind crusted with walnut leaves, the paste is rich and velvety and SUPER buttery (thanks, sheep's milk!). I usually pair a sheep cheese with a hearty red- so try the classic red of Tuscany, Chianti Classico! Made from the Sangiovese grapes, the best Chianti are brimming with sour cherry, earth and a touch of spice.
Pairing #5: Podda Classico + Nebbiolo
I like to wrap up my tasting flights with a nice hard cheese. This one is a cow and sheep’s milk cheese from the gorgeous fantasy island of Sardinia. Aged for almost a year, this cheese has a crunchy texture and a lingering tangy finish. Drizzle it with some honey and that's all I would need for dessert! Nebbiolo is a good match with Podda Classico. Nebbiolo is a thin-skinned grape from Piedmont... it's not full-bodied but it packs a serious punch! It's assertive and the tannins can be aggressive, but the sweet-salty-nutty-crumbliness of this cheese is a worthy sparring partner.