The 3 Secrets to Wine & Cheese Pairings That Will Make You An Expert
Raise your hand if you're just slightly obsessed with wine and cheese.
OMG me too!!! And today I am giving you 3 ways to execute the most incredible pairings that will blow your mind. Believe it or not, there is a 'wrong' way to do it... but if you follow our primer you will be winning every single time.
Before you call all your friends and tell them to run on over for an evening of gastronomic bliss- a couple notes:
Set up your cheese display with cheeses in sequence from light, creamy and delicate ranging up through dense, intense hard cheeses. The reason we start with lighter bodied cheeses and wines and move into the bigger, fuller, heartier flavors and textures as we progress is that we want to avoid what I call 'palate overwhelm'... remember it's a marathon, not a sprint! I like to organize left to right but clockwise is ok if you prefer a circular platter. And trust me--- you will want to save the blue cheeses for the grand finale.
Label them! One casual way to do this is just throw a roll of butcher paper down on your table and write the names of the cheeses right on there in marker. Chalkboard cheese markers like these are cute too.
Set your cheeses out at least 45 minutes before you plan to serve them to let them come up to room temperature for max enjoyment.
Dare to go naked: while it's smart to have some crackers or plain baguette slices around, for this kind of tasting the cheeses are best tasted on their own. So forego the olive oils, jams and other condiments- the wines are the only accompaniments you'll need.
Now that you're set up, here are my 3 secrets to creating mind-blowing pairings:
Pairing Secret #1: Texture Match
I believe the single most important factor in creating a successful pairing is to pair cheese and wines that are in the same weight class. Because we're striving for balance, pairing a light and creamy goat cheese with a massive, heavy red wine would be a serious fail. Instead, try these harmony pairings that I have matched for their compatible textures:
Young, fresh soft goat’s-milk cheese with a delicate and aromatic white like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling
Semisoft cow’s-milk cheese with a medium-bodied white like Chardonnay
Funky washed-rind cheese (like Talleggio) with a rich, floral and honeyed white such as Roussane or Viognier
Alpine-style cheeses like Gruyere, Emmenthaler, or Comte with a fresh and fruity red like Pinot Noir, Barbera or Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais)
Hard sheep’s-milk cheese with a rich and full-bodied red like Cabernet Sauvignon or Grenache/Syrah blends
Pairing Secret #2: Opposites Attract
On the flip side, sometimes a contrast pairing is also delicious. You can stick to the 'texture match' rules, but play around a little bit with flavor. Maybe a rosemary-crusted cheese would be delightful when contrasted with a citrus-driven wine like Picpoul. Rosemary and lemon, one of my favorite combinations in food- and you can create this same kind of flavor contrast in your wine pairing. Another style of contrast pairing that is ALWAYS a home run is pairing nutty, savory cheese with very rich and fruity wine. I call it a "peanut butter and jelly pairing" because you get that same sweet and savory delicious sensation. Think of it as PB&J for grownups!
Pairing Secret #3: What Grows Together, Goes Together
Wines and cheeses from the same region are brilliant together because they share a natural harmony- think of tangy goat cheese from the Loire in France paired with Sancerre, a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc from that same region--- heaven! Even if you can't find wine and cheese from the exact same place, you can fake it if you follow the general concept. For example, I had Corsican rosé wine made from the Aleatico grape that I wanted to pair. It was bursting with the floral and herbal aromas known in Corsica as maquis (those 'Herbs De Provence' scents like rosemary, thyme, lavender and sage). In Corsica, they make a sheep's milk cheese called 'Fleur de Maquis' by coating the wheels with herbs before aging--- but I couldn't find it here. Well, it turns out that Murray's, one of my favorite cheese sources, made their own local version called Hudson Flower, taking fresh cheese from Upstate NY and coating it with our own local herbs. So even though it wasn't a literal regional pairing, it was conceptually so spot-on that it was just perfect. You've got the idea!