Become a Cheese & Wine expert! A Beginners Guide!
Food and wine have long been a mysterious and magical realm saved for the sommeliers of fine dining establishments up and down the UK.
Credit where it’s due, in the past everyone got to grips with Red Wine – Red Meat, White Wine – Fish and white meat, Chianti and Cannibals etc…. But now we are seeing a real push to creating perfect pairings in your own home.
Nothing makes that more accessible than cheese! And its bloody superb to see! As I say, a chunk of cheese can add a touch of theatre to your wine filled alcoholism!
It might come as a huge shock to many but the passionate winemakers of yesteryear didn’t set out to create the perfect pre-drink with the girls while waiting for the taxi, or even the drink that amazingly helps the days stress flutter away. Wine was, in most cases, created as a beautifully accessible drink that tastes great and helped wash down a great meal.
But what wine goes with what? And why?
My first and most important food and wine pairing advice is to experiment! THERE IS NO EXACT SCIENCE. Have fun, mix it up, play with textures and flavours. Variety is the spice of life, and lucky for us there are very few libations out there with the range of the wine world wine.
Also, GO TO WINE MERCHANTS AND ASK (Always feel free to ask That Wine Fella, I love a chat), ask for help, use the knowledge around you. But grow from there. The local wino gave you the advice of Rioja with manchego and it was bloody brilliant. Well, this time grab a Ribera del duero, next time try a Southern Rhone. You might find a winner; you might find a loser, but we’re British! So, either way we won’t see a bottle go to waste and when you really get the pairing right, it sings!
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty, FLAVOUR INTENSITY is possibly the most important. That delicate Goats Cheese will disappear under the effects of a huge American Zin, but that big blue stinky bugger will be ready and raring to go, even softened by the huge fruits of the wine. In essence and simply put, big flavours with big flavours, delicate flavours with lighter styles.
But that sounds a little too simple and to be fair, if you’re being hard on yourself, it probably is. There are so many more elements in both cheese and wine to look at but this is the novices guide after all. If there’s sufficient uproar, I’ll release another edition (But I doubt the people want it).
ACID in wine plays a big part in how your evening of pairing goes (not to be confused with the 90’s rave scene; Although that statement definitely wouldn’t change much), acidity is naturally occurring in wines and in the simplest way is found higher in certain grape varieties and cooler climates. Higher or more noticeable acidity will compliment a softer, creamier cheese (Brie, Goats etc.). A wine with lower acidity has the ability to become flabby and dull if paired with these styles (That might work for some).
On the other side of acidity sits BODY; Body can mask higher acidity as well as giving a welcome bite and weight to the wine. When you have higher bodied wines with lower or masked acidity look for cheeses with tougher texture (Cheddar, Aged Gouda). The body and texture will balance giving chance for the fruit intensity and lowered acidity to shine.
So far, we’ve looked at the wine characteristics of FLAVOUR, ACIDITY & BODY, this should get you there on the wine side. But I want to talk about a couple of other important but this time cheesy components; SALT & SWEETNESS.
SALT is a flavour enhancer that also can help bring out fruit intensity in wines that are balanced. Salt also has the beautiful ability to soften tannins, but not remove them entirely and because of this I'd often avoid hugely tannic wines with cheese and save them for you steak. Don’t forget the beautiful balance that a salty cheese and a wine with residual sugar can give.
SWEETNESS can make tannin and bitterness in food harsher so for those cheeses with a little fudge and caramel flavours also for the honey drizzlers among us I’d stick with sweeter styles (Ports, Dessert wines, fruity whites etc).
There was a good whack of information there but for the beginners amongst us my number 1, biggest bit there is EXPERIMENT!! DRINK MORE, EAT MORE AND BE MERRY!!