Wine and cheese are truly the perfect pair, but learning how to pick the right combinations can be tricky! Cheese will almost always dominate your taste buds, and the wine you pick will not effect the cheese's flavor. The flavor of your wine however, can easily be harmed by being paired with the wrong cheese. While here at the cheese counter we're pairing things for your enjoyment, this guide will help you when you're building your own plates at home.
A quick guideline to follow is: Hard aged cheeses tend to pair well with wines high in tannins. Creamy cheeses do well paired with wines higher in acidity. Salty cheeses do well paired with sweeter wines.
When in doubt, or just starting out, often you can do well by simply pairing like with like in terms of intensity.
When picking your pairings, the most important things to keep in mind are texture, intensity, acidity, sweetness, and your intentions.
What is your goal for your cheese? A wine and cheese pairing can be a stand alone meal, an appetizer, a snack, and much more. How you're serving it and to who makes as much difference as flavor itself. When served as an appetizer, on average you will want to plan on 2 ounces of cheese per person, a mere 1/8th of a lb.
When setting up your cheese plate, keep in mind that room temperature cheese is at its best. There are flavor complexities that are not released in colder temperatures, so try to let your cheese spend some time out of the fridge prior to serving. It is best if it can have 30-60 minutes sitting unwrapped, or longer if a larger piece of cheese.
If the cheese plate itself is the center of attention, remember that more is not better! Instead, try focusing in on two to four centerpiece cheeses and select your accoutrements and beverages around those cheeses.
Cheese tastes its best all by itself, without the aid of fruits, spreads, etc. In some cases, you may want to consider serving the cheese with nothing more than a knife.
If the goal is to provide a collection of flavors and a more filling meal, then adding accoutrements to you plate based on the cheeses you've selected is also an excellent choice.
Dried fruits, fresh fruits, nuts, spreads, honey, and aged meats are some of the most popular and versatile cheese companions.
With a Meal
When serving alongside a meal, take into account the type of meal and whether you're serving the cheese before or after.
When serving before a meal, avoid creamy, young cheeses as these will dampen your guest's appetite. Instead, select for older, saltier cheeses to whet their appetite.
Younger, creamy cheeses are better for an after meal treat or even a replacement for the desert course.
Consider the intensity of the flavors in your meal as well, and make sure the meal stays the focus by choosing cheeses that are less powerful in flavor than the main dish.
Pairings For Wine & Cheese:
Dried fruits, particularly dried figs and apples are a lovely pairing and alternative to fresh fruit. Try to obtain ones that are purely dried and do not have any added sugars.
Nuts, particularly ones that have been roasted and salted, do very well on a cheese plate.
Spreads such as chutney, jams, and jellies are particularly good with younger cheeses, as well as hard aged cheeses. Look especially for savory flavor combinations, such as balsamic fig or hot pepper jelly.
Honey is a surprisingly wonderful pairing with a large number of cheeses, particularly nutty hard aged cheeses.
Meats can also hold a valuable role of cheese pairing. You will want to serve well-aged meats that are subtle in flavor. Italian salamis and prosciutto are often the best pick for this purpose.
Fresh fruits can make an excellent pairing for cheese, particularly as a palette cleanser(a food that removes flavor residue from the mouth) between cheese types. However, you should be wary of fresh fruits when you are also pairing your cheese with wine. The flavor of the fruits can overwhelm the flavor of the wines, and the natural sweetness can lead to the wine seeming more bitter than it actually is.
Looking for more detailed information? We suggest Janet Fletcher's book Cheese & Wine.