Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide

You hear it all the time: wine goes well with cheese and cheese goes well with wine. But, once you start trying to plan a party or casual evening with both, things can get a little tricky. Key questions include: Which cheeses do you have in the fridge? Which wines do you have in the house? Which cheeses do you love or hate? Which wines do you love or hate?

Luckily, with the help of our quick tips, you can pair wine & cheese like a champ (or better yet, the champ's caterer). Volumes have been written on this topic, so let's start with the classics and revisit the area in the coming weeks and months once you're ready for your graduate degree.

1. Decide on a primary ingredient or theme.

To begin the wine & cheese pairing process, you first need to decide how to focus your energy. (1) Do you want to feature certain cheeses or use ones you already have? That's good, because once you select the cheeses, we can help you figure out which wines to drink. (2) Or, do you want to feature certain wines or use ones you already have? That's good too, because once you pick the wines, the cheese selections will be easy.

For themes, there are a lot of good ones out there. You could focus on a country for wine & cheese and a big four appear: France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Select delicious cheeses from a country and pair them with national wines. Or, pick a favorite wine, like Pinot Noir, buy bottles from different vineyards and select a handful of cheeses to pair with it. Finally, you could pick a favorite cheese, like Cheddar and buy different varieties and ages of Cheddar and select some wines to go with it. Having a theme makes things more fun and interesting.

2. Assemble the cheese plate.

We've heard some interesting tips for assembling cheese plates. One is to keep the number of cheeses Odd (3, 5, 7, etc.) because it keeps the plate looking good with a nod to Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

Starting at 12 o'clock on the cheese plate, arrange the cheeses from mildest tasting to strongest. It's also fun and helpful to have little labels for the cheeses. We've seen tiny paper flags with the name and type of the cheese written at the top.

Don't forget the accompaniments! Cheese always goes well with bread or crackers. Plus, adding various fruits, nuts, jams and jellies to the plate is a great touch and makes tasting even more fun.

3. For starters, focus on these classic pairings.

Red Wine Pairings
(1) Cabernet Sauvignon: The classic Cabernet flavor features deep, dark fruits, and are medium- to full-bodied, intense and bold. Cabernets pair well with cow's milk cheeses and milder blue cheeses, but don't pair well with goat cheeses. For popular pairings, try them with a sharp Cheddar, French Comte, Danish Blue, or aged Gouda.

(2) Merlot: Merlots are versatile and can be light and straightforward to deep and complex. They are generally full-bodied, deeply hued, high in alcohol and feature notes of cherry, plum and chocolate. Try Merlot with sheep's milk or cow's milk cheeses, but not goat cheeses. For popular pairings, try Camembert, Gouda or Gruyere.

(3) Pinot Noir: Pinot Noirs are lush, with notes of black cherries, berries, earth and spice, with an aroma that's reminiscent of everything from cola to bacon and roses. These wines pair well with cow's and sheep's milk cheeses, but not goat's or blue cheeses. For popular pairings, try a light Cheddar, Comte, Edam, Gouda, Gruyere, or Saint Andre.

White Wine Pairings
(1) Chardonnay: Chardonnay features rich and complex flavors of apples, citrus and hazelnuts. The best Chardonnays are medium-bodied, medium-dry, and highly acidic. Because of their high acidity, Chardonnays pair well with most cow's and goat's milk cheeses. For popular pairings, try Brie, Cambazola, or your favorite goat cheese.

(2) Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp, acidic, and light-to-medium-bodied grape is characterized by prominent grassiness with an herbaceous flavor and aroma. Classic Sauvignon Blanc's also display fruit and citrus flavors. They pair well with sheep's and goat's cheeses, but generally not cow's or blue cheeses. For popular pairings, try Brie, a sharp Cheddar, a Dry Jack or goat's cheese.

(3) Champagne: Oh, those bubbles! Champagnes generally have the acidity and sweetness to pair well with buttery triple-cremes and brie cheeses. For popular pairings, go with a creamy brie, Brillat-Savarin, Boursin, or Cambazola. For Champagne: the creamier, the better.

4. Explain what you're doing and ask for feedback.

We've found it fun to let people know what you're doing. Tell them the theme, whether cheese, wine or country focused, and ask them what they thought paired well and what didn't. Really, pairings are all a matter of personal preference, but it'll be great to remember your favorites for next time.

Have additional tips or favorite cheese & wine pairings? Post them in the comments section!


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