Wine and cheese are two sides of the same coin; they show their best when enjoyed together. Both realms are incredibly varied too, with so many styles of cheese and wine, there are endless combinations, so becoming a proficient matchmaker is pretty useful.
Pairing wine and cheese, as with any other pairing, ultimately depends on your tastes, but tradition and experimentation have shown us that, effectively, some cheeses taste nicer with particular wines.
Here’s all you need to know about cheese and wine pairings in our effortless guide to wine and cheese pairing.
Which goes with what?
Cheese /CHēz/: a food made from the pressed curds of milk.
You can make cheese from any milk, from cows, goats, sheep, and even buffaloes. The milk solids are separated, and that’s where the digestive enzyme rennet comes in. The resulting curds are pressed to make cheese. Then cheese can be aged to create a myriad of cheese styles.
Wine /wīn/: an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice.
Wine also comes in a variety of styles: white, pink or rosé, dry or lusciously sweet, light or heavy, lively acidic or palate coating. Wine profiles depend on the grapes used, the climate in which they grow and the winemaker’s house style.
Here are the most popular cheese styles and the wines that go with them
Fresh and Soft-Rind Cheese
Fresh cheeses aren’t aged at all and are often better enjoyed sooner than later, they might be spreadable, and are often milky, tangy and creamy. Goat’s cheese, ricotta and cottage are a few examples.
Pasta Filata cheeses could also fit in this fresh cheese category. The curds are kneaded and stretched to achieve cheese like mozzarella or provolone.
Then, there’s the soft-rind cheese, which is more exciting. Think Brie and Camembert. The cheeses are gooey and have a powdery rind. They age for brief periods and are affected by mold.
Fresh and soft-rind cheeses are delicate and can be tangy. They’re best paired with crisp, refreshing white wines with high acidity like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albariño and Vermentino. Dry Sparkling wine is appropriate too.
Semi-Soft and Semi-Hard Cheese
This catch-all category represents many cheese styles that have aged for a while which means they have a firm texture while retaining moisture. Think of Edam, Gouda, Swiss, Cheddar or Monterey Jack. The flavor and aroma intensity can vary, but these are all still quite milky and mellow.
Naturally, any medium-bodied red wine will pair nicely medium-bodied cheese. Think Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere or Barbera; there are many others. A full-bodied oaky Chardonnay pairs well with these too.
Within this category, we could also group the washed-rind cheese, although they could very well have their own class. Producers wash the cheese with brine, beer or wine to promote fungi and bacterial growth. These are the stinky cheeses like the limburger and the munster.
Washed-rind cheese pairs beautifully with aromatic white wines with intense bouquets such as Chenin Blanc, Torrontés and Riesling. Intensely scented wine for stinky cheese.
If you age cheese long enough, it loses moisture and becomes grainy, like parmiggiano, asiago, pecorino, or aged manchego. Hard cheese is not very elastic. Instead, it’s great for grating over pasta. Flavors in these cheeses are intensified, and they can be quite salty too.
Pair hard cheese with structured red wines with lots of ‘tannins’ the grainy particles that dry your mouth. Think Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
Finally, there’s the funky blue cheese. Cheesemakers will inject Penicillium roqueforti spores to the cheese, which develops green and blue ‘veins.’ These are intensely flavored cheeses and can be really pungent.
Interestingly enough, sweet dessert wines are the best pairing for blue cheese; the sweetness contrasts the saltiness and the pungency in a classic pairing that’s more significant than the sum of its parts.
It’s time to try out your newfound knowledge.
Experimenting is the key to the most successful cheese and wine pairings. With risk comes reward. Finding unexpected combinations that taste good for you and your loved ones is deeply satisfying, and that’s what exploring the vast world of wine and food pairings is all about.
Get yourself some wine and pay a visit to your local cheesemonger, the best wine and cheese pairings are out there to be discovered so, let the hunt begin!