Sitting around the dinner table with some good friends recently, the discussion eventually graduated (some said deteriorated!) to the contentious subject of matching cheese and wine. As with all food and wine pairings, there are a few basic rules that should be observed to heighten the sensation of the mix on the palate, but these are usually totally ignored as we know what we like to eat and know what we like to drink with it.
Report by Mark Mair
We have a wide variety of cheese styles and wines types available in our retail outlets or speciality stores these days, and to finish off a meal with a good cheeseboard is certainly not the “mission impossible” it used to be in the not so distant past. We can also take a pick of some of a very wide selection of South African wines (and some from further afield too,) without having to delve into those personal wine stocks lost somewhere in the back of a cupboard, and then after first locating them and then opening one, finding out to huge annoyance that these painstakingly collected and jealously guarded wines have either oxidised or “not travelled well”.
There are three aspects you should consider when pairing or matching cheese with wine to achieve that great mouthfeel or perfect taste “mix”; the fat content and maturity of the cheese, the strength of the tannin in the red wine, and the level of acidity in the white wine. These “three stooges“, if combined correctly, can really heighten your enjoyment of each!
Soft, externally mould-ripened cheeses generally have a very creamy mouthfeel. They are made from milk that has a higher than normal fat content, for instance Jersey Cows, which also make great butter and Camembert, and ultra creamy ice- cream. Camembert and Brie are also made from goats’ milk which has a reasonable amount of cream, but its main attraction is its distinctive “goat” flavour. These cheeses will be enhanced if served with a good quality Brut Champagne, or a Sauvignon Blanc with a reasonably high “backbone” of acidity. The acid in the wine cuts through the creamy or “goaty” aspect of the cheese and creates an interesting flavour contrast on the palate.
Thanks to the often used manipulation of Chardonnay by the winemaker, (having stored the wine in an oak barrel for a significant period of its pre-bottled life) its creamier mouthfeel I find goes really well with a milder flavoured cheese like an Italian Mozzarella or young Danish Gouda (Havarty).
Pressed hard cheeses like Parmesan, aged Cheddar and Goudas benefit if you are sipping on a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The tannins in the red wine cut through the strong acid tang of the aged cheese and the combination of red berry/cherry wine flavours and strong cheese is melded on the tongue to achieve (for me that is) that little bit of taste heaven.
Opposites always attract, and a strong blue cheese always goes well with a chilled Muscat, a chilled Amontillado Sherry or a Tawny Port. The inherent natural sweetness in the wine is a perfect foil to the pungent Blue Cheese, especially if it is a Blue Cheese made from goat’s milk. A chilled Muscat or naturally sweet Late Harvest wine also goes really well with hot spicy foods like piri-piri chicken, curry and the hotter Chinese and Asian culinary styles.
Of course these explanations of mine were shot down immediately by a good friend seated at the opposite end of the table. Generously slapping some processed cheese spread onto a hunk of bread he carefully poured himself another beer. Surveying me over the top of his mildly frothing tankard, he winked and happily tucked into his processed cheese and pickle sandwich. Philistine! I Suppose it takes all types . . .!