The most natural pairing in the world is wine and cheese. Each is capable of developing complex flavors and aromas that play off one another to create new sensations; or both can be fresh, simple, and easy – a joy to eat and drink. A single bite of cheese is just as satisfying as one savored sip of wine.
If you’re hosting a party, no one will be disappointed with a platter of cheese and wine poured in abundance. However, with a few basic guidelines to keep in mind, you can elevate the party to master foodie standards.
Cheese and wine pairing tips to keep in mind:
→ Tannins bind to protein and fat, helping to clean your palate after each bite; but at the same time, especially with fresh cheeses, they can wipe your tongue too aggressively clean and leave your mouth feeling chalky. Therefore, whites are typically easiest to pair with cheese because they are not tannic, so nothing is in the way to help or harm the texture of the cheese. But, an intense cheese could overpower a delicate white wine.
→ Generally, light reds go well with medium-hard cheeses. Bold reds that are tannin-rich pair best with stronger, hard-aged cheeses, though are too astringent for young, fresh cheeses.
→ Think sweet and salty. For example, lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti or Brachetto d’Acqui go well with blue cheeses, which are often salty; or a passito will go well with aged, salty Grana or aged Gouda.
→ Complement and contrast both work. A creamy cheese pairs well with a buttery, oak-aged white, but also with sparkling wine or light to medium tannic wines to help clean the palate. Anything that gets you ready for the next bite is welcome!
→ A sparkling white wine pairs well with almost any cheese. They have solid acidity and yeasty, nutty notes that find their match in a range of cheeses, from fresh to aged.
Let’s look at the major categories of cheeses and which Piemonte wines they pair best with:
Fresh and soft
These cheeses are smooth, high in moisture, dense, and are to be eaten soon after they are made; the category includes cheeses like ricotta, fresh Greek Mizithra, Fromage blanc, cream cheese, Neufchatel, and mozzarella. Pair with a crisp white, a dry rosé, and sparkling wines. If red, it should be low-tannin and light-bodied so it doesn’t overwhelm the delicate fresh cheeses: Barbera is a good choice. Other options are Moscato d’Asti, Arneis, still or sparkling Gavi and Erbaluce di Caluso, and even the lesser-known whites of Piemonte like Favorita or Nascetta.
Bloomy or washed rind
Robiola di Roccaverano. Photo from www.arcimboldonews.it
These are creamy and decadent with a soft rind: “bloomy” if the cheese has been salted and then covered in a culture; “washed” (or “mixed”) if the rind is brushed clean on several occasions during aging. Think Brie, Camembert, Robiola, Taleggo, or Morbier. The wine should be light-bodied and not overly aromatic, so those strong aromas don’t compete with the wine; this is one case where you want to contrast more than complement. Bubbles help clean the palate, so an Alta Langa, Gavi Spumante, or Erbaluce Spumante will pair well here.
Semi-soft and medium aged
These cheeses vary widely in flavor due to different production methods and aging. But, on the continuum of cheeses, they are firmer and stronger in flavor than fresh, young cheeses, yet don’t have the intensity of hard-aged cheeses. Havarti, Emmental, Gruyere, young Cheddar, Manchego, Monterey Jack, Edam, young Piave, Bra tenero, and Fontina all fall into this broad category. Medium-bodied whites and fruity reds go well with this group, though because it is so varied, the range of wines is likewise broad. Arneis and Nascetta are two whites that will work; Ruché will pair nicely with mild cheeses, and Dolcetto is perfect with herbed or smoked ones; and Barbera, Freisa, and Asti Spumante are also fine options. Even Nebbiolo-based Alto Piemonte wines like Boca will do well with the firmer, longer-aged cheeses that tend towards the next category, as they’re less tannic than the Nebbiolo wines of southern Piemonte.
Hard and aged
Nutty and savory with strong flavor profiles, these hard, aged cheeses are low in moisture and complex in flavor. This is when you can break out those full-bodied, tannic reds like Barolo, Barbaresco, or Nebbiolo. Other wines pair well, too, however: full-bodied whites, or sweet wines (remember? sweet and salty!) like a passito pair wonderfully with the nuttiness. Aged Cheddar, aged Piave, Bra duro, Parmigiano reggiano, Pecorino, aged Gouda, and Comté all fall into this category.
These often pungent cheeses – the stinky cheeses – are injected with culture (penicillium glaucum roqueforti or penicillium candidum) to create their characteristic blue and green molds. They have intense flavors, are usually salty, and can be so piquant as to make your tongue prickle. This calls for wines with good body; sweet wines are just the thing. Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Blu del Moncenisio, or Bleu d’Auvergne pair well with Port, Sauternes, Tokaji, or a passito. The acidity of Barbera will help cut through the strong flavors; and Brachetto d’Acqui and Moscato d’Asti are both excellent choices: their light sweetness plus bubbles help to cleanse the palate.