Q: Help, Bicycle Chef!!! Tomorrow I am having non-wine/cheese connoisseurs over and was planning to serve some cheese, wine, etc…. here’s what I bought at the store today: chevre, brie, comte (do you now this cheese? It’s wonderful, a bit nutty and maybe considered firm). I also bought fig jam and pears. I have apples and olives and was thinking of getting some nuts as well. Do you have any suggestions for combinations of the above? Which nuts?… Nothing too fancy is necessary, but I do want to be a good host – these are my future in-laws!
A: Congratulations Julie! It’s easy to make a good impression when you’re throwing a wine and cheese party. The two main elements are already imbued with generations of thought, skill, and pride. You only have to pick a good sampling of cheese (which you’ve already done, although I would add a blue to the mix as well), choose some accompaniments (check), and make them look pretty. My favorite thing about a wine and cheese party is that, although you should put thought into the pairings, everyone gets to cater to their own tastes.
I did some research in one of my favorite books, Max McCalman’s Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. As Max says, cheese and wine pairing is “ often a matter of style and compatibility – or hidden chemistry – that can’t be easily explained by simple rules and easy generalizations.”
Despite that unhelpful disclaimer, here are some practical guidelines:
- Sweetness levels of the wine/fruit should balance Salt levels of the cheese.
- pH levels in wine and cheese should generally match: mouth-puckering wines with acidic cheeses.
- Texture works both ways: a crisp wine can cut nicely through a buttery cheese or an oaky, round wine can complement a similarly velvety, smooth queso .
- Complex wines usually call for simpler cheeses and vice versa. The example Cheese gives is Epoisses (one of my favorite cheeses- fairly complex) with a bright Alsatian Riesling or dry Muscat.
- It’s also fun and generally successful to pair cheeses with wines from the same region.
Heeding Cheese’s sage advice and some personal experience, here’s what I recommend.
Wine: Sancerre, Savennieres, Albariño or other light, mineral-y whites. Light, fruity reds like Barbera d’Alba or a Beaujolais
Food: Honey, pecans… I like red food with goat cheese like lingonberry jam, strawberries, grapes….
Wine: Crisp Alsatian Whites (i.e. Riesling, Pinot or Gewurztraminer), Dry Champagne, Burgundy Chardonnay, or
a fruity red Beaujolais Cru (Gamay grape)
Food: Apricot jam, raspberry jam, fig jam, grapes, pears, toasted hazelnuts
COMTE (I love the nuttiness! Nice choice Julie!)
Wine: Versatile Gruner Veltliner. Beaujolais Cru or a mellow Merlot
Food: Olives, Spanish almonds, quince paste, apples
You’ve been in France long enough to know you should serve cheese at room temperature to unleash the aromas and flavors from their frigid prison. Whites should generally be refrigerated (41-47 F), reds should be just below room temperature (around 55 F), although
Beaujolais is sometimes nice with a little chill on it (50-ish).
-The Bicycle Chef
P.S. I learned a new word while researching in Cheese today: Sapidity. Sapidity is “ depth, length, and persistence of flavor found in a given delicacy.”
P.P.S. Note to Self: Try Cheese’s pairing recommendation of Sicilian Chardonnay and Nebiolo with Tallegio.