French Etiquette: The Pairing of Wine and Cheese
There are some things that just go together: crisp, falls days and heavy, knit scarves, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and best of all – wine and cheese. The pairing of wine and cheese is part of the French epicurean culture, a mealtime tradition we have been practicing for hundreds of years. In France, wine and cheese are often served after the meal as a sweet ending. While there are numerous options for cheese, and perhaps even more options for wine, it’s easy to get a little flustered when trying to pair your favorite cheese with the perfect glass of wine. Since we hail from the land of wine and cheese, we think ourselves qualified to give you a few tips and tricks on how to work a wine and cheese combo like a Frenchie.
Let’s review a few tried and true “rules” of wine and cheese pairings. Once you get comfortable, we encourage you – and your palate – to try more inventive pairings.
As the old adage goes: what grows together, goes together. Even if you know nothing about wines, cheeses, and the complexity of the palate, this tip is an easy place to start. All you have to do is check out the packaging and pair a wine and a cheese that grow in the same region, or the same climate if you’re stumped. One pairing from the Loire Valley, in particular, is Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese. You’ll find that goat cheese from the Loire Valley is firmer and more chalky than its counterparts because of a high calcium content. Loire Valley goat cheese gets spicy with age making it the perfect partner to Sauvignon Blanc.
Just like wines, cheese evolves with age. Fresh cheeses (Italian mozzarella) are milky with a delicate texture and a high water content. On the other hand, aged cheeses (gruyere) are rich and savory. Due to the affinage process that occurs with time, moisture evaporates and leaves behind the flavor-carrying fats and proteins. To best complement young and old cheeses, pair them with equally young and old wines. Why does this work? In the case of the older contenders, such as a tannic red wine and a rich, aged cheese, tannins bind to the protein and fat, cleaning the palate with each bite. On the contrary, a tannic wine paired with a young cheese is far too astringent, you’ll end up with a metallic aftertaste and a chalky sensation. An example of a wine and cheese pair matched for flavor intensity is an older vintage port and a stinky blue cheese in lieu of dessert.
Pairing based on texture is a bit more complicated and best reserved for those seeking a sensory challenge. You can go to either extreme with texture – go for complementary textures to create a harmonious palate sensation, or contrast textures to cleanse your palate. For the most obvious pairings, remember: the funkier the wine, the funkier the cheese. If you’re familiar with wine and food pairings, it’s the same concept applied here. Just as a light wine goes with light food, light wine goes with light cheese. For example, pair a dry, red wine with a less firm cheese – the fat content of the cheese will complement the tannins and the soft texture will absorb the high acidity of the wine.
If you’re pairing wine and cheese for the sake of a cocktail or dinner party, keep in mind that you’ll need to add a few extra components to make the experience magnifique for your taste buds. Fresh and dried fruits are a must-have to complement the complex tastes of wine and cheese, and even cleanse your palate after each bite. Tangy fruit goes with a young cheese, sweet fruit is best with salty cheese, and bitter nuts go with a rich cheese.
P.S. Don’t forget to brush up on your wine and cheese etiquette! Serve the cheeses whole to maintain flavor. Arrange the cheeses on a plate from mildest to strongest. Cut the cheese so everyone gets a bit of the rind where the flavor is strongest.