Sommelier Essentials: Pairing Wine With Cheese

The classic pairing of cheese and wine is often a good one. But which combinations are the best? Cheese expert Ned Palmer explains all.

It’s exploration” It’s exploration.”

The cheese is a staple of European cuisine. The cheeses produced in Europe are diverse, from Stilton, which is made in the English Midlands, to Pecorino Romano, which is made in the area surrounding the Italian capital, Sardinia, and many more. It’s all in the soil. Charles De Gaulle, who ruled France at the time and was at the center of European cheese production, once asked: “How can you govern a nation that produces 246 types of cheese?”

Imagine pairing them with beer or cider, too. Ned Palmer is a cheesemonger who has just published a book in the UK called’A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles. He is a cheese expert who often uses his knowledge at pairing events. He takes on the task with gusto.

When I think, “Okay what wine will I pair with this cheese?” He says, “I have to think about the texture and flavor of the particular cheese.” “I call this narrative structure of taste: It’s not only the flavor of cheese but also how it will develop. What’s at the beginning, middle and end of the flavor and how it will affect the pairing. By thinking about pairings, I am really thinking about cheese.”

Sommeliers should know this because the cheese course will often be the last thing that guests experience at a restaurant. A good pairing will make them happy to leave. It’s not always easy.

Palmer says that he once did a pairing of wine and cheese with a distributor. “I thought I’d know exactly which family of wines would go with which family of cheeses,” explains Palmer. We found out that each Pinot went with a specific cheese. You couldn’t just say, “This style goats cheese goes with the Pinot.” It was frustrating, but in another way, it was exciting to realize that there are no fixed rules, not even for a certain style of cheese or wine.

Here are his five favorite pairings of cheese and wine:

Burgundy cheese washed-rind

I think that the wash-rind cheeses, like Epoisses, are the most difficult. It isn’t easy because the flavors are so unique and individual. The cheese pairs well with red wines, but I have trouble finding the right ones. My favorite pairing would be to pair a washed rind with a Burgundy. But, it must be a bit farm-yard – you know, when you open the bottle, and you can smell it? It’s a little bit of farmyard and a touch of sulfur. There are also other things, like leather and earth. These notes are similar to the earthy, smoky notes in the washed-rind. It’s very complimentary.”

Alpine hard cheese with Altesse

This is a match of terroir. Abondance is part of the Alpine family and tastes like Gruyere, Comte, or Altesse. It was delicious. The wine had a slight sweetness that contrasted with the savory flavor. It has a bit of backbone and a touch of acidity to keep it from being flabby. It’s a lovely wine. The other rule that I hold to be a must is the matching of intensity. You wouldn’t want to pair an Australian Shiraz wine with a delicate young goat’s cheese, as it would ruin it. They had the perfect balance, but I also believe that over thousands of years, when people made wine and cheese in the same area, they ended up with stuff that worked well together.”

Blue cheese and dessert wine

“Stilton with port is a famous match and I disagree.” It’s because both products were popular in the 18th century. If you like beer, Porter would go well with Stilton. “But there’s an incredibly lovely Moscatel, from Portugal that is fortified and not botrytized. I like it.”

Cheddar with Riesling

If I were to match terroir, I would pair Somerset Cider with cheddar, but Riesling also works well. It should not be too acidic but off-dry. I’d go with a Riesling that was bottled later. I don’t want it to be too acidic because acidity can be bad, and cheddar is quite sour. A nice, well-made, old-world Riesling will not be too intense with your good cheddar. This pairing is a good balance.”

Sparkling red wine and young, fresh goat cheese

“This is contrary to what I said earlier; it’s an Australian wine that goes with a young, delicate cheese. The Full Fifteen is an Australian sparkling wine. It’s got two things going for it: first, the wine has a lot of dark fruit and is very fruity. Second, the goats’ fresh cheese is acidic and young. The acidity cuts through the wine and brings out the fruit. The fizziness of the wine is also great. That mouthfeel really helps.”


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