Ultimate marriage: Cheese and wine
Perhaps the ultimate match of food with beverage is wine and cheese. They're nearly twins. Both date to ancient times. Both are fermented. Both are governed, all over the world, by appellation and quality standards. And, most important, each reflects the place where it is born, its terroir. One translates its place via a vine; the other, by an udder. Matching cheese with wine is the same as matching any food with wine. Matches work (or don't) because of what's in the wine and in the cheese, elements such as acidity or fat. Region Many people follow the adage "If they grow together, they go together" — and, certainly, many dozens of regional matches score. For example, a small log of fresh Loire Valley goat's cheese tastes terrific with a crisp Sancerre from the same region. lRelated Vital elements to matching food and wine RECIPES Vital elements to matching food and wine SEE ALL RELATED 8 But, in truth, that the Sancerre and the cheese come from the same region of France is secondary. What matters more is that both the wine and the cheese are high in acidity, one of the key components of many foods and all well-made wines. In a food and wine combination, when acid meets acid, it's electric. There really isn't a better explanation for the happy marriage. (Concerned what wine will marry that high-acid salad vinaigrette? Try an off dry German riesling.) Also, acidity is a good cleanser of fat from the palate, and the explication why Brie and Chablis, or Muenster and Alsace gewurztraminer, work well as pairs. Salt and sugar Another pair of elements that have a natural affinity for each other is the duo of salt and sweetness, a two-fer explanation why sweet port and salty Stilton cheese is such a famous match. Tannin Some of the best wines for firm cheeses are tannic red wines. That's because as a cheese ages (or, said another way, becomes firmer), it evaporates its water content and concentrates its fat. Fat and tannin are made for each other (think prime rib and cabernet sauvignon). That explains why Parmigiano-Reggiano is delicious with Amarone della Valpolicella or Barolo or other hefty, tannic red wines. Sweetness Perhaps the best wine for most any kind of cheese is Champagne or Champagne-method sparkling wine. That may be because most cheeses are mildly sweet (they're made of milk, after all) and so are these wines, with their ever-so-slight touch of sugar. Two slightly sweet things — just like two slightly acidic things — make magic in the mouth. Champagne and sparkling wine also sport bracing acidity, a good foil for fat and a very common element in cheese. And, anyway, bubbles are good scrubbers of the richness of many cheeses. Red or white? By and large, and despite common assumptions, white wines do a better job than red wines as regular partners for cheese. More people around the world drink dry or off-dry white wine with their cheese than they do red. We Americans think that red wine is the best partner to cheese because we are, in much of our eating habits, British, and the British were wont to sip their reds with their cheeses. (That's an accident of history too. Red wine was that which was leftover at the end of a meal when the cheese course came along.) White wines pair better with most cheeses for a couple of solid reasons. First, the higher native acidity of white wines is a happier match for both the high salt and fat of most cheeses. Red wines just don't have a lot of acidity and that works against them when paired with cheese. Second, white wines tend to sport a tad of residual sweetness. A bit of sweetness in a wine is a perfect match for foods with an equal amount of sweet to them. Also, red wines have so much more to lose than whites do when eaten with cheese. What we want in a red wine — the rich flavor, the tannic grip and the length of a finish — are all lost (or at least very much compromised or diminished) in the presence of a fat-coating cheese. Simply put, most cheese blocks a red wine from being a red wine. On the other hand, white wines don't have as much to lose. Plus, with their higher levels of acidity, they're much better cleaner-uppers than reds. The best red wine and cheese pairings (apart from the easy pitch of sweet fortified reds with blue cheese) are those that match a red with very full-flavored cheeses, especially the stinkies, washed-rind cheeses, and firm, aged cheeses.