How to Create the Perfect Cheese & Wine Pairing

There is something unique about enjoying perfectly paired cheeses and wine. If you are like me, then an ordinary cubed cheese plate won’t suffice as you want to awe your guest with perfect pairings. Cheeses, just like wine, develop their unique flavors through different fermentation, ripening and aging processes. When it comes to cheese and wine pairings there are two main ways to create a perfect pairing.

First, focus on some basic guidelines, similar to those of food and wine pairing. These give you a basic outline, so when you’re rapidly throwing together a cheese plate before your dinner party you can ensure that the pairings leave a lasting impression on your guests.

  1. Pair light styled wines with light cheese. A classic example is goat cheese with Chenin Blanc.
  2. Pair wines with high acidity with an aged cheese of similar flavor such as aged Chèvre with Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, Gouda with Chardonnay is a great low acidity pairing.
  3. Pair bold wines with strong flavored cheeses such as a vintage Cheddar with Syrah
  4. Pair dessert wines or ports with a strong, salty and aged cheese. One of my favorite pairings is Stilton with Port.
  5. Like wines, the flavor of cheeses can come from the region in which it is made.  Try pairing wines and cheese from the same region to create a similarity in flavors.
  6. Just like wine and food pairing, it all comes down to creating a pairing that is either similar in texture and flavor or that is drastically contrasting.

Secondly, if you truly want to dive into the unique world of cheese and wine pairings, understanding the six categories of cheese (fresh, semisoft, soft ripened, firm, hard and blue-veined) and how they affect wine is the route to go.

Fresh cheeses are typically what you would use in cooking or as spreads and are not commonly paired with wines without being part of a dish.

Semisoft cheeses (such as Havarti and Fontina) tend to be buttery and nutty in flavor. They are fairly easy to pair as long as the wine does not overpower them.  Thus, they are typically paired with white wines, rosé, or light-styled reds.

Soft Ripened cheeses are named so because they are ripened from the outside in. One of the most common examples is Brie. These cheeses are hard to pair due to the fact that they have creamy centers. The creaminess of the cheese tends to coat the mouth making it difficult to taste wine. Unfortunately, Brie and other soft ripened cheeses are very popular and typically a must for any cheese platter. Therefore, try serving these cheeses first with a sparkling wine, so that the acidity and bubbles of the wine cut the coating. Guests will be intrigued by starting with a sparkling wine and you can avoid any bad pairings later in the evening.

Firm cheeses, such as Manchego and Gouda, are the easiest cheeses to pair with wine. Similar to a classic wines, they are not overpowering, have a distinct yet refined taste, and the leave a subtle finish. However, their flavors vary from mild to intense, so keep this in mind when pairing wines and make sure to keep the cheese and wine similar in intensity levels.

Hard cheeses, often known as grating cheeses, tend to come from Italy. These cheeses, such as Asiago, are sharp and sometimes pungent in their flavors due to their extended aging process. While these cheeses are typically used as a topper for Italian dishes, they can be sliced and served on a cheese platter. They are often a sure bet as they are very versatile and can pair with light to full-bodied wines.

Lastly, are blue-veined cheeses.  Blue-veined cheeses are inoculated with pure mold cultures in order to give them the color and strong taste that is so well known. They are too overbearing for many wines, but the contrast of a sweet, bold dessert wine and a salty blue-veined cheese is a classic match. This pairing is the perfect way to end the evening and will be sure to make your guests marvel at your pairing skills.

Whatever route you go for your next party, ditch the grocery store cheese plates and create an evening filled with surprising cheese and wine pairings.   Your palate and your guests will thank you for it.

Source: Food and Wine Pairing: A Sensory Experience by Robert J. Harrington. 2008. John Wiley & Sons. Hoboken, New Jersey