The Perfect Twist: Wine and Cheese Pairing
Standard and creative takes on matching wine with one of its favorite partners.
Brie with Champagne; Cambozola with sparkling Shiraz
Wine and cheese have been paired together for centuries, but—let’s face it—not every wine goes with every cheese. Cabernet Sauvignon with fresh chèvre or Pinot Gris with Limburger? Perhaps not.
But just because some wines and cheeses smack each other in the face, that doesn’t mean your pairings have to be boring. With a little know-how, you can be a bit more daring with your pairings. Check out these classic matches—and modern variations—on pairing wine with cheese.
Classic pairing: Brie or triple creams with Champagne
Why it works: Nothing washes away the übercreaminess of a silky cheese like the scouring bubbles of Champagne. And nothing but the splendor of Champagne matches the luxury of a triple cream’s rich texture.
The twist: Cambozola with sparkling Shiraz
Why it works: The creaminess of this decadent, bloomy rind German cheese matches the wine’s effervescence, but the sharpness of the blue cultures stand up to the tannins.
Classic Pairing: Fresh chèvre with Chenin Blanc
Why it works: Chèvre, in all of its lovely forms, developed with the fine white wines of the Loire Valley. This is a classic “goes with where it grows” pairing, as the cheeses and wines match each other in acidity and intensity.
The Twist: Achadinha Cheese Company’s Capricious with Cabernet Sauvignon
Why it works: The 2002 American Cheese Society’s Best in Show winner isn’t your French grandpappy’s chèvre. It’s a meaty, hearty, aged goat cheese that can stand up to a robust wine and its tannins.
Classic Pairing: Stilton with ruby Port
Why it works: The rich creaminess and salty sharpness of the cheese meld with the sweet depth of the wine.
The Twist: Fresh chèvre, honey and a tablespoon of cocoa nibs with Port
Why it works: Fresh chèvre by itself would be obliterated by the Port. However, a dash of honey will match the sweetness of the wine and the dark-chocolaty goodness of the nibs, forming a winning combination.
Classic Pairing: Limburger with porter
Why it works: If there was ever a cheese that called for beer, it’s this pungent favorite, as the fizzy dark brew stands up to the stink. Try German beer with German cheese, or Wisconsin beer with Wisconsin cheese.
The Twist: Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics’s Les Frères with Shiraz or Carmenère
Why it works: Stinky can be sophisticated, and this Wisconsin artisanal cheese has fruity nuances and almost sweet notes, once you get beyond its washed rind. Pair it with something that has ample oomph, edge and fruit.
Classic Pairing: Cheddar with red Bordeaux
Why it works: The tang and crystalline crunch of Cheddar combine magically with the cassis and tobacco notes and gravelly texture of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Twist: Beehive Cheese Company’s Barely Buzzed with Zinfandel
Why it works: This Utah Cheddar is rubbed with crushed, freshly roasted coffee beans and lavender buds. Its velvety sweetness has a cocoa-esque edge that marries perfectly with Zinfandel’s berry fruit.
Classic Pairing: Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged at least 20 months, with Chianti
Why it works: Real aged Parmigiano is a nutty, nuanced, hard cheese with a distinct crumble, and the mouthwatering fruit of Chianti balances the salty richness of the cheese.
The Twist: Sartori Cheese’s Raspberry BellaVitano with Riesling
Why it works: BellaVitano has attributes of both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Cheddar. The basic BellaVitano Gold goes great with Italian wines, but when it’s rubbed in raspberry ale, that sweet and tart flavor sings with a fruity, semisweet Riesling.
Many of these cheeses can be found at Whole Foods and specialty cheese shops. But if you shop online for dairy goodness, check out the fine selection of imported and artisan cheeses at Murray’s and Zingerman’s. For West Coast artisans and imports, try The Cheese Shop, located in Healdsburg, California. For Wisconsin artisans, two great sources that ship are Wisconsin Cheese Mart and West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe. In many instances, you can also order direct from the cheese makers at Beehive Cheese Co., Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics, Sartori and Achadinha Cheese Company.
Most Versatile Players
Parmigiano-Reggiano is arguably the most versatile cheese to pair with wine. It pairs superbly with whites and reds, bubbles or no bubbles.
Second place goes to real, medium-aged Gouda. Not the red-wax-covered imitations, but real Gouda, made either in the Netherlands or in the U.S. according to traditional Dutch methods, like Holland’s Family Farm or Winchester Cheese Company.
Of all the wine varieties, Riesling is the most versatile choice. If you’re ordering a cheese course and you don’t know exactly what’s coming, pick a Riesling. Chances are it will pair acceptably well with most every cheese.
It’s easy to overlook the other elements that comprise the perfect cheese plate, but don’t. Proper choices can turn a solid pairing into a stupendous one.
Fruit: Fresh berries, apples and pears or dried apricots, figs and cranberries provide a bridge between wine and cheese. So do fruit spreads, chutneys and jams.
Even better: Pick fruits and spreads that mirror the wines you’re serving. If the wine boasts cherry aromas, serve with some dried cherries or not-too-sweet cherry chutney.
Nuts: Nuts, especially Marcona almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts, bring out the nuttiness of the cheese even more.
Even better: Honey adds sweetness, especially if you’re serving a dessert wine. Black pepper adds spice. If you’re serving a red wine, a fresh crack of pepper will tie the wine and the cheese together.
Breads and Crackers: Perhaps it goes without saying, but forget squishy white bread and saltines. Instead, serve hearty, crusty bread and crisp, flavorful crackers.
Even better: Serve homemade bread and artisanal crackers like Potter’s Crackers alongside the best handmade cheeses you can find.