By Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET
AS A CULINARY professional one of my favorite past times is pairing various wines, beers and other beverages with whatever I have decided to cook up for dinner. I am often inspired by what is in season at my local farm market or specialty store. Weekend menus always include a cheese course served after the main meal with a few different wines, jams/chutneys and a selection of breads. My obsession with cheese and wine pairings has often sparked tasting flights for friends to compare and contrast grape types, wine styles and vintages with various artisan cheeses, to come up with that perfect wine and cheese pairing.
In my travels I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying numerous pairings; many suggested by the school of thought that food and wine from the same region share a common bond. While this does factor into the elements of pairing there are also other things to consider. For instance, for me the most cheese-friendly wine overall is a sparkling wine: the effervescence in the wine lifts and breaks down the butterfat in the silky, higher fat cheeses, while the less brut-style of sparkling wines are just the ticket for the denser, aged cheeses, turning the resulting finish into a creamier, slightly sweeter experience.
Many feel that red wine is always the perfect choice no matter what cheese you are serving – this is especially true for many parts of France. While exceptions are made for age-old classics like Bleu cheese and Sauternes, or the delicious whites of Jura with the world famous Comté cheese, the general consensus is to serve red with most all other offerings. My experience is that while many reds are appropriate, the key is not to have either overwhelm the other. While the more delicate flavors of a triple-crème cheese can be drowned out by an intense full-flavored red, it can make the finish of a hard aged cheese pairing sing on your palate. The fresh fruit of a young red can meld perfectly and elevate the taste of both the wine and the firmer style cheese – for example, think of a Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir with a buttery floral cheddar or Spanish-style mountain cheese.
Lighter, cool climate white wines can be a better choice for many soft spreadable cheeses given that the subtle fruit flavors complement the delicate qualities of such cheese, while the generally higher acid of such wines helps to cleanse the palate. For instance our Hudson Valley wines made from Seyval Blanc (in a dry style) are perfect with the tangy, fresh goat cheeses available at many farmers markets in the area. Fuller bodied white wines can stand up to, while not overpowering, a vast array of semi-firm cheeses; many lightlyoaked whites can be extremely tasty with the sweet grassy notes in many of these cheeses. Just think of the classic accompaniment of nuts and honey with semi-firm cheese – the slight oak flavors act much like these, rounding out the flavors in the pairing.
More complex aromatic whites such as Riesling, Tocai Friulano, or Traminette are often the answer when it comes to one of the stinkiest encounters in the cheese world: the washed rind cheese! These cheeses are made by washing or spraying the outside of the tomme rind with beer, wine, brandy, brine or a neutral spirit. The moisture breaks down the curds from the outside gradually becoming part of the finished product. The result is a moist, reddish or orange rind, powerful funky aromas, and a smooth decedent paste hidden within; for some of the world’s biggest cheese geeks these are the most interesting varieties of cheese. Some are sooo stinky they are banned on public transportation in Europe – I’ve certainly freed up more than one seat on Metro North transporting them myself. The flowery aromas and flavors of aromatic white wines, along with the lush fruits typical of these varietals, both complement and contrast the complexity of the cheese. Hudson Red, produced by Twin Maple Farms in Ghent, NY, is a stellar example of this form of cheese.
Here in the Hudson Valley we are fortunate to have such a bounty of locallyproduced wine and cheese to sample. Stock up on a few bottles of your favorite Hudson Valley wine and visit your local farm market to craft your own pairing. Organize an evening of wine and cheese, having everyone bring their favorite wine and pick up variety of artisan cheeses to experiment with. Above all enjoy tasting and exploring different flavors, textures and aromas in the vast array of locally produced specialties available to us in the Hudson Valley!