Matt Rubiner: Good wine and cheese pairing elusive
In my last column, "Wine with Cheese? Gross!!" I debunked in clear and compelling, if heretical, terms the orthodoxy that wine and cheese are natural and amicable companions. I argued that in most cases, when wine is paired with cheese, someone's gonna get hurt, and it's usually the wine.
I likened the fabled (if now discredited) marriage of cheese and wine to the romantic bonds of praying mantises, who chew each others faces off. To my surprise I received overwhelming international support — including three separate French people and, I think, a Russian — and only a light scattering of death threats. (I did also point out that, for the lay wine and cheese pairer, none of this really matters that much and as First World problems go, this is about the First Worldliest).
In today's installment, I will buck my cherished tradition of complaining without offering useful solutions and provide you with an annotated compendium of beverages that DO go well with cheese. Actionable intelligence. News you can use. The exceptions that prove the rule. (What does that mean anyway. Anybody?)
White wines, as we've previously noted, are the safest bets. They are free of the quarrelsome tannins of many reds, they are cool and quenching and their acidity cuts through the fat of the cheese. My favorite pairings include:
- Sancerre, or other crisp, minerally, not too canned grapefruit juicy, not too cat-uriney (you heard me). Sauvignon Blancs paired with the whimsically shaped, mold-crusted goat cheeses of the Loire valley and their New World equivalents.
- Spicy, perfumed Alsatian Gewurztraminer paired with the fetid cheeses of Alsace, Burgundy and other places where footy cheeses are made. (Note: my wife thinks Gewurztraminer is like drinking Chanel No. 5 straight from the bottle. I disagree.)
- White Burgundies, especially the great old ones I can't afford, or other Chardonnays that have not been too sullied by new oak barrels, paired with Comt and other mellow, bendy Gruy res and alpine style cheeses.
- Champagne, and other sparkling wines made with that m thode, paired with Brie-ish things, and especially with seductive, voluptuous, hard-to-satisfy cream-stiffened cheese like Brillat-Savarin and St. Andre.
- Beers, writ large, are good with cheese, writ large. Me, I don't know a gueuze from a dubbelbock. I like bitter, hoppy ales, which used to be cool. Hip or not they go perfectly — PERFECTLY — with Cheddar and the British "Territorial" cheeses like Cheshire, Double Gloucester and Lancashire. Sweetish, heavy ales are Goudas fondest companions and big stouts tame the spicy blue of Stilton. And Saisons and other Belgian-y things work splendidly with pungent, monkish cheeses like Chimay (Which also makes beer! Coincidence?).
- Hard ciders, appley or peary, sweet or bone dry, are also no-brainer cheese matches. At the 2013 Meilleur Fromager du Monde competition in Tours, France (Where I placed a disappointing sixth. Seriously, how do you compete with an Italian guy who carves Michaelangelo's Second Piet out of a wheel of Mimolette?), I paired the Pyren es sheep-milk classic Ossau-Iraty with a sweet pear cider from the same region, to general acclaim.
So. Red wines. Better not even try. A customer came in not long ago looking for a cheese to pair with a bottle of Roman e-Conti or some fancy burgundy of some storied vintage, and wondered whether the fetid, similarly Burgundian L'Ami du Chambertin might be an appropriate match (Heck, it says it's a friend of Burgundy right in the name!). My response was a kind, nurturing: "Are you out of your freakin' mind?! Get that cheese out of the room! Bad enough you kill the taste of the wine. Why wreck its aroma too."
Sweetish wines, red or white, are really, really good with cheese. Not Manischewitz (necessarily), nor its eviler fortified cousin MD 20/20 (which got me through my French language proficiency exam in college. Turns out poorly learned French, mumbled and slurred, is more or less French), but honeyed moelleux Vouvrays and Sauternes, or German Sp tleses that smell of flowers and taste of lychees and wet stones, or fizzy, sweet Moscato d'Asti, or bittersweet, brooding Amarones, or rich ruby Ports.
Finally, Water. Ed Behr, in his wonderful "50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste," recommends water as an excellent accompaniment to cheese. Water is unlikely to compromise the complex flavors of the cheese and in turn cheese is unlikely to harm the water's wateriness.
And seriously you should drink more water anyway. My chiropractor told me. I have an app now that reminds me.
Matthew Rubiner is a cheesemonger and the owner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers and Rubi's Coffee & Sandwiches in Great Barrington. He was the inaugural champion of the U.S. Cheesemonger Invitational, and is a "Gard et Jure" of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.