- Want to impress customers and guests alike with masterful cheese matches? Juliet Harbutt shares her need-to-know tips
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1 FRESH CHEESE: CREAM CHEESE, RICOTTA, FETA, ROBIOLA, MOZZARELLA, QUARK
Mild with varying degrees of acidity, they respond to fresh light, crisp white wines or fruity rosés. Red wines are too heavy, unless the cheese is part of a more savoury or spicy dish such as pizza, where a more demonstrative partner is required such as a demi-sec cider, a malty larger or maybe a wheat beer.
Superb uncooked, mixed with herbs and spread on a crunchy, dry cracker, but they also grill and bake well.
2 AGED FRESH: SANCERRE, CROTTIN, BANON, ST MAURE
Wrinkled, creamy white geotricum rind, they are nutty, sharp, creamy and aromatic with overtones of hawthorn and tarragon. They prefer dry, white wines with some acidity like Sauvignon Blanc, rosé or Chinon. The fruity acidity encourages the cheese to open up and some matches produce a marvellous ice cream feel in the mouth. The older they are the more intense the flavour, so they’ll need a more spicy, forthright wine like the young, fruity reds of the Loire or the soft-natured Merlot.
A clean, not-too-bitter pilsner (lager rather than ale) brings out the peppery, spicy nature of the cheese. Yeasty ciabatta not crunchy crackers for these guys, who come into their own when drizzled with oil and grilled on ciabatta. Impressive partners include tapenade and sundried tomatoes but not chutneys.
3 SOFT WHITE: CAMEMBERT, BRIE DE MEAUX, CHEVRE LOG, CHAOURCE
Young, slightly sharp, salty Neufchatel-style varieties prefer the sweet, late harvest wines while the rich, double cream cheeses need a fruitier wine with a good acidity to cut through the extra fat like rosé, fruity whites or Champagne. The more meaty, savoury classic Brie- style cheeses prefer a full-bodied, oaked white or soft tannin red like Pinot Noir, and the French love a dry cider.
Squished on sourdough, baked in a croissant or served with brioche alongside plum chutneys, fig syrup, or one of those balls of pressed figs in chestnut leaves. Can be baked whole then used as a ‘dip’ but that’s never really worked for me.
4 SEMI SOFT: EDAM, HAVARTI, PORT SALUT, MAASDAM, REBLOCHON
Generally the sweet-savoury, cheese sauce character and elastic texture of these cheeses marries well with oaked Chardonnay or light fruity reds like Merlot. The firmer, more distinctly flavoured ones need a Chianti, Rioja or a Cabernet Sauvignon like those from Chile or Hungary, or a not-too-bitter Porter can be amazing.
They come into their own grilled and love the sharp acidity of gherkins, pickled onions, tomato relish and toasted bread.
5 WASHED RIND: LANGRES, MUNSTER, EPOISSES, STINKING BISHOP, KELTIC GOLD
The meaty, pungent, punchy, voluptuous washed rind style demands the complex but mellow character of full bodied Pinot Noir or Cabernet-Merlot blends, the spicy, wines of Alsace, off dry Rieslings or the down to earth, assertive nature of fruity ciders or a big hoppy IPA. Their bold, assertive character can be balanced with dried figs, muscatel raisins, or even caper berries.
6 HARD CHEESES: CHEDDAR, PECORINO, CHESHIRE, COMTÉ, MANCHEGO
Because they range from mild, smooth and buttery to the mouth- puckeringly tangy, almost any wine can be a potential match, however the general rule is the stronger and darker the cheese the bigger and darker the wine. White wine loses itself to a strong, mature cheese; the cheese’s butterfat coats the palate, blocking the wine’s flavour. Fortified wines like Fino sherry, vintage Port, Marsala or an old Madeira can be truly magnificent with the very old, very hard brittle cheeses.
The younger hard English cheeses are more than happy alongside a cider or beer, especially a big British bitter, while hard ewes milk cheeses like the soft notes of a Shiraz or Sangiovese or a lighter vintage character Port.
These are bold, full bodied cheeses so they relish a partnership with similar punch like chutneys, dried nuts, cornichons or sweet chilli jam, accompanied by a good solid cracker like an oatcake.
7 BLUE CHEESES: STILTON, ROQUEFORT, GORGONZOLA, BARKHAM BLUE
European blues are wet, sticky and wrapped in tinfoil, and their salty tang and old socks aroma holds strong attraction for the sweet and luscious dessert wines like Muscat, Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Montbazilliac and some of the less sweet pudding wines of the New World, creating a marvellous marriage of opposites. The right match will also emphasis the hidden sweetness of the milk, particularly Roquefort. When faced with red wines they are less receptive, the salt often emphasising the wine’s less attractive attributes including its tannin and more astringent nature.
English blues are typically dry, crusty and wrapped in parchment like Stilton or Shropshire Blue, with a rich, buttery texture that loves the sweet caramel notes of a tawny Port.
For something a little different try a Spanish Alberino, a very appley cider or a chocolatey Porter. Soft creamy brie-style blues respond better to reds, although overly luscious, floral reds are definitely unfriendly. If red, Pinot Noir or an aged Rioja is much better than a Cabernet.
The spicy tang of the blue is the perfect match for the pressed fig and almond cakes of Portugal and Spain.
8 FLAVOUR ADDED: GOUDA WITH CUMIN, SMOKED CHEDDAR, CORNISH YARG
These are typically hard cheeses to which herbs or spices have been added – typically cumin, coriander, garlic or chives. Most are best with an IPA or cider as they don’t try to overpower each other. I’m ignoring the ones with fruit cake, strawberries, cranberries and the like as they are impossible to match with wine, beer or cider.
●Acid likes acid
●Fruit likes fruit
●Weight needs weight or complete contrast
●Sweet kills acidity
●Combining is to do with tastes and textures
●The whiter and fresher the cheese, the whiter and crisper the wine
●The darker and stronger the cheese, the darker and heavier the wine