Curd your enthusiasm
Cheese is often paired with the wine - usually a red - that remains in the glasses of diners in the interlude between the main course and dessert. With a bit of thought, this pairing can be made into a highlight of a meal.
Perennial favourites brie and camembert pair well with chardonnay; either a burgundy (a montagny, for instance) or a five-year-old Californian. The little bit of oak that is present in the wine is balanced nicely by the creaminess of the cheese.
Goat's cheese (or chevre, if it's from France) is always a splendid match with a sauvignon blanc from the Loire, New Zealand or Australia. The slight gaminess of the goat's cheese with the grassiness of the sauvignon blanc is a combination not to be missed. If you are feeling adventurous, try a cabernet franc from the Loire, which will have a bit of fresh pencil shavings on the nose that pairs up amazingly well with goat's cheese.
Pungent washed rind cheeses - those with a slightly dampish orangey rind - demand specific accompaniment. My first impression of this cheese was memorable (on my first trip to France). We had a munster in the back of the car with us but had to exile it to the boot, as the aroma, akin to that of the durian fruit, permeated the interior. The smell was still evident two days later. We had the munster with a young wine from the Rhone - a gigondas - and a malbec from Pecharmant. The aroma of the cheese was far more tolerable after a sip of either of those two.
And what of that splash of red that's leftover from the main course?
If it's a burgundy, pair it with a mild cheese such as a brillat-savarin (a triple cream cheese), a morbier (it has a line of ash in the middle, which is a separation of the morning and evening milks) or a saint-nectaire (this has a rather dusty looking rind).
Firmer cheeses with a bit of age and bite are delicious with a splash of a bordeaux-style wine (any combination of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc), amarone or even an aged rioja. Think strong cheddars, manchego, parmesan and gruyere.
The classic pairing for a blue cheese is a sauternes or port. The saltiness and creamy texture are balanced by the sweetness of the wine. What would also work here is a spicy Australian shiraz, because the richness of the fruit and alcohol (they are generally 14 to 15 per cent these days) is tamed by the cheese. Interestingly enough, I learned recently that Penicillium roqueforti, the mould that gives roquefort its distinct flavour, can also be used to produce antibiotic compounds. Allegedly, it's medicinal properties were realised when it was noticed that people from the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon region did not get sick from the flu.
There are a few tips to bear in mind if you want to maximise the enjoyment gained from wine-cheese pairings. Focus on just a few cheeses for your platter - three or four is a good number. In many ways, cheese should be treated like wine, so allow it warm to room temperature; this will let the flavours and aromas open up. And if you take cheeses home, re-wrap them in parchment paper (if they are not in their original packaging) and put them in a plastic box, so they can breathe. Cling-film hinders the development of flavours.
One last tip for a sip: any wine, and any cheese, for that matter, will be better enjoyed in the company of friends and family.
Nellie Ming Lee is a freelance food stylist and part-time sommelier, and is studying with The Court of Master Sommeliers. firstname.lastname@example.org