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Adventures with Wine and Cheese

Posted by Plume Ridge Bottle Shop on

 

The package arrived unceremoniously at my front door—6 bottles of wine from Plume Ridge Bottle Shop with a note from Wine Buyer, Monica Yu, “This is for your article about the right way to pair wine with cheese and a lovely Holiday Cheese spread as prepared by Patty Lyn.

Challenge accepted. 

I’d be crazy not to take advantage of this situation. There was one, inconsequential hiccup ... I am not a cheese expert, so I immediately did 2 things:

  1. Jumped on the internet
  2. Called my French friends

Google is a large, lonely intimidating place for a culinary excursion. However, after a few hours of digging, a binary truth about wine and cheese emerged: Choose the cheese for the wine, or vice-versa. This seemed patently obvious. Clearly, the wine was going to be my focal point, er, my SIX focal points. 

My French friends were more helpful with advice after I invited them to enjoy free cheese and wine. “I’ll bring a Cambozola,” piped up one. (Note to self, ‘look up Cambozola.’) Another friend assured me that her French spouse would bring all of his cheese knives. ‘Cheese knives?’ I pondered. ‘There’s more than one type?’

With the wines as my focus, I needed to understand more about their flavor profiles since I hadn’t tasted them. I decided to use the tasting notes of each wine to narrow my pairing choices (thank you prbottleshop.com). 

Like wine, cheese has infinite variations of flavor, creaminess, texture, sweetness and intensity. With all these variables, a straightforward scientific approach wasn’t going to work. I needed some rules of thumb. Another internet dive delivered results (I’ve provided my links at the end of this article.).

Bold likes Bold — pair a big tannic wine with a rich, aged cheese. 

Like with Like: Pair a creamy cheese with a buttery Chardonnay or a tart Sauv Blanc with a tangy Chevre. Combine lighter and milder cheeses with whites or light red wines. 

Opposites Attract: Serve a ripe Brie with Champagne and let the bubbles scrape that butter off your tongue. Or, pair a fruity red with a nutty dry-aged cheese like Manchego.

My next conundrum was to decide between foreign, domestic or local? My home county of Sonoma is a great source for artisanal cheese, so I vowed to throw in some regional selections. I also wanted to include cheeses that could be easily found at the grocery store. And, finally, I wanted one or two selections that had a “wow” factor.

Armed with my preliminary list, I let fate—or the selection at my local grocery—determine the final choices. I was guided to my selections by Heather at the cheese case of Oliver’s Market (a Sonoma County grocery about which I could write a sonnet.) Here are the final pairings.

Champagne:

Dumenil by Janey Poret Champagne
Ripe fruit aromas of apple, stone fruit and a lingering mouthfeel with freshness and balance.
Choose from: Brie and creamy rind cheeses; maybe something bolder to challenge the bubbles.
Final Pairing: Valley Ford Creamery Estero Gold Cheese, and for boldness, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Organic Triple Cream with Funk, and a guest-offering of a St. Auger creamy blue cheese.

White Wines:

Clos des Lunes “Lune d’Argent” Bordeaux
Vibrant notes of fresh grapefruit, lemon zest and green apples with touches of elderflower and chalk dust. 

Choose From: Fatty cheeses like a Double Gloucester (a contrast) and an earthy Camembert — to complement the chalk dust.
Final Pairing: Roomkaas Double Cream Gouda for the fat, and Marin French Cheese Co. Camembert.

Manoir du Capucin ‘Sensation’ Pouilly Fuissé Chardonnay
Intense notes of white peaches, meyer lemon and Acacia. Balanced and rounded texture with spice that persists through the palate with a notable mineral core. 

Choose From: Brie and an aged hard cheese like Gruyere or Emmental to complement that fruitiness and minerality.
Final Pairing: Trader Joe's French Brie and a lovely Gruyere brought by a guest.

Red Wines:

Soter Vineyards Planet Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir:
Notes of raspberry, cherry and a smoky nuance. Extremely fresh, uplifting with juicy tannins.
Choose From: Emmenthaler, Gouda and Swiss for the fruit and tannins.
Final Pairing: The Cambozola brought by a French friend, and a Beauforte d’ete, to which she exclaimed, “Where did you find THAT?”

Domaine LaFage Bastide Miraflors Vieilles Vignes Red Blend:
Loads of black fruits, roasted herbs, peppered meat, violets, and bacon fat as well as full-bodied richness, a round, opulent style, ripe tannins, and a blockbuster finish.

Choose From: Chevre and other sheep cheeses to balance the fruit and counteract the opulence.
Final Pairing: Laura Chenel Fresh Goat Cheese and 6 month aged raw milk Manchego imported from Spain.

Michael Klouda Hatterle Lodi Zinfandel:
Notes of black cherry and black currant with some raisin and fig. Black pepper, cardamom and a little black licorice. Finishing with clove, tobacco and some dusty tannins. 

Choose From: Gorgonzola, Mimolette, Beemster and grilling cheeses.

Final Pairing: Valley Ford Creamery Blue Grazin Girl Gorgonzola and 18 month aged, bright orange Mimolette imported from France.

The Event:

When it comes to entertaining, I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m more like a Julia Child who just dropped the turkey on live television. But, I had no doubt that a fabulous selection of wine and a wide variety of cheese would make this event successful.

Having been inspired by myriad photos of artfully arranged cheese platters, I labeled my cheeses according to wine pairings, adding herbs, grapes, and dried fruit and nuts to my presentation. I placed a selection of sliced fresh French bread and crackers on the side, then turned my back. That was a mistake. My practical spouse rearranged my platter in a rigorous grid pattern. After consigning my fruit and nuts to a bowl, he exclaimed, “How can anyone cut anything with that other stuff crowded in there?” With a flourish, he clunked down an old Christmas mug filled with potentially useful cutlery next to the renovated cheese board. Then, the doorbell rang. So much for presentation.

As it turns out, practicality was also on the minds of my French guests. As promised, a half-dozen cheese knives were produced, followed by a Cheese 101 as I was schooled on the proper French way to cut cheese (always follow the shape and never cut the tip off the wedge), and how to present THE FIRST SLICE (spear it on the end of the knife and lay the knife atop the cheese). 

Stars of the Show:

Champagne paired well with all the cheeses; especially the blue-veined ones. The real standout cheese of the evening was the Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Organic Triple Cream with Funk. A washed rind cheese, it had a pungent fragrance, but the center was savory, creamy and deliciou

  1. Another favorite was the Cambozola, an approachable, blued triple cream brie. 

Keys to Success:

It turns out that some of the evening’s best cheeses were readily available. My French guests brought cheese from Trader Joes and the local Safeway. When one knows what they’re looking for, high quality, affordable cheese can be found in plain sight.

The 6 wines and 14 cheeses I presented was a lot of territory to cover in one event. But this was important research. Offering your guests a tannic red, a fruity white and a tangy Sparkling wine and pairing at least one cheese with each — for a total of 3-6 cheeses – is an approachable and affordable way to entertain 6 people. 

Presentation isn’t everything, but a selection of dried fruit and nuts, crusty bread and crackers rounds out the event nicely so that no one goes hungry. Having appropriate cutlery is important, too. Invest in a good quality cheese knife for efficient slicing so that no one sends a cheese round skidding off the table. Have at least one piece sliced from each wedge to invite tasting. And, if it’s an option for you — invite someone who is French. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn!

Bon Appétit!

Cheese and Wine Matching: The Ultimate Guide, Decanter

12 Classic Wine and Cheese Pairings You Must Try, Wine Folly

How to Build the Perfect Cheese Board, Lemon Tree Dwelling

 

Patty Lyn TwetenPatty Lyn Tweten is a writer, graphic designer and Pinot Noir vineyard owner. Working exclusively in the wine industry, her writing inspiration comes from visual design work and her own front yard. Website Facebook  Instagram Linkedin 


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