The Uncorked Dork: Wine and Cheese, A Perfect Pair
I recently heard a segment on National Public Radio’s Science Friday about the science of cheese. Based on that few minutes of my life I’ll never get back, I can tell you with certainty: The only way to ruin the perfect marriage of a superb cheese and a sumptuous wine experience is by turning it into a science experiment.
Unless you are a scientist of course, then you are probably home alone and it really doesn’t matter either way.
Just kidding. Really … no judgment … the Dork is sitting home alone right now. I’m drinking wine and eating cheese as I write though, so obviously life is good.
Anyway, humans have had a love affair with wine and cheese ever since there has been wine and cheese (that’s, like, a really long time.) But is it just tradition or something more that binds these two together?
While I’m sure the pairing started because, well, wine and cheese just taste good together … and back before refrigeration, moldy/ fermented food and drink was pretty prevalent so there was lots of opportunity to enjoy them together … we now know there is a bit of science involved.
A previous Dork article covered tannins in wine (search “tannins” on edibletampabay.com if you want to have a look). As described there, tannins are the compound that create “dryness” in wine – red wines typically have more (since grape skins contribute both color and tannins to the wine), with the driest creating a sensation of having a sweater knitted onto your teeth.
Now consider that feeling of dryness in your mouth. What would take the edge off? Perhaps something fatty or creamy? Something like cheese?
Not only does cheese balance the physical mouthfeel, but there’s a chemical component as well. The astringent qualities of the wine are offset by the fattiness of the cheese. Meanwhile, the tannins in the wine bind with proteins and keep them from dissolving in the same way they would without these polyphenols (there’s the science-y stuff), a reaction that gives body and structure to the wine that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The protein component doesn’t have to be cheese – a steak is a pretty good polyphenol binder, but it’s a little easier to serve cubes of cheese at a wine tasting than to have folks gnawing on T-bones.
MAKING THE MATCH
So, what cheese goes with what wine? If you consider the science lesson above, the drier or more acidic a wine, the fattier/creamier the cheese you’ll want to serve with it. For example, a double cream camembert would likely drown out the taste of many wines, but a full-bodied Syrah can cut through the fat, while the creaminess of the cheese can help the wine’s flavor linger on your tongue a bit longer.
As with all things wine, I say there’s no right or wrong answer – it’s about what you like. Many foodies recommend soft cheeses with sparkling wines, I tend to be a nonconformist and pair harder cheeses with my bubbly. That’s just what I like. I also like lasagna for breakfast, so take my input with that in mind.
I will tell you that the best way to discover new pairings is to buy your cheese from someone who knows cheese … not from the cooler at your local large grocery. Most good cheese shops will give you advice and a sample, not to mention sell you an amount of cheese that you want as opposed to a take-it-or-leave-it portion.
In summation, there are no bad wine and cheese pairings (well high-tannin wines and high-salt cheeses can sometimes combine for an almost metallic taste, but maybe you’re in to that). The key is to try, try and try again to find what you like … because who wouldn’t want to conduct an experiment where drinking wine and eating cheese are the main steps of the scientific process?