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Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Primer on Beverage and Cheese Pairings

After our entertaining and highly informative talk at our last Naples Sunset chapter of AWS (vide supra),I sent out a thank you e-mail to our member master sommelier (MS). MS replied with an invite for a semi-private introduction to beverage and cheese pairings, with a chance to take photos. OMG! What a once (if any for most) in a lifetime opportunity. I jumped at this chance for a lesson from this cognoscenti of cheese and beverages.

The first thing we talked about was pairing wines with cheese. When you do this white wines are preferable to reds. Sorry local readers as the "skinny" is in this area, reds outsell whites by a wide margin. You may say to yourself this person does not know what they are talking about, as this statement seems counter intuitive.

The answer is simple, and is due to tannins. Tannins! What are these you ask? They are compounds that are present in grape skins and seeds. To a lesser extent, they also come from the hardwood barrels that are used to age wine (e.g.- oak). It is thought these compounds bind to salivary proteins and cause them to precipitate, much like if you drop an egg white into vinegar. This causes less saliva to be available which produces the drying, or "astringent" quality as well as the bitterness some wines can have.

In general, because of the wine making process, reds have much more tannins than whites. As tannins can be tough on cheeses, whites are preferable to reds.

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Three Chardonnays were chosen for this pairing, A Mersoleil and a Rombauer, both oaken and buttery wines from California. For contrast, these was also an unoaked Latour from France.

These were paired with 3 buttery cheeses, 2 of which were made from cow's milk. One was a Dutch Gouda with bits of bacon incorporated into it which upon further research, seems to be a classic pairing in itself. The other was a French Chaumes, another cheese made from cow's milk. For contrast, goat cheese was paired which of course, is made from the milk of an entirely different animal.

One very important point before I go into the next pairing. Keep it simple. Have a simple bread, such as the French Baguette pictured here. You do not want the flavors in the cheese adulterated by salt or any other flavoring present in most crackers. To wit, no crackers with your cheese, just simple breads. Finally, keep your range of flavors small. Three or four at most. Once you start piling on jams, compotes, etc. it's sensory overload and will take away from the things you are trying to taste. 

Take home points, whites rather than reds with cheese, simple breads as a vehicle for the cheese and keep your range of flavors small.

The next pairings were beers with cheese.

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We chose a lager style beer (Grolsch) and a Belgian style beer (Palm). Both were paired with an Ile de France brie, a cow's milk cheese. I know this looks like an Ile de France commercial, but it is not! Incidentally, this brand of brie is supposedly the first brie cheese imported into the U.S. ( Ile de France ).
Another classic pairing with the creamy texture and mushroom/hazelnut notes of the cheese melding perfectly with the hops in the beer. Don't forget your baguette!  Pure hoppiness...

We ended the pairing with ports and cheese, and to placate you red lovers out there, a Chianti.

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There were 2 tawny ports, a 10- and 20-year old Dow's, as well as a late bottled vintage Dow's port. Port is a dessert wine, or a digestif (Digestif ). These are drinks to be consumed after the meal is completed.

During the fermentation process a brandy-like spirit is added to the barrels. This stops the fermentation process and results in a "fortified wine". This results in a high alcohol as well as high sugar content due to incomplete fermentation.

Tawny port is made from grapes aged in oak barrels for at least 2 years. Late bottled vintage port is port made from grapes from a single year. However, perhaps due to lack of interest, they are aged longer than usual. They can provide a hint of tasting a true vintage port for much more value ( Port Wine  ).

Keep in mind that as digestifs, they are served after a meal, hence no bread. This is part of the reason the cheese was chosen. Munster cheese is a cow's milk cheese from France. It was chosen for it's neutrality as well as it's rind. This latter characteristic would allow it to be eaten without any vehicle (e.g.- bread).

Nuts are a classic pairing with ports. This is because of (you guessed it) tannins. Not only does it take awhile to chew through these but while you are doing this the fat to some extent and the protein in the nuts absorbs the tannins. Walnuts are traditional, but you could use cashews or Brazil nuts as shown in the photo.

I hope this helps you in your next wine and cheese event. I know I sure learned a lot.

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