Cheese and Wine Pairings

First of all, let's answer a question: why does cheese perfectly pairs with wine? Apart from any poetic answer that could be found, the solution is simple and scientific: the bitter aftertaste which is typical of many cheeses combines perfectly with the tannins and with the bitter substances of wine, mitigating them. Here why the wine acquires roundness and softness when consumed with a good cheese.

This happens due to the decomposition of casein, fundamental protein of milk and cheese, which by generating a minimal amount of ammonia buffers a portion of the acid components of the wine.

Wine and cheese pairing guide

Cheese is a very complex product, with often intense and even pungent aromas and tastes varying from delicate to complex and strong. For these reasons, the combination of cheese with wine is not always easy!

From an organoleptic point of view, cheese can be a rather intrusive food. As a general rule, cheeses should be paired with wines with an adequate and equal grade of “intrusiveness”.

wine and cheese pairing

Cheese and wine pairing chart from MatchMyWine.com
Criteria for pairing cheese and wine

Yet, many different criteria can be followed. For instance, some experts choose the geographical criteria and like to pair cheeses and wines hailing from the same place. According to this rule, the Grana Padano can be perfectly paired with an Oltrepò Pavese, as well as a Castelmagno will be excellent served with a bottle of Barolo.

Many others prefer to choose only according to the organoleptcic properties of the products. The concentration and intensity of the flavors of cheeses and wines have to match. This means that an aged cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, goes well with a full-bodied aged red wine. Medium-aged cheese - such as Emmenthal and Asiago – will match with medium-bodied red wines. If the cheese is fresh and delicate, the wine will have to be light and perfumed.

Furtehrmore, it is generally believed that red wine best pairs with cheese, yet his "rule" is abolutely false, because of the enormous diversity of the organoleptic qualities of the cheese. Fresh cheeses with a certain acidity - such as Mozzarella or Robiola - can be perfectly matched with many white and rosé wines. Therefore the illustration hereunder is just one of the many possibilities to match wines and cheeses.

cheese and wine pairing

Cheese and wine chart from piccolaosteriachezmoi.it

But there's more: in addition to the overall structure of the products, the internal balance of flavors, for instance the prevalence of fatty elements that can be sweetish, salty or spicy, must be considered. There are several cases in which in order to balance the sensory experience, the correct combination is based on the logic of contrast. A contrast that will serve to smooth the excessive fatness of cheese with elements of sharpness (such as the acidity of tannins), the strong flavor with soft flavors, the presence of mold with alcohol and sweetness.

In respect to this, a separate consideration must be made for spicy and tangy cheese with a pungent flavor, such as blue cheese or long ripened cheeses. An excellent combination is achieved with sweet dessert wines and fortified wines. For example, the Roquefort goes beautifully with Sauternes, the Gorgonzola goes well with aromatic sweet wines such as Passito di Pantelleria and fortified wines with an appreciable sweetness, such as Marsala Superiore Riserva, and the Stilton combines perfectly with Porto wine.

The combination of cheese with sweet wines is probably the most exciting pairing, but this is an option that should be proposed only when the cheese is served at the end of the meal or when the cheese is consumed on its own without and is the only course of the meal.

Main picture: Cheese Breakfast, CC BY-SA 2.0