Samui Wining & Dining
Cheese and Wine

A gastronomic celebration on the palate!

 

22Maybe it’s a cliché, but there’s no denying that cheese and wine are a great match. In fact, they have a lot in common. Both are steeped in history, ritual and tradition. And they both require long complicated production procedures and aging processes, followed by highly regulated storage. Just as wine can be red, white or in-between, cheese can be hard, soft, or melted. And just as a wine can be oaked, a cheese can be smoked. Indeed, the very diverse nature of cheese makes it a perfect partner to the myriad different styles of wine.

      While some pairings may work better than others, each is at least unique. As you try several different cheese and wine combinations you may find that it’s not only the marriage of flavours and balance of aromas, but also the intoxicating sensory experience that counts. Ingesting room-temperature refined cheese on soft French bread, or dry crackers, with green salad leaves, olives and sundried tomatoes, is refreshingly uncomplicated, allowing your palate to focus on the wine’s key role in the unfolding taste adventure.

      Whenever buying cheese, I always consider what wine I’m pairing it with. Unfortunately for those of us living here on Samui, they are both very expensive items when you require quality. So, unless money is no object, both cheese and wine together is an occasional treat. But if nothing else, this does concentrate the mind, and careful consideration is needed in both wine and cheese choices. Here are a few basic guidelines I use when planning my all-too-rare cheese/wine pairings.

      Let’s start with red wine. As with all cheese/red wine choices, make sure to choose a wine that’s full of ripe fruit flavours, and not too much tannin. (Tannins can be made more astringent by the salt in cheeses.) Another component in cheeses, that can boost tannins, is acidity. For example, the high acidity of goat’s milk cheese clashes with red wine (you are far better off with a sweeter white wine). You also have to be careful with soft creamy cheeses that coat the inside of your mouth - they can make a red wine taste thin. In my experience, the best cheeses to match with a fruity red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, will always be the firm mellow ones, especially if they are aged or semi-aged, as this softens the acidity. The idea is that the earthiness in the cheese will bring out earthy flavours in the wine. And the fattiness in a cheese (as long as it’s not too gooey) will complement the ripe fruit characteristics found in a dynamic red wine.

      One of my favourite red wine pairing cheeses (if you are lucky enough to find it) is aged sheep’s milk cheese. It has a higher fat content compared to cow’s milk cheeses, and a gorgeous pillowy texture, even though it is a firm cheese. It’s perfect with a wine with intensive fruit flavours and soft tannins, such as a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Other quintessential red wines for cheese are Rioja, Red Zinfandel, earthy Bordeaux-style Cabernet blends, and of course, Italian brutes like Chianti and Montepulciano. (Parmesan cheese has been made in the same way for over 400 years, almost as long as the wines from Montepluciano and Chianti.)

       If you are looking at white wine pairing, then the softer cheeses work better, particularly the French classics like Camembert, Brie and Boursin. And fresh and creamy cheeses need the crisp acidity of white wines to bring out their full range of flavours. Seek white wines with a little body and sweetness, as dryer and lighter wines will be overwhelmed. Rather like the Italian example of Parmesan and Chianti, it’s amazing how often matching regions works well with cheese and wine pairings. Chablis and Sauternes are sure-fire winners when it comes to French soft cheeses. The currently-out-of-favour, but nevertheless wonderfully food-friendly, Californian oaked Chardonnays are also great with soft cheeses.

      Roquefort, a soft blue sheep’s milk cheese, is an interesting example, as it can marry well with many different style wines, from sweeter whites, to crisp rosés and even, somewhat surprisingly, big brawny reds. Another intriguing combination is a triple-cream cow’s milk cheese, with an equally a tasty partner, Provençal Rosé. The fresh strawberries and dry finish integrate nicely with the lush texture of the cheese. Gorgonzola from northern Italy matches well with the neighbouring Tuscan wine, both reds and whites, especially Soave from Verona. And at great risk of sounding a little passé, one of the most classic of pairings is that of English Stilton and Port wine, both vintage and tawny.

       These are just a few examples of the hundreds of fine pairings between wine and cheese. But don’t be afraid to experiment. There are plenty of exotic and interesting cheeses out there just waiting for a glass of wine and a palate to play with. Cheeses such as Cabecou Feuille, a mysterious French goat’s milk cheese that is soaked in plum brandy, sprinkled with black pepper and then wrapped in chestnut leaves. Or the equally exotic Azeitao, a Portuguese variety that is made in clay pots next to an open fire and mixed with wild purple thistle flowers.

         As the global community becomes more familiar with one another, regional specialties such as these will become more readily available. And today, wine distribution and consumption is already truly global. For people living in places like Australia and the Mediterranean regions, their choices are almost unlimited, and better still, reasonably priced. But for those of us here on Samui, we will continue to relish every bite of cherished cheese, and savour every sip of fine wine, as if it were our last!

         

Peter James


 


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