Wine, Cheese & Culinary Debauchery© by Randy Caparoso
They say that cheesemaking goes back as long ago as 9000 BC, when animals were first domesticated for their milk. Milk is turned into cheese by an enzyme known as rennet, originally found in the lining of calves' stomachs. Seems some ancient dude decided to carry his milk in such a skin, checked it out a little later and I'll-be-a-bull-bucker, he "discovered" cheese.
Like cheese, wine is the product of a natural fermentation, and at which point in history the first wine and cheese parties were being held is anybody's guess. But we do know that like the great cheeses of the world, the great wines of the world became clearly identified with specific regions of origin quite some time ago. There is Stilton from England, Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy, Roquefort and â€¦poisses de Bourgogne from France; just like there's Rioja from Spain, Chianti from Italy, and Bordeaux and Bourgogne from France. Hallelujah, pass the biscuits.
The relationship between wine and cheese, in this sense, is historical and sensory to the point of spirituality: you don't have to understand it to know it works. Certain wines are likely to taste better when consumed with the lush, solidified combination of milky sensations, acids, salt and amino acids of certain cheeses. Vice versa, the alcohol, acidity, sugar and tannin of certain wines not only helps the palate break down and digest the sensory components of certain cheeses, a well chosen wine can bring out distinctive, subtle flavors in a cheese otherwise not noticed without the wine.
<p>So what are the best wine and cheese combinations? I don't think anything is "best," but there certainly are a lot of good, fun, practical matches. The subject of wine and cheese, of course, has been tackled in many places, and my own conclusions are based upon tastings upon tastings over the years, with small groups of friends, one, two, sometimes as much as a dozen at a time.</p>
What are some of your favorites? To get us started, here are some of mine:
<li><b>Chèvre </b>(French or Regional American)<br>
Goat's milk cheese is made everywhere in the world, but the historical match is Loire River Chèvre with the white wines vinified purely from Loire River grown Sauvignon Blanc. Combining Chèvre and Sauvignon Blanc is like a lesson in Wine/Food Matching 101: a mingling of sensory similarities -- the lemony acidity of the grape balancing the sharply acidic taste of goat's milk, and earthy flavor of Chèvre amplified by the minerally, often flinty and herbal taste of Sauvignon Blanc.
Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are the Loire's best known Sauvignon Blanc producing appellations, but you may find even better matches in lesser known, idiosyncratic growths such the strongly earthy whites of Cheverny, the citrusy light taste of Quincy, and the tart/silk juxtapositions found in Menetou-Salon.
Needless to say, Sauvignon Blancs and goat cheeses are made all over the world, and the combination generally works across the board, often with serendipity. I find, for instance, handcrafted Chèvres from Tennessee, Georgia, California and the Big Island of Hawaii to be generally milder in acidity and earth tones than French Chèvres like Valencay and Crottin de Chavignol, yet almost perfect with the more mildly acidic, floral and fruit driven Sauvignon Blancs of, say, California. For the fruity yet more strongly herbal style of Sauvignon Blanc grown in New Zealand, you can take your pick: French Chèvres tend to do a better job of rounding out the tart, green qualities of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but domestic Chèvres tend to delineate the fruity, often mildly sweet qualities of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
And with a little more brevity:
<li><b>Herbed or Peppered Chèvres</b> (U.S.)<br>
The ever-popular variations of Chèvres -- coated with everything from cracked black pepper (Laura Chenel's classic Peppered Chèvre) to earthy red peppers (Bonnie Blue's Southwest Chèvre), and from pungent Italian herbs (rosemary, oregano and dried garlic) to fragrant variations of "French" mixtures (thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary, sage, bay, lavender, et al.) -- drastically alter your choice of wine. Cultural matches -- Chianti Classico, Montepulciano or Montalcinos with Italian herbed Chèvres, and Bourgogne Rouge, Pinot Noir or Chinon with French herbed Chèvres -- are both logical and spot-on. With peppers, it can be even more fun: what can be more predictably delicious with black peppercorn goat cheeses than black peppery California Petite Sirahs or Zinfandels? With pungent, earthy Southwest style red chile coated cheeses, peppery yet perfumed Syrahs from anywhere in the world?