Guide to Matching Cheese and Wine
Wine and cheese - they go together like Fish and Chips; like Lennon and McCartney; like Batman and Robin; like Gin and tonic... right? Well, not quite! The pursuit of a perfect pairing is more difficult than the prevalence of wine and cheese parties of the 1970s may have led us all to believe. But all is not lost - follow some of the guidelines outlined below for a match made in heaven. Or at least have fun sampling along the way!
Tip #1 - Get Help!
Get yourself down to a decent cheese shop (May I suggest The Oxford Cheese Company, who you can find in the cavernous Covered Market in the centre of town) for some recommendations. The vast array of cheeses available these days is enough to baffle even the most committed of cheese-lovers (or 'Turophiles' if you're being technical!), so some advice on what's available will help you to make wise choices. Likewise, I might know a certain wine merchant whose knowledgeable, charming, not to mention attractive staff will be more than happy to furnish you with wine recommendations (not that I'm biased or anything...)
Tip #2 - Match according to intensity
A good general approach to take when pairing wine and cheese (or any other food for that matter) is to match according to flavour intensity - for light, young cheeses, choose a wine that's equally sprightly and youthful. You don't want the delicate flavour of your beautifully milky-white burrata to be stampeded by the rich intensity and tannin of a big, butch Barossa Shirazfor example. On the flip side, if your cheese is aged and strong, try a wine with similar characteristics. The richness of an aged parmesan is more than equal to the intense flavours of a glass of Amarone.
Tip #3 - What grows together goes together
My personal wine-and-cheese epiphany came at the hands of a glass of Sancerre and a crumbly, creamy, and slightly sharp chunk of Chevre. The grassy, grapefruit acidic edge of the wine provided the perfect foil to the mellow creaminess of the cheese; its slight sourness chiming with the high acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc. Regions of the world whose wine and cheese traditions have evolved in tandem have centuries worth of tasting experience behind them - why not take advantage of that when planning your pairings?
Try red Burgundy with Epoisses - the rind is washed with Marc de Bourgogne, a brandy made from the pomace (leftover skins) of Burgundian wines. Or a glass of rustic Spanish Tempranillo with a slice of La Mancha's Manchego cheese. The list goes on and on!
Tip #4 - Broaden your horizons
Fortified wines make great matches to cheeses, as anyone who has experienced the combination of aged Port with Stilton will attest. But it doesn't end there - Madeira has the acidity to cut through the richness of any number of cheeses, and a good Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry will pick up on the nutty notes you get in aged hard cheeses like Manchego or Comte.
Sweet wines such as Sauternes or its many reasonably-priced cousins (think Cadillac), Monbazillac and the like...) are delicious and versatile companions to any cheese board. The contrast of sweet and salty is just heaven, and works even more well if you serve the cheese room temperature and the wine very, very cold. Try Roquefort with a glass of Tokaji Aszu, Cambozola with a Riesling Auslese, or any number of other combinations.
And don't just think about wine! Bramley and Gage make an absolutely brilliant Quince Liqueur which is much more fun alongside a good Manchego than the boring old quince paste you get from the supermarket. Calvados is also a really nice partner to certain cheeses, particularly well-aged Cheddars.
Tip #5 - Enjoy yourself!
Food and wine pairing is not the exact science that certain members of the wine trade (sommeliers, I'm looking at you) would have us believe. We all have different palates, and what makes gastronomic perfection for one person will not necessarily be right for you. If your idea of wine and cheese heaven is a glass of Buckfast and a Babybel then more power to you! Have fun getting it wrong, and it'll be all the more satisfying when you get it right.