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Few of us who lived through the 70s could have escaped Chine and Wheeze parties any more than avoiding wearing paisley bell-bottoms or screaming at the Beatles. These were the social norms of the day. Regrettably they strongly influenced a generation of potential cheeseophiles and the mere suggestion of a cheese and wine tasting normally evokes queasy grimaces.

THE PERFECT MARRIAGE

Presumably the brain-child of some marketing committee, this ill-conceived social event barely acknowledged the natural synergy between cheese and wine, whose personalities are shaped by the soil, the climate, the breed of cow or grape variety and the art and skill of the maker. Yet their union has moved writers to wax lyrical on their beastly beatitudes or fill endless columns with riveting descriptions of distinguished or disreputable marriages.

Unfortunately many classic matches are based not on their gastronomic suitability but rather on ancient political alliances like Port and Stilton or Cheddar and Bordeaux. Equally biased are wine lovers who eulogise over matches where their precious wines are carried to new heights while my cheese is forced to absorb their harsh edges and imperfections at the expense of their own distinct character.

For, like any blind date, when the couple come together hidden flaws are revealed, subtle characteristics released or rough edges smoothed away or underlined. Equally new and unique sensations of taste and textures may be created or the personalities of each annihilated.

Which wine to serve with which cheese is a matter of personal opinion and a source of endless pleasure, however if this article prevents the reoccurrence of just one nasty wine and cheese party I will be happy. And one should not loose sight of the fact that it is the journey, not the destination, that brings pleasure.

THE MATCHMAKER WORKS HER MAGIC

As a general rule I find the following works:The whiter and fresher the cheese the whiter and crisper the wine. The darker and stronger the cheese the darker and heavier the wine.

SAUVIGNON BLANC & FRESH CHEESES
The combination of the wonderful fresh goat cheeses made throughout the Loire, and increasingly in the UK, and the crisp whites for which the region is equally famous, is a classic case of "if they grow together they go together." Both share the characteristics of fresh, zesty acidity and grassy, herbaceous overtones. Try Vulscombe, Cerney Ash, Innes Button, Sancerre (try Sancerre cheese with Sancerre!)

RIESLING & FRESH, SEMI-SOFTS OR BLUES
Surprisingly versatile, the dry rather than sweet Rieslings with their lemony style and aromatic yet flowery, even honeyed background seem to emphasise the aromatic nature of the cheese while softening any acidity or saltiness.

Semi-soft cheeses like St Nectaire or Taleggio with the supple, elastic texture and earthy, sweetness reminiscent of meadow flowers are superb partners as are the spicy rather than creamy blues like Binham Blue, Bleu des Causses.

Or in the case of locals attract, try sweet Riesling with pungent aromatic sticky orange rinded cheeses like Ardrahan, Carre de L'Est or Munster.

CHARDONNAY & SOFT-WHITES or SEMI-SOFT
When lighter and more citrus, Chardonnay makes an excellent soul mate for Brie-style cheeses with character but not too much tang or bite. Try it with Wigmore, Finn or Bosworth Goat.

Fatter, oaked Chardonnay needs a cheese with more depth, more guts and more spice which means a mature Camembert, Cooleeney or Tomme de Savoie.

PINOT NOIR & ALMOST ANY CHEESE
If I had to chose one wine to go with my cheese it would be Pinot Noir with its luscious yet gentle soft fruit, soft tannins, its hint of mint and aromatic qualities. Pinot Noir generously embraces most cheese but particularly aged goats cheeses, mature 'soft white' and the sweeter, buttery semi-soft types. Ewes milk cheese seems to bring out the best in Pinot Noir. Personal favourites include Manchego, Berkswell, Brie de Meaux, Shropshire Blue, Comte or Aged Gouda.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON & HARD CHEESES
These wines need rich, creamy full-bodied, but not strong, hard cheeses like mature Cheddar rather than vintage, aged Gouda not vintage or hard ewes milk cheeses. The tannin cuts through the butterfat allowing the wine's hidden character to emerge.

Younger more robust and tannic Cabernets and other reds welcome stronger more assertive hard cheeses. Extra strong hard cheeses can handle the rich sweetness of fortified wines.

Shiraz or Gamay are too fruity and perfumed for most cheeses unless they have other flavours added.

SWEET STICKY WINES & HARD or BLUE CHEESES
I have never agreed with the blanket rule that all sweet wines are great with blues. Yes, a young Sauternes will emphasis the hidden sweetness of the ewes' milk in a Roquefort and vintage Port is magic with the salty tang and old socks aroma of some blues - a clear case of opposites attracting each other. But creamy, earthier blues are often overawed by these luscious dessert wines so try Mrs Bell's Blue or Gorgonzola.

SUMMARY

There is no right or wrong when it comes to matching wine with food - simply that some combinations make the senses whirr and spin more than others

  • ACID LIKES ACID
  • FRUIT LIKES FRUIT
  • WEIGHT NEEDS WEIGHT OR COMPLETE CONTRAST
  • SWEETNESS KILLS ACIDITY BUT LOVES SALT
  • COMBINING IS AS MUCH ABOUT TASTE AS TEXTURE

Join me in the coming months and learn about some of the great traditional cheeses of the world along with some of the 450 different British cheeses now available on the market.

All theses wonderful cheeses are available from Wells Stores at Peachcroft Farm, Abingdon, one of Britain's leading cheese shops where each cheese is lovingly ripened to perfection so you can taste the cheeses at their very best. Call Gill @ 01235 535 978

Juliet runs Masterclasses for foodies & cheese lovers - for details see: www.thecheeseweb.com or email us on cheese@thecheeseweb.com

Juliet Harbutt