Let us guide your next wine & cheese soiree with some ways to cut through the rind for a perfect board & barrel match.
Cheese. A craft spanning thousands of years celebrating flavour, texture and nature. It stands as a testament to the region and climate of its origins, and the perfect counterpart to any wine selection.
Yet if you are not well versed in the world of cheese it can be difficult to match with your favourite wines. So to lead you in your next wine and cheese soiree here are some ways to cut through the rind for the perfect board and barrel combination.
But what about stemless glasses? While stemless wine glasses are increasingly popular, and great for casual gatherings and everyday use, if you are sipping a high quality wine, you should choose a classic stemmed wine glass to prevent the warmth of your hand from affecting the flavour of the wine.
To really take your wine-drinking experience up a notch, bring out the crystal wine glasses. “High-quality crystal glassware provides extra clarity in the glass; it doesn’t distract from the colour of the wine,” explains Ted Rutledge, Senior Sommelier at Aria Restaurant in Sydney.
For the purposes of your cheese journey you can consider four major cheese styles to select from: soft, washed rind, blue and semi-hard. But don’t expect to need to fill a cheese board with everything, rather think of two or three cheeses to match your wines. Less is more, and condiments such as pear, apple or quince should be used sparingly to keep the wine and cheese the centrepiece. Identifying the perfect pair is all about complementing characteristics. Neither wine or cheese should overpower in flavour, rather their balance is coordinated through weight and texture; light-bodied wine with delicate cheeses; medium with medium; heavy with rich, intense styles. And if you follow this rule the margin for error is surprisingly small, so feel encouraged to experiment.
Soft cheeses are so called for their silky, melt-in-your-mouth consistency. Brie and Camembert are the most common styles, each originating in France and made from 100% cow’s milk. The names “Brie” and “Camembert” are not protected, however, and receive common use by many cheese makers in Australia. To distinguish the two, Camembert is typically a more robust style produced only in small wheels, while Brie is creamier and more delicate, made in small or large wheels and cut according to size. Don’t be troubled by the idea buying slices of Brie cut from the wheel though. Packaging is not always a reflection of quality and a simple plastic wrap with a weight sticker could be leagues above extensively pre-packaged brands.
As for the wine, Pinot Gris, with its silky textural notes, bold fruits and developed complexity stands at the heart of a perfect soft cheese match. New Zealand is producing some excellent examples of the French style, with the Rapaura Springs Pinot Gris from Marlborough, with notes of pear, quince and apple and a hint of residual fruit sugars making for an ideal selection.
Blue cheeses are typically creamy in texture, much like their soft counterparts; though exhibit notably sharper and saltier characteristics due to the rich blue vein. Their robust nature makes for an ideal selection when paired with a broad range of red styles. The Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir, for example, is an ideal middle player with lively berry fruits and a vibrant acidity that lends itself well to the creamy texture. Additionally, if a dessert wine is on the table, such as De Bortoli’s Noble One, a blue on the board is a remarkable match as the residual sugars complement the salty notes with surprising sophistication.
Washed rind cheeses are not as common on the supermarket floor as their flavour can sometimes be too heady for the everyday cheese lover. But for the ardent adventurer, they can be a pungent pleasure. As the name suggests, washed rind cheeses are washed in a brine solution that can soften or harden the cheese depending on its moisture content. They are easily identifiable by their golden orange rind which enhances and intensifies the funky aromas and flavours. When matching with wines, a little more fullness of flavour can be more fitting here. Bigger whites, such as a fruitful Chardonnay, or an aromatic Gewurztraminer act to balance the artfully abundant funky flavours. A pungent piece of Muenster accompanied by a Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region would make for a worthy pair.
Last on the list are the semi-hard cheeses, which have a firmer texture and consistency due to less moisture content in the cheese itself. They can range from the softer style, such as a Mersey Valley cheddar, to something a little denser such as a Colby, Gouda, or Cheddar. Combinations of sheep and cow’s milk are common, and flavours can vary, developing more as the cheeses age. Wine matching is more flexible here, with flavour-for-flavour unleashed blow for blow. If serving a broad range of reds and whites, a set of semi-hard cheeses run nicely, especially if you include in a firm washed rind such as Taleggio. Additionally, if you fancied a more traditional fortified, such as the Penfold’s Father Tawny, then a robust English cheddar would be hard to beat.
No matter your wine selection there is always something to select, so feel free to follow your nose and find your favourite matching friends.