Wednesday Wine 101: Know your Curds and Whey around a Cheese Plate

There’s a reason that cheese plates often make an appearance at parties: when done properly, they can be the perfect accompaniment to enhance your wine-drinking experience.  But how do you know which cheese to serve with which wine?  The trick is to select flavours and textures that complement – rather than compete with – the profiles of your wines. 

Here’s everything you need to know to perfectly pair wines and cheeses. 

Talk about a feta compli!  (Sorry – that was cheesy…)

Wine and Cheese

Rule of Thumb

As a general guideline, a cheese plate accompanying a variety of wines (for example, at a wine tasting) should include at least one of each of the following: a soft cheese, a hard cheese, and a blue cheese.  The amount of cheese you need depends largely on how you’ll be serving it – as an hors d’oeuvre, a dessert cheese course, etc. – but usually between 1-3oz. per person is a fair estimate.

If you’re only serving one or two wines, though, there’s no need to include every type of cheese; just stick to one or two that nicely complement the wines you’re serving.

 Cheese Platter Feng Shui

If you’re serving an assortment of wines, it’s helpful to arrange your selections so that they progress from milder to stronger flavours (and also from softer to harder textures).  This is easily achieved by arranging the cheeses on the plate so that they move from one end of the spectrum to the other (or, with round plates, begin with the mildest cheeses at 6 o’clock and progress clockwise to the boldest).

  • Begin with soft, mild cheeses such as a double- or triple-creme Brie or Camembert, Mozzarella, and young and mild goat cheeses.  These pair nicely with lighter white wines, since the light flavours won’t overpower your palate.  They also work well with pilsner beers and sparkling wines, since the effervescence pairs nicely with soft-textured and creamy cheeses. 
  • Next, choose a soft to semi-firm cheese with a light- to medium-strong flavour.  Manchego, Taleggio, Wensleydale, Oka, Gouda, Swiss or Jarlsberg, young and mild cheddars, and older camemberts make great choices, since their stronger flavours are still nicely balanced by rich creaminess and a softer texture.  These pair nicely with light red wines and lager beers. 
  • Then choose stronger (even stinky), firmer cheeses such as aged cheddars, Gruyere, Parmesan, Pecorino.  They have strong flavours that hold up well against bold red wines and ales. 
  • Finish with a blue cheese, such as Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Shropshire Blue.  Their strong flavours make them perfect pairings for dessert wines such as port, and stout beers.

Other things to consider

It’s always a good idea to include small accompaniments, but make sure they don’t distract from the feature.  Grapes, dried fruits such as apricots, apple slices, figs, nuts, jams and spreads, and preserved bites (such as olives and slices of prosciutto or salami) are lovely additions, but certainly not necessary, and best when kept to a minimum, so choose just one or two if you must include them.  A few different kinds of crackers or flat breads are really all you need.

The key is to keep it simple and elegant, so don’t worry too much about the details.  As long as you have a nice variety of options, your choices are sure to please.

Extra credit

Looking to learn more?  Here are some links with additional information:

A Summer Cheese Plate” (Sprouted Kitchen)
6 Basics to Food and Wine Pairing” (Wine Folly)
How to Serve Cheese” (Cheese Matters)
Why You Should (Almost) Always Pair Cheese with White Wine (Not Red)” (theKitchn)
How to Pair Wine and Cheese” (HuffPost Taste)

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