Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and many people are searching for the perfect wines to pair with chocolates. (If that’s you, check out my Chocolate and Wine post @ http://joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com/2012/02/way-to-womans-heart-chocolate-wine.html)
If you’re ready to think outside of the Valentine’s box, impress your sweetie by pairing wines and cheese - for an evening to please.
To start, decide how you want to pair the cheeses and wines. One way is to balance them with each other: a tangy Gouda goes with a tart, sparkling wine. Or contrast flavors by pairing a pungent Gorgonzola cheese with a rich, sweet Port. Don’t be afraid to experiment. But, when in doubt, pair a wine and a cheese from the same region for an amazing taste sensation.
Now to decide which of these ten cheese and wine pairings will “whey” in big with your Valentine ...
Brie is a soft cheese with a buttery taste and creamy texture. It originated in France and is made from cow’s milk. Versatile enough to serve with fruit, nuts, and crackers, it’s a very wine-friendly cheese that pairs well with most vinos including Chardonnay, Moscato, Champagne, Merlot, and Syrah.
Also known as chèvre, goat cheese is a soft cheese crafted from goat’s milk. The flavor is sharp and tangy with hints of herbs. Goat cheese can be packaged plain, rolled in peppercorns or covered with herbs. The herbaceous notes should point you to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. If you’d prefer a red wine, try Merlot, Beaujolais or Cabernet Franc.
This semi-soft Danish cheese is mild and creamy with a buttery, sweet flavor; aged Havarti may have a sharper flavor. Havarti also comes in a variety of flavors such as caraway, dill, horseradish, jalapeno, and chipotle. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc pair well, along with Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
Swiss cheese is a generic name for several similar varieties of cheese. With its firm texture and mild, sweet, nutty flavors, it is usually crafted with ‘eyes’, those holes that make Swiss cheese recognizable. Keep in mind, the larger the holes, the more flavorful the cheese. Swiss pairs with just about any wine including Riesling, Pinto Gris and Moscato. That said; don’t reach for a Syrah or Sherry, that’s just too much of a “good thing.”
Made from cow’s milk, this Italian cheese can be crafted in different textures ranging from smooth for a fresh cheese, to crumbly for an aged cheese, but it is generally considered to be a hard cheese. The flavors are full and sharp with a pungent aroma. Red wines stand up well to Asiago and a glass of Beaujolais, Malbec, or Zinfandel is amazing. For a white wine, try Riesling or Pinot Gris to complement the cheese flavors.
Gouda is actually pronounced “how-da” in the Netherlands where it originated. This semi-hard cheese is crafted from cow’s milk and is one of the most popular cheeses in the world. With a crumbly texture and sweet, nutty flavor, Gouda can be crafted in a variety of ways by including herbs, peppercorns or smoked flavors. Pour a glass of Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, or Riesling with this cheese, or save it for the last tasting and savor with a Sherry.
This hard cheese was developed in the United States and crafted in the Swedish-style. Its creamy texture makes it easy to spread on crusty breads, while the mildly yeasty yet somewhat tart flavor makes it perfect for Italian cooking. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Beaujolais are great accompaniments.
In Italy, this famous cheese is known as Parmigiano-Reggiano and it's crafted from cow’s milk. A hard cheese that’s grainy and dense in texture, this is another of the more popular cheeses in the world. The sharp, nutty flavor pairs well with Chianti (Italian cheese + Italian wine), Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling or Champagne.
This is an English cheese made from cow’s milk. The flavors of the crumbly hard cheese become sharper and more distinct as it ages. Now, crafted all over the world, cheddar is sold as mild, sharp and extra sharp. A glass of Cabernet, Merlot or Malbec goes nicely with sharp Cheddar, while Chardonnay or Pinot Gris will work well with mild cheddar.
These veined cheeses can be made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. Their distinctive blue-green veining comes from inoculating the cheese with a Penicillium mold. The flavors of a bleu cheese are sharp, salty and tangy and are a pairing sensation with sweet wines that don’t overpower the pungent flavors. Port is an excellent choice, along with a fruity Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc. For a white wine, try a floral Riesling.
To make your tasting complete, stock up on a variety of crackers, crusty breads, fresh fruits like grapes, figs, apples and melons, plus an assortment of nuts and olives. If you intend to make this a meal, add some slices of ham, turkey and pate.
And don’t be shy about asking your deli or cheese shop for cheese samples to taste. They may also have the perfect nibbles to nosh for your Valentine’s feast.