Picture the scene, you’re sat round the dinner table, you look directly across from you and see the frowning face of an in-law/boss/judgey friend as you present a sad little supermarket bought cheese board and a trickle of whatever is left in the bottle on the table. Your other half is fuming, they’ve spent days working on this dinner party, trawling recipes, visiting their local greengrocers and butchers and working out how to make their gravy without those weird lumps. You, you were in charge of the cheese board and the vino. Safe to say, you’ve let the side down immensely. You’ll never hear the end of this.
Now, let’s try that again. At the end of a beautiful meal, you present your guests with a board full of hand selected, artisan cheeses, all of which were highly recommended by your local cheese geeks. (That’s us!) And to go with that? A selection of wines that you’ve chosen to perfectly pair with the cheeses on your board.
I know which scenario I would prefer to be in!
And with that, I introduce our beginners guide to cheese and wine pairing. I’ll be talking through some super simple rules I use when pairing wines to cheeses as well as some of my favourite fail safe pairings. We’re going to break it down into the categories of cheeses that we use in the bar; Hard, Soft, Blue, Goat’s and Washed Rind. Starting with the category that is often seen as the most simple, but to me is one of the more complex.
Cheddar and Friends
My rule here is “The older, the bolder”. To say, the more aged a cheese is, the bigger a wine it can take. For me, big aged mature cheddars are perfect with juicy, fruit forward Cabernet Sauvignons. Whereas a more subtle, crumbly hard cheese with an earthy and elegant Pinot Noir.
The fattiness within cheddar cheese and the bolshy tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon create the perfect little dance with each other on the palette and mesh so well together. I find that they both bring out the sweet notes in each other and allow the dark fruits of the wine and the almost caramel tinge to the cheddar to really sing.
An alternative pairing, using the old “What goes together, grows together” motto that us Sommeliers drag out at every given moment would be a big, robust cider. A fuller, richer tasting cider with a little sweetness works perfectly. We’re currently serving the Hogan’s Libertine Cider which has a beautiful sweetness alongside it’s slightly bitter and tannic edge. You can thank Nathan for putting that on the menu, and it is perfection with a hunk of Cheddar. If that sounds up your alley, we’re doing a Cheese & Cider tasting on the something of May with the guys at Hogan’s that’s sure to bring absolute joy to you.
The term “crumblies” are the sort of cheeses that generally originated in the North of England and Wales. Think Caerphilly, Wensleydale, Lancashire, Cheshire. These are the 4 main crumbly cheeses that we know and love. The texture is different to that of a cheddar, funnily enough they’re more crumbly. Really, we almost make it a little too easy.
Crumbly cheeses, of course, range in flavour but often have a little more creaminess than Cheddar. They’re often a little bit more acidic, with fresher, more milky flavours. You don’t want anything too big and brash with a crumbly cheese as they can be overpowered far easier.
A beautifully earthy, rustic Pinot Noir would do the trick here. A classic Burgundy of course is my go to but a Californian Pinot would work as well. I’ve recently been enjoying the Angeline Russian River Pinot Noir which makes a beautiful pairing to the Bosworth Ash, a crumbly Caerphilly style from the team at Sparkenhoe. You can check that wine out HERE and read a little more about Bosworth Ash and the other Sparkenhoe cheeses on Sarah’s blog piece HERE.
Medium to full bodied whites are also an absolutely ideal pairing for a crumbly cheese. You don’t want anything too acidic as it’ll accentuate the acidity in the cheese. Again, look at Burgundy and a beautiful Chardonnay, or try Viogniers from the Rhone Valley, or this beautiful example of the grape from Arendsig in South Africa.
I’ve always been a little sceptical of smoked cheeses. An old cheesemonger told me when I was just 19 or 20 that a lot of creameries smoke their lesser quality cheeses to cover up and faults or flaws in the taste.
However, in recent weeks Sarah has introduced me to Westcombe Smoked, and since tasting it I am happy to forget everything I was once told about smoked cheeses.
It has all the structure and flavour of Westcombe Cheddar with a gorgeous, but not overpowering smoke characteristic.
You could go Pinot Noir again here, but for me, I like to add a bit of spice to the occasion. I’m talking Temperanillo (a gorgeous Rioja Reserva would be absolutely spot on), or take a look at a Shiraz with tobacco notes that’ll be boosted by the notes of smoke.
I guess the classic example of a hard sheeps milk cheese would be Manchego, but you know by now that we are all about British Cheeses, and so we’re talking about Berkswell. Berkswell (and Manchego) is an aged sheeps milk cheese with a nutty characteristic and a slightly granular texture, it’s got a gorgeous caramel note to it and a real tang on the finish.
Again, this could be red or white wine territory. If you’re a red drinker you could bust out that rioja again here, but something a little juicier like a Ribera del Duero would be my preference. For the white wine fans, something like this oaked Viura from Abel Mendoza would be delicious, but a Cava would also be an incredible pairing.
An alternative pairing, and one that I’m a huge fan of, is Sherry. A light Manzanilla would showcase the fresher, more lactic flavours that come with Sheep’s milk, whilst an amontillado would really emphasise those nutty and caramel notes.
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