Wine & cheese: A match made in heaven

Cheese is something we do very well in Ireland, and while we should support Irish produce first and foremost, we’re also fortunate to have access to lots of high quality cheese from abroad. Even some of the better supermarkets have a good selection, but if you go to one of the smaller independent specialists you’re guaranteed the best available.

Like wine, cheese has its fair share of health benefits and is not entirely as bad for you as many of us are led to believe. Remember cheese is made from milk, a superfood in itself (or superdrink if there’s such thing), and in addition to being rich in calcium there is a good dose of protein, magnesium, potassium and vital vitamins. Milk fat is digested quickly, is easily burned off and is not stored as fat. Everything in moderation of course.

Cheese can go very well with wine, although getting the right match is worth considering before you crack open that nice bottle you’ve been keeping for a while. The three key components to consider are tannin, texture and acidity.

Firstly, in red wines, find something that has low-medium tannins. High tannin wines, like a young, robust Bordeaux is best kept for that Sunday roast. Secondly, when it comes to texture, try to match like for like, or alternatively look for contrasts. A popular contrast would be a good blue veined cheese, like Cashel Blue, with a dessert wine, such as Sauternes. Lastly, acidity. Match high acid whites, like Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) with high acid cheese, like goats cheese.

Some cheese and wine suggestions

Soft cheese/cheese in brine: Goats cheese, mozzarella, boursault

These tend to possess relatively high acidity, so go for a piercing Sancerre, or any dry, clean and crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling and Old World, cool climate, unoaked Chardonnay also works well. Try a Burgundy white, perhaps a Macon Villages or a Chablis, or even a northern Italian Chardonnay.

Hard cheese: Cheddar, Manchego, Parmesan, Pecorino

Go for quite a full-bodied white wine with most hard cheese. I love a creamy Chardonnay, but a good Pinot Grigio will also work. I say good because so many cheap PG’s can be unexciting. When you get a good one though you’ll notice the difference. Viognier and a lot of the Semillon Sauvignon blends of Bordeaux (with the Semillon giving body and texture) will work well too. For the stronger aged hard cheeses like Parmesan, try a rustic Italian red, such as Chianti, Barbera and Dolcetto. Again, you’re looking for low-medium tannins. Outside of Italy, try a Chilean Carmenere. Oh, baby.

Blue or seriously smelly cheese: Cashel Blue, mature stilton

I’ve heard so many people proclaim they hate dessert wines. I’m not sure if they’re confusing them with some kind of fortified sickly sweet sherry cream or something. As soon as they try good Sauternes or any of the great non-fortified botrytis wines of Chile, Germany, Australia and Canada to name a few, that perception goes out the window. And when paired with a creamy blue cheese or a smelly stilton, the only problem they have is knowing when to stop drinking and eating. This is indulgence at its very best. Also enjoy with Ruby Port.

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