cheese? Do they work together?
Hodgson and Jancis Robinson
This was an interesting event. Organized by Bronwen
Bromberger and Francis Percival (cheese expert and chef, respectively)
and held in the front room of a terraced house in Bethnal Green, it
involved matching a range of cheeses and wines together under
semi-controlled conditions. Not only this, but Bronwen and Francis had
taken a single wine and a single cheese, and doctored them, thus
producing a large combination of pairings to help try to tease out
what makes some matches work and others fail. I was one of the four
tasters, and was flattered to be in such illustrious company: the two
cheese experts were Randolph Hodgson and William Oglethorpe of Neal’s Yard Dairy,
and the two wine experts were Jancis Robinson and myself.
For a well written, insightful account of the evening,
see Jancis’ report (here
on her website or here
from the Financial Times). Here, I’ll share some of my
impressions in a much less polished form.
I quizzed Randolph about cheese: after all, as the
founder of Neal's Yard he's in large part responsible for the revival
in serious cheese in the UK. We discussed the issue
of typicity, concluding that cheese is similar to wine in this
respect. I asked him
about the language that is used to describe cheese, and whether it was
similar to the use of language for describing wine. ‘When I started,
cheese graders talked about a level of acid, or a “flavour”, which
was a derogatory term’, explained Randolph. ‘It was a blank slate
in terms of cheese’. So how does he taste cheese? ‘I’m looking
at getting an idea of how it will keep’, he says, ‘trying to spot
a flavour you knew went wrong before. It’s very personalized’.
Interestingly, with Neal's Yard he has tried to steer clear of
describing cheese to consumers, in the way that wine merchants give
descriptive tasting notes on wines. After all, they are able to offer tastes to
customers in the way that wine shops aren’t. William Oglethorp
recalls when he worked in a cheese shop in Paris and wasn’t able to
offer tastes, but had to learn descriptors.
Bronwen, Randolph and Jancis
The tasting consisted of two segments. The first was
matching a doctored wine with a doctored cheese. This was a goats milk
cheese from Ireland, and it was chosen because this batch arrived
undersalted by a factor of 10, which makes playing with the saltiness
variable possible. However, the salt level also affects how the
microorganisms grow (salt controls the bacterial development of the
starter), and so changing saltiness will also change other variables
in the cheese. Still, for the purposes of this tasting, we’re close
enough for rock and roll.
Wine: Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Adelaide Hills,
50 g/l sugar
150 g/l sugar
Added oak essence
Cheese: St Tola, Inagh Farmhouse Cheese, Ireland (unpasteurized
goat’s milk, vegetable rennet)
With added MSG
Here are my notes on the various combinations:
Normal salt: thee two sweetest versions of the wine
work best, and I’d probably opt for the middle one if pushed.
Low salt: the cheese tastes nasty – much too fatty
texture. It doesn’t work well with the sweetest or driest, and if
I’m pushed I’d have to go with the middle one, but it isn’t
High salt: again, an upleasant cheese, but it probably
works best with the driest wine.
MSG: this gives a cheese with a sweet fudgey/savoury
character. Works well with the dry wine and perhaps also the medium
sweet. It’s an OK combination with the oaked wine, too.
I found this bit of the tasting quite tough: generally,
I don’t want to drink nasty wines and I don’t want to eat nasty
cheeses. I found the doctored samples of both quite unpleasant. With
both gourmet wines and cheeses we are in the business of fine
discrimination of quality, and these doctored samples didn’t cut
it. More useful for me was the matching of good wines with some lovely
Neal's Yard cheeses.
William and Bronwen
Wines (and other alcoholic drinks)
Stolichnaya Vodka, Russia (at 10%)
Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Adelaide
Aubert The Quarry Chardonnay 2004 Sonoma Coast,
Big in every respect, with lots of alcohol and dense, rich fruit and
Marcel Deiss Gewürztraminer St Hippolyte 2002 Alsace,
A wonderfully rich-textured expressive, off-dry Gewurz
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo Sake, Nigata Prefecture, Japan
Gospel Green Cyder 2004, Sussex
Almost Champagne like: a vintage-dated elegant sparkling cider
Tirecul La Gravière Cuvée Madame 1999 Monbazillac, France
botrytised sweet wine of real class and character
Juvenile Zinfandel 2003 California
big, fruity, dense Zinfandel with plenty of everything
Unison Syrah 2004 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Full flavoured, fruity and quite rich, with some tannic structure
notes about flavour and wine pairings)
Neal’s Yard Creamery, Herefordshire (unpasteurized goat’s cheese,
rich and soft textured with a bitter tang on the finish. Best with the
Sauvignon Blanc or the Aubert Chardonnay?
Durham (pasteurized cow’s milk, animal rennet)
Nice mild style with good texture and a bit of saltiness. A light
style. Perhaps the Sauvignon is best here, again?
Hampshire (unpasteurized cow’s milk, animal rennet)
A creamy, buttery soft cheese with a complex rind and a bit of a tang.
Dry wines don’t really work with this. But maybe the Turley Zin or
Aubert just about pull it off? Not a dream match by any means though.
County Cork, Ireland (pasteurized cow’s milk, animal rennet)
Funky dairy flavours: soft and complex. There’s a slightly stinky
element here. Best matches are the Sake and Gewürztraminer.
County Cork, Ireland (pasteurized cow’s milk, vegetable rennet)
Soft, nice, nutty, rounded and creamy. Didn’t come up with a match
here, or else I did but didn’t write it down.
Cheddar, North Cadbury, Somerset (unpasteurized cow’s milk, animal
Two different versions of this fantastic cheese.
starter PM49: Rounded, spicy and tangy with nice saltiness
starter FD: Softer and rounder with nice fatness
these, the Gewürztraminer worked best, and the Sake wasn’t bad.
Bassett Stilton, Nottinghamshire (pasteurized cow’s milk, animal
Lovely tangy cheese: complex, salty and spicy. Works best with the
Monbazillac and the Gewurztraminer.
love cheese. I love wine. But the two don’t tend to make the best
pairing – certainly not if you are being terribly analytical about
it, as we were on this occasion. Having said this, I enjoy eating
cheese and drinking wine with it, so make of that what you will.
Generally, the rule of thumb is white wines with softer cheeses, and
if you must drink reds with cheese, then hard cheeses are likely to be
a more suitable match.
these wines with wine-searcher.com
Back to top