I recently rated three mobile wine apps I felt helped me in selecting wine and tracking my tastes. I wanted to follow up on that with a second post about finding the right cheese pairings for wine. Unfortunately, I was only able to find one app I liked and it performed more like a reference guide than a tool that allowed me to explore options. I was about to scrap the idea completely when BBC News, Toronto posted an article about a biochemist who had adapted a computer model for tracking gene/molecule interactions for pairing fine wine and cheese. Using Max McCalman's book Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best as its reference, the site demonstrates relationships between 100 different wines and 270 cheeses. It was like a last minute Christmas present, just for me! So, for the past month I've been using this Wine and Cheese Map as a guide to my wine and cheese purchases... you know, for science.
There are more than 10,000 wine grape varieties and only 100 styles of wine are represented on the site, so it was clear that the model is more suited to search for new types of cheese than it is to find new wines. So, I decided to start with something easy.
A search for Red Bordeaux resulted in twenty different cheeses, which was exciting until I realized the Jewel Osco down the street doesn't stock “vacherin fribourgeois” or “krummenswiler forsterkase.” To get the most out of what Wine and Cheese Map has to offer, you either have to resign yourself to sticking with very common cheeses or get out find some specialty cheese vendors. I did a little bit of both. For the Bordeaux, I went with the triple crème cheese Jewel did have in stock and had a great experience.
I decided to switch priorities, instead of looking for a cheese to pair with the wine I wanted, I bought the cheese first and tried to find a wine that matched. While 270 cheeses seems like a lot, it really only scratches the surface. Also, nearly every cheese counter devotes a certain amount of space to common cheese varieties because, let's face it, that's what sells. The other problem was, even if I found the cheese I wanted, I then had to go buy the wine because they weren't always being sold at the same place. I used my second attempt as an a opportunity to restock on Parmigiano-Reggiano, which I had with a California Merlot and while this was a good pairing, I still wanted to challenge myself with something new.
In general, I like my purchases to be spontaneous, but due to difficulty finding more obscure cheeses and the fact the site is almost unusable on a mobile device, I realized I needed to come up with a game plan. Through my exploring I made notes on which stores were carrying certain cheeses and which wines were easy to find nearby. I ran these through the site via my desktop until I was able to find a match. The winning pair was Humboldt Fog, a cheese I had never tried, and White Burgundy.
As it came time to write this, I was feeling frustrated by the experience; I wanted a tool to help me find pairings for the more odd wines I pick up or to be able to easily match my popular bottle of wine with a strange cheese I had never heard of and then just go buy it a convenient place without running all over the city. Then I remembered a popular quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Over the past month I've gone into several small wine shops and specialty grocers, I've tried new food, new wine, explored areas I've never been, and had lots of great conversations with people who share my interests. On top of that, I did get to experience almost exactly what I wanted, it just took more work than I expected. Sadly, I still find a Google search more efficient when I'm standing in the store, but the site is a great resource for exploring new wine and cheese pairing ideas. At the risk of sounding “cheesy” (I think I just heard everyone reading this collectively groan), beyond being a map to wine and cheese, I also found the website to be a treasure map for food adventure.
If you're looking to have a food adventure of your own, why not check out The Chopping Block's Mardi Gras Madness party happening on February 24th at the Merchandise Mart? We're transforming our kitchens into the French Quarter for the best Mardi Gras party in the Midwest! Enjoy authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine as you learn how to make new dishes while enjoying the sounds of a live jazz band. You'll feel like you've been transported to New Orleans for this party!