In all the years I’ve taught wine and food seminars, a guest may have told me “I don’t like halibut,” or maybe “I’m not fond of Thai food.” But I’ve never heard anyone say “I don’t like cheese.”
What’s not to like? For the sophisticate, there’s the elegant cheese board; for the game, there’s pizza. Family night may mean mac 'n cheese; for date night, turn simple into sexy with a sprinkle of seduction and your own Truffled Mac ’n Cheese (perhaps using our popular TCB Truffle Salt). And can we talk cheesecake?
Cheese, after all, is probably our most instinctual culinary creation. About 12,000 years ago, humans shifted from foraging to farming, then to raising livestock. As herds grew, we owe thanks to the ancient who thought “Now what am I going to do with all this milk?” and poured it into the most convenient container, an animal tummy (minus the animal). The baggie of its day had a surprise benefit called rennet, an enzyme contained in cow’s stomachs that separates milk solids (curds) from its liquid (whey), forming nutritious and delicious globules of fat, i.e. cheese.
Around the same time, and in a similar container, one of our ancestors discovered a bubbling goo, the result of semi-digested and fermenting grape juice, i.e. wine.
So, it’s not a stretch to imagine that pairing wine and cheese was our first gastronomic experience. You may say it was a primal urge. It still is.
We’ve come a long way from globules and goo. Today, most groceries have ample cheese selections while boutique cheese shops are attracting fans in cities and suburbs. Make friends with cheese mongers at your local shop, or try the easy and elegant wine and cheese pairings below.
Bubbles and Brie
Here’s an example of one of my personal wine and food rules, “Opposites can attract.” In this case, it’s the rich texture of Brie (a cow’s milk, soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheese) paired with a sparkling wine’s bubbles – which lift cheesy goodness off the palate, refreshing your mouth and calling for another bite.
Any sparkling wine will do (even sparkling cider), but best with Brie is Chardonnay. It’s my “Look for common denominators in wine and food” rule. In this case, it’s the Brie’s cow’s milk and diacetyl, an organic compound that gives cow’s milk butter its characteristic flavor and is prevalent in Chardonnay. Ask your wine merchant for a Chardonnay-based bubbly or look for the words “Blanc de Blancs” (white wine from white grapes).
Want to kick it up a notch? Bake that Brie in puff pastry and top with roasted nuts.
Baked Brie en Croute
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 8 servings
Active time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1/2 sheet puff pastry, thawed
One 8-ounce wheel of brie
1 egg, well beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Crackers and/or sliced baguette
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Roll the pastry dough lightly with a rolling pin to make it square. Set the brie in the center of the square. Trim the dough to 3 inches all the way around the wheel. (You can save the scraps and use them to cut out decorative appliques for the top.) Brush the pastry with the egg wash.
- Fold the edges of the dough over the cheese so they meet or overlap, and press to seal closed. Place the wrapped cheese on a parchment-lined sheet tray, seam side down.
- Brush the top and sides of the pastry with more egg wash. If desired, decorate with with leaves, flowers, etc. cut out of the extra dough. Cut one or two small vents in the top.
- Bake until the pastry is golden, about 25 minutes. Don’t worry if some of the cheese begins to ooze out!
- Serve warm with crackers and bread.
What’s with the rules?
C’mon, you may be saying, who likes rules? I do, I do! Rules make my life so much simpler. In fashion, for instance, some folks say “Wear whatever you like,” but one of my rules is “Don’t wear horizontal stripes on your hips.” I’ve broken this rule once and never again!
Over 30 years of eating and drinking for a living, I’ve developed 10 wine and food rules that save time, avoid mishap and create exciting pairings. For those that say that any wine complements any dish, try this experiment: Think about the best vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had. Now, top it with delicious chocolate sauce. Next, think about sizzly, deep-fried shrimp and dip it into spicy cocktail sauce. Now, go back to thinking about that vanilla ice cream again… and top it with cocktail sauce.
Likewise, some wine and food combos are luscious and some are like a Cocktail Sauce Sundae. Somebody may like it, but most people, not so much.
Explore Wine with Cheese
You can test my rules and decide on rules of your own in The Chopping Block’s Virtual Wine and Cheese Tasting, Saturday, February 13 at 5:30pm CST (that's tomorrow!). We’ll mix-and-match three prominent cheese styles with three wines, which may be sourced from The Chopping Block or through your local retailer.
Sweeter for the Sweets
Sparkling wine is also the choice for cheesecake or ricotta-filled cannoli, but make it Italy’s fab fizz Moscato d’Asti. When satisfying your sweet tooth, be certain the wine is sweeter than the dish, or all you’ll taste is the wine’s acid and alcohol. In similar experiments at The Chopping Block, guests are amazed that the two sweet flavors balance each other, making for a decadent pairing, and maybe sweet inspiration for what’s to come.
We’d love you to join us for The Chopping Block’s Virtual Wine and Cheese Tasting tomorrow to explore your own wine and cheese experience.