#TippleTalk – The Cheese Wheel

No story of wine will ever be considered complete without a reference to cheese. So intricately linked do the two appear that in most social settings, one is rarely uttered without alluding to the other. And yet, wine and cheese has a lot of myths which are unquestionably accepted when they in fact need to be outright discarded. Let’s try and she light on some of them today. But before we do that a quick round up of the world of cheeses. Suffice to say that it is a vast one indeed. The same cow and the same milk when treated the same way but in two different zones can yield two entirely different types of cheese with very different flavours. In France alone there are more than 360 varieties of cheese which means one for every day of the year so variety is clearly not an issue. This is why provenance has a big role to play here. Once we start accounting for the rest of the world with their own inherent cheese production methods, one lifetime is hardly enough to try them all.One basic classification of cheeses categorises them as follows:

  1. Fresh: Mozarella, Fromage Blanc
  2. Soft: Brie
  3. Semi-soft: Munster
  4. Semi-Hard: Cheddar
  5. Hard: Parmesan
  6. Veined: Blue Stilton

But this isn’t the only way to go for cheese can also be classified by (a) milk source (cow/goat/sheep) (b) by covering (wax/ash/rind/powdery/salt-washed) (c) use (table cheese/cooking cheese/ topping) and a few others. Suffice to say that you need to taste them before you decide how to utilise them, and pair them!And now, without further ado, some myths, busted!

The Cheese Knife

Different types of knives for different cheeses

In France the cheese course comes with a cheese knife and bread. One is supposed to use the knife to cut and place the cheese onto the bread or crackers and then eaten. In the US, a fork is also kept on the cover as people often eat cheese like they would a steak. Personally I find this rather odd and not half as satisfying as having cheese with a carb-centric base.

The Pairing

Pairings with cheese change like fashion trends – it used to be reds, then it became whites, then it was red Port, then white Port, then came Sherry, and now…frankly I don’t know what’s in now? But here’s the thing, try the cheese and try what you wish to serve alongside, doesn’t matter whether it’s a Bordeaux red or a Boulvardier, get some people to try and see their reaction.

That consensus is a good sign of how to take things. But please don’t allow yourself to be limited by tradition. I have had champagne with cheese and enjoyed it thoroughly so often you just need to get the right type of cheese and bottle together.

The Timing

Now most social soirées serve wine and cheese as the starter and floating snack that linger through the evening. In a traditional sense this makes no sense as wine and cheese are one course that is part of a meal so why do people jump to it directly. Well, mainly because cheese is rich in umami and once that coats the palate, the effect of wine is less stand-out and distinct. Yes, sounds contrarian to the general wisdom but that’s how it is – ‘Buy on apples but sell on cheese’ is the sommelier’s motto. Unlike having an apple which will cleanse your palate before a tasting, having cheese numbs it to certain defects. Which is another reason why I often question wine and cheese pairing. It’s like taking a driving test during an earthquake and expecting to have consistent results.

Cooking cheeses and processed cheeses aren’t to be paired raw ever. They have different purposes, processed one is frankly rather dispensable in my books. But personal choices aside, if you will be making a cheese tray, prefer artisanal produce with a provenance story over the supermarket stuff. And definitely no processed cheese cubes!

Keep these basics in mind the next time you want to gather some folks and huddle around a drink and bites. 

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