sharing (Italian) food to enjoy life

All hail the perfect wine and cheese pairing

Posted by Jim Carfrae on November 12, 2009

Sometimes “my job” can simply get no better!  Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to learn intermediate wine tasting and to apply it to some of our imported Italian cheeses with Ramesh Srinivasan.  Ramesh is a professor at Humber College where he teaches wine to the chefs and restaurateurs of tomorrow.  His knowledge, passion and pleasure in teaching wine have no bounds.  My pleasure in learning was shared by his pleasure in teaching.

Together we tasted and tested the cheeses and wines, applying the matching principles he taught.  The overall rule is to match the prominent flavour of the food to the prominent flavour of the wine, and specifically:wine and cheese

  1. Match the weight of the food to the weight of the wine. 
  2. Salty food requires acidity and sometimes residual sugar.
  3. Higher fat requires acidity.
  4. Higher protein requires higher tannin.
  5. Spicy food, does not like tannin or oak, it does need acidity and sugar.
  6. Sweet food needs sweeter wine.
  7. Ramesh was absolutely clear that this last rule never be broken.  If you like a pairing, then enjoy it.  Everyone’s tastes and preferences are different, there are no absolutes.

The big surprise for me was that many, maybe even most; cheeses are better paired with white wines than red wines.  Really, why is this?  Here is my attempt to explain what is best experienced by trial and error with friends:  except for the aged cheeses, the texture of most cheeses is soft to semi-hard, which generally means a lighter body wine best suits; and the salt and fat of cheese likes the acidity to cut and compliment those flavours.  While there is acidity in all wine, it is higher in white wines.

Here is a couple of the pairing we agreed on:

Testadura is a tangy, salty goat cheese that has semi-soft texture with a bit of graininess.  The best match was an off-dry Riesling.

Crotenese is a powerful, tangy and pungent sheep’s milk cheese with a semi-hard texture.  It paired well with Chianti and even better with a Chenin Blanc.

Asiago, at least a real one imported from Italy, is a hard, aged cheese.  It was beautiful with Chianti and even better with a Zinfandel.

Baiata is a beautiful semi-soft cheese for Friuli, north of Venice.  It has an intense tangy flavour; it is creamy with a bit of mushroom earthiness that is perfect with the youngness of a Beaujoulais.

We didn’t try Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is well known that they love the biggest, heartiest red wines such as Barolo, Barberesco and Brunello.  I look forward to those for next time.


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