Wine and cheese parties are making a modern comeback, with a host of artisan cheeses and boutique vineyards that make for a simple, gastronomic theme, complete with Herb Albert.
Wine & cheese get togethers always make me think of my parents; Martini & Rossi on the rocks, bright orange cheddar and Dad’s cheesy 70’s moustache. This is the food heritage from whence I came. My lifelong re-education has caused me to cast aside Velveeta for a world of cheese of varying colours and isles of wine I barely pronounce.
I love simple entertaining. A couple of bottles of vino, a little careful shopping, a good baguette, some San Peregrino and a great conversation — I’m in hostess heaven.
Last fall, I enjoyed some stellar pairings attending a series of wine & cheese “appreciation” evenings at the downtown my local LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), an opprotunity to sample 36 vintages with minimal investment and maximum “appreciation”. (Talk foodie to me!)
I was reminded of the great romance that is wine & cheese, and what a magnificent couple they make.
Sharing a few of my best takeaway notes from those sessions in a series of three posts this month on Food Gypsy . In this, Part 1; we explore the basics of a wine-ing & chees-ing – The Seduction.
I’m by no means an expert, but I know what I like and dam, I throw a sexy party! So let start there.
1) When hosting a wine & cheese soiree, lead with charcuterie.
“What, I though we were consuming cheese?” We are, but first we’re going to ready our pallet with something cured and salty. Think prosciutto, or a mild pork salami or foie gras, paired with olives or (in the case of foie gras) fruit. Think: fat and salt, this combination gets the saliva going wets and wets the mouth. Pair that with a bottle of something fruity and fresh to counterbalance and you’re ready for cheese.
It’s been a long day, you can’t just leap into cheese. She’s not that kind of girl.
2) “Only red wines match well with cheese” – a notion leftover from my parent’s parties and – utter nonsense.
In fact, dry reds suffer more in a cheese pairing than dry whites. Often your best bets are the sweet whites and fortified wines along with brighter, fruity reds and let’s not forget the sparkling and the rosé.
Like wine, each cheese has unique qualities, so it’s important to consider the focus point of each. We’re looking for a compliment, like any couple; we consider the balance of power, sweetness, acidity and of course — the finish.
3) Consume with all the senses.
Eating and drinking is a multi-sensory experience; for goodness sake, indulge them. Keep the lights on, feast first with the eyes, enjoy the rind or the crumble or the ooze of the cheese. Wine has its own aesthetic; consistency, colour, effervescence, so many ways to appreciate the beauty of the grape and its maker.
Inhale… deeply. Cheese is fragrant, sometimes it smells like the cellar, in fresh, soft cheeses you can catch a hint of grass and some of my (recent) favourites smell like gym socks. Putting them in your mouth is an act of faith and (like faith), richly rewarded.
Dip your nose right into your glass and breathe the wine. This is not just for ‘wine snobs’ the bouquet tells your mouth what it’s about to taste. It’s like the first kiss. Is it wet? Is it sweet? Is it hard? Is it deep? Does it mean something? Did he just bite me?
Take a sip, and draw a little air though the lips to allow it to pass though the wine, back into the sinuses from the inside; this amplifies the flavour and before you swallow. Knocking that sucker straight down your throat will just deny you pleasure. “Never deny oneself pleasure”, that’s my motto.
Taste and feel the texture; the graininess or the smoothness or the cream of the cheese. Take your tongue and press that cheese up against the roof of your mouth and let it melt to catch all the flavour notes. You taste different flavours (sweet, sour, acidic, salty, hint of hay perhaps) on different parts of the tongue, explore them all.
Like undressing a lover slowly, enjoy each new reveal; the glimpse of a naked ankle, the nuance of a shoulder, the heave of a bosom.
4) Serve from the mildest to the strongest.
This seems obvious, but we often get so excited that we forget ourselves and dive head-first into the blue-streaky heaven of Gorgonzoal. There’s no going back from Gorgonzola, you’re a gorgon-goner. Why rush? Where are we going in such a big hurry?
Lead those delicate little taste buds onto the dance floor, let them embrace a Mozzarella di Bufala up against a Falanghina before you spank them with a Stilton and make them moan with a tawny Port. Linger on the edge for so long they beg for more, then leave them spent and satisfied with a crashing crescendo of flavour.
(Wish I smoked, suddenly need a cigarette…)
5) It’s important to keep an open mind and experiment.
So true. We in the food & beverage industry call this “work”. Its terrible. The things we do. Sometimes a match that looks good on paper doesn’t work in the real world (like that time you read the Kama Sutra and someone broke an arm). Try not to hurt yourself, these things take conditioning.
Next week, in Part 2 we explore six great wines, one killer prosciutto, five outstanding cheeses and more sexual tension, because— we’re going Italian.
“Someone flip the Neil Dimond record. Remember next week, it’s FONDUE!” – my Mom (Circa 1972)