How to Combine Cheeses, Breads, and Wines

For the French, wine and cheese are two companions from time immemorial. In this diptych of joy, we shouldn’t forget bread, which stabilizes this harmonious relationship.

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For starters, it is worth noting that all three of these items are products of fermentation. Few gastronomic delights can surpass the appeal of a fine home-style cheese with freshly baked bread, and good wine. Another advantage of this strong combination is that all three products are consumed in their natural state with little or no preparation.

The combination of flavors is a matter of harmony, contrasts, appearance, texture, temperature or aroma, and all are subject to our personal preferences. A simple rule for combining bread and cheese is that the finer in taste the cheese, the whiter and less salty the bread. Stronger bread, often made with special ingredients such as buttermilk, already contains a dairy product as a basic ingredient and should be eaten with a strong blue-veined cheese.

Despite the fact that much is said about combining wine and cheese, there are no hard and fast rules. The best choices are usually a matter of individual taste. Compared to other complex dishes containing a variety of ingredients, cheese is a unique product that can be accompanied by wine with relative ease. Generally, combinations are made by considering the texture and taste rather than the smell of the cheese, and a wine is selected to accompany a cheese by looking at the similarities and contrasts between them, or by considering its supplementary characteristics.

A soft cheese that is high in fat can be paired with an equally smooth, light wine whereas a highly acidic cheese usually creates a delightful contrast with a good quality, sweet wine. Very salty cheeses combine beautifully with very acidic wines. It’s good to bear in mind that the more mature the cheese, the more it will dominate the taste of the wine.

Many people mistakenly believe that French cheese must be accompanied by red wine exclusively. The main reason for this is that cheese is usually served at the end of a meal and it is difficult to return to a dry, white wine after a red, particularly when that red is full-bodied. It is indeed true that white wines are better suited to most cheeses than red wines are. Quite often, as you’ll see below, wines are selected from the same region as the cheeses they accompany. This is based on traditional combinations of wine and cheese that have been tried and tested by the locals.

Below, you’ll find some wines which we believe can accompany each cheese family harmoniously. However, don’t be restricted by this list. There’s no accounting for tastes…

Fresh or white cheeses and processed cheeses: light, dry wines, served cold just as the cheese, too, should be, or even a light, red Bourgogne or Touraine. For herb cheeses, we recommend light red wines such as Beaujolais and Poitou.

Soft cheese with a soft rind or cheeses with surface maturation: red or fruity wines, Cotes, Roannaises, Cotes du Rhone. Bourgueil for Camambert, Brie and Coulommiers.

Soft cheese with washed rinds: grands crus Cote-de-Nuits, Saint-Emillion, Cotes du Rhone or Chateauneuf du Pape.

Goat’s cheeses: wines from the same region as the cheese. For Crottin, try Sancerre or Chinon.

Blue-veined cheeses: Graves, Saint-Emillion, Corbieres du Roussillon; the best choice is a good cheese with an exceptional Maury and all the naturally soft wines, Sauternes, Jurancon, Monbazillac or a Porto.

Pressed cheeses that are unripened: all combinations are possible: white, rose or red. For Cantal or Saint-Nectaire cheeses, a red Bourgogne or a Coteaux de Saint-Pourcain.

Pressed cheeses that have been ripened: fruity white wines and reds.

Wine is not the only drink that can combine well with cheese. In regions such as Normandy where wine production is low or virtually non-existent, cheeses combine better with a good local beer or apple cider…sometimes even coffee. For cheeses that have been washed with eau-de-vie, we recommend you try a good marc.

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