BY RICK RIOZZA
I’m certain I can grab a good portion of you foodies out there to agree with me that simply sitting indoors or out munching and sampling on just cheese, wine, and bread will make your day.
And just like that, we desert dwellers are already enjoying our wonderful “wintertime” resort weather where we can still enjoy the pool in the afternoon and the social comforts of events, restaurants and family & friends gatherings in the evenings.
The especial connection I’m making with the above two paragraphs is that there can be some wonderful and memorable partaking with the ease of the simple combinations of cheese, bread & wine. One can target a quick, smart and happy platter; another take is well-deliberated, fancy and decorative sensory table of varied international wines and cheeses with the best artisanal breads locally available—grapes and charcuterie, always welcomed as well.
It’s a crazy thing! I think I love cheese more and more as each day passes. It’s my default munchy anytime of day; it’s difficult for me to pass the fridge without grabbing a piece of cheese as I totter about—if there’s some bread or some potato chips around, all the better. As I do with wine, cheese is just part of my day.
As mentioned above, I don’t think I’m alone; if you’re interested, let’s do a little wine and cheese speak. For as easy as it is to put together a wine and cheese presentation , we foodies sometimes forget to utilize this combo in place of a full-on lunch or dinner menu—right !? Can’t think of a quick new dish tonight? Please . . .
First off: when the idea of wine & cheese comes to mind as just a great munchy—where neither the wine nor the cheese has to be great, fancy or whatever; this is the time to grab the best artisanal bread around. You know your favorite loaf be it crusty or dusty, sour dough or rye, rounds or baguettes, warm and/or buttery, and fresh as can be. The bread will tie magically and majestically any decent bottle of wine and hunk of cheese you can snatch at the market.
And as we are wont to do in this column, we will always highlight and bring attention to any wonderful wine and cheese pairings we come across featured at our wine bars, restaurants, events, and parties. Indeed, I was fortunate to host a wine & cheese pairing class at the Education Center in the Total Wine store in Palm Desert. One of the eight various pairings we conducted included the matching of a 2009 Rioja Tempranillo and a Boar’s Head Smoked Butterkäse cheese. That combination worked because the semi-soft cow’s milk German butterkäse, when lightly smoked, took a complexity that met with the dark fruits and aged oak from the wine. Fun Stuff!
Okay—since we wine enthusiasts are always on the lookout to keep our friends and family happy and up on our vino endeavors, presenting an impressive wine & cheese platter is a pleasing project. This is a little more involved than your cozy & romantic wine & cheese weekend in bed. The five recommendations below are not only universal pairings; they are sexy, exciting, and sensational savors that are so pleasurable, it gives us pause to reflect again on our happy life.
Sauvignon Blanc and Chèvre (goat cheese): You knew we’d start with this pairing because right out of the gate the match is fresh, tangy, brisk, highlighting fresh grassy notes from the players. I recommend the French Sancerre or the New Zealand Sauv Blanc over a California one; only because of the acidity and herbaceous notes more prominent in the prior two. Rounder tropical notes will tend to show in the Napa/Sonoma versions which open up very well with many other artisanal cheeses such as Gouda, Havarti, Monterey Jack, Muenster, Parmesan, and Swiss.
Chardonnay and English Cheddar: For some crazy reason, Chardonnay seems to be a natural rival of Sauv blanc (and we know that an un-oaked chard gets close to a Sauv blanc with their fresh fruit flavors). But with cheeses, go with an oaked Chard as the creamy buttery aspect of oak follows that of the cheese. Bold and complex this wine is known for its notes of apple, pear, melon, and citrus which livens up the English-style aged cheddar. We love that characteristic mini-crunch of calcium crystals that formed in the cheese aging process; and then a mouth splash of Chardonnay, will lock-in this sensory indulgence forever.
Rosé and Gruyère: Beautifully tinted rosés are now everywhere and produced from every red grape variety out there. As we always claim, rosés go with all foods!—thus pretty much all cheeses! A great particular match is with Gruyère. Yup!—that cheese we melt over our French Onion Soup, well the contrast between the rich, nutty and earthiness of the cheese and the light fruitiness of the wine elevates the flavors of both on the palate. Delish!
Beaujolais and Charcuterie: Beaujolais wines are delicious with virtually any mild or aged cheese. This red wine from the Gamay grape continually flies under the radar but is one of the sexiest wines out there. Chill it up—as it warms in your glass, it seduces. Light slices of hams, sausages, and pâtés are heavenly matches with Beaujolais, cheese and bread. (Are we thinking of adding capers/cornichons too?)
A particular salami I love is sopressata. It’s that Italian sausage that looks like it met up with chorizo. It’s less dry and richer than most salami, so when paired with the high acid and low tannins of a Beaujolais, we’re reaching levels of sensory overload and loving it!
Champagne and Brie: As a finale to our modest cheese endeavors, we will always pay homage to Champagne & Triple-Cream cheeses. The bubbly’s high acidity, minerallity and effervescence can sharpen the fattiness of the cheese boosting the flavors of both beyond balance! Cheers!