Say Cheese!

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, September 2011

Talk about pairing wines with fancy foods all you want, but the classic combination of wine and cheese is still the favorite!

A wine and cheese party doesn’t have to be boring. For every wine you serve, you can find even more cheese varieties to create what noted wine sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson calls “matches made in heaven.” The synergy that develops between a cheese’s qualities and a wine’s flavors certainly can bring nirvana to your taste buds. Don’t rely on the mass produced packaged cheeses or pre-cut grocery deli cheese plates, though. Have some fun serving fresh cheeses that your guests may not have ever tasted. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to develop a winning combo!

One way to play it safe is to select wines and cheeses from similar terroirs. Serving French champagne? Pair it with St. Andre’, a rich, softripened cheese with a full, buttery taste from the Normandy region. Italian Sangiovese calls for a block of Parmiagiano-Reggiano, which — by the way — is a good match for just about any red wine. Complement that American Cabernet with artisanal Wisconsin cheddar. Cheese, like wine, gets its distinctive characteristics from soil (where the cows, goats and sheep eat), climate, and environment.

“The terroir influences flavor in cheese just like it does with wine,” says Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, who has been called the “rock star” of artisanal cheeses. His company, Carr Valley Cheese, produces more than 80 varieties of cheeses and is at the forefront of the artisan and specialty cheese-making movement. The Wisconsin-based company has won more than 425 national and international awards and the brand is available in Central Florida markets.

Cow, Goat or Sheep?

Say Cheese! • Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, September 2011According to Cook, cheese from cow’s milk has 3.8 percent butter fat and 3.1 percent protein. Compare that to goat’s milk cheese with its 2.8 percent butter fat and 2.2 percent protein and you’ll understand why most goat milk cheeses seem thinner and whiter. Sheep milk cheese is usually saltier with its 6.5 percent butterfat and 5.4 percent protein.

“Goat cheeses don’t have to be bad,” says Cook. “Some people are more sensitive to goat’s milk, but if your ancestors are from the Mediterranean chances are you will like it. Also, remember that cow’s milk cheese is relatively new compared to sheep and goat cheeses which have been around for thousands of centuries.”

If sheep or goat milk cheeses seem gamy, they are probably young. Try the aged cheeses, such as wine-friendly Pecorina Romano or Manchego for rich, buttery qualities. One of my favorites is Carr Valley’s Cave-Aged Marisa, an earthy cheese that has received numerous “best in show” awards and pairs extremely well with Spanish Rioja wines.

To experience the taste differences in one bite, try Mobay Cheese, which has a layer of sheep milk cheese and a layer of goat milk cheese separated by a thin vein of grapevine ash. “This is my take on a French Mobier,” says Cook, “and it pairs well with either a Malbec or a Chardonnay.”

Wine as Dessert

We’ve all been to parties where the hostess greets us with cheese appetizers. Nothing wrong with that, but in Europe, cheese is most often served after the meal and occasionally instead of dessert. As dessert wines, such as sauternes and ports, become more popular in the U.S., I’m seeing more blue cheeses being served.

I recently had red grapes stuffed with Hook’s Blue Paradise Cheese. The sweet grapes balanced perfectly with the creamy, yet salty cheese. I thought it was the perfect finish after a heavy meal.


For your next wine and cheese party, get creative and let your imagination take over. Your wine and cheese party will be anything but boring.

Sauvignon Blanc with Chévre, a slightly tangy goat cheese.

Chardonnay with Apple-Smoked Cheddar, which beer lovers will also enjoy.

Cabernet Sauvignon with Italian Parmesan- Reggiano or Wisconsin Caso Bolo Mellage, a blend of cow, sheep, and goat’s milk that combines flavors for more dimension.

Zinfandel with Cocoa Cardona, a pairing suggested by Wine Spectator Magazine. Carr Valley’s Cocoa Cardona unites a hint of chocolate with goat cheese for a clean, sweet finish to any meal.

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