Whether you’re pairing cubes of supermarket havarti with glugs of Franzia straight from the box or alternating frilly curls of Tête de Moine with sips of honied Meursault, wine and cheese are better together. In search of matches made in heaven, we tapped some of our favorite chefs, sommeliers and assorted food folks around town to see which bottles they’re popping with their fromage finds. Here are the responses, in their own words.
Ryan Mulholland, general manager, Vernick Food & Drink:
Savuer de Maquis is a sheep’s-milk cheese from Corsica that has a natural rind covered with rosemary, thyme and many other aromatics. Certainly it could be paired with a spiced jam or sweet mustard, but it also stands up all on its own.
I’m excited by wines from the Loire Valley right now. Olivier Lemasson’s wines are perfect with food. His R11 is a blend of Grolleau, Côt and Gamay. The R11 has a floral nose and tart raspberry on the palate that holds up to the herbs, mineral and sheep funk found in this cheese.
Pradera is an aged Gouda from the Netherlands, a cow’s-milk cheese aged up to seven years. This cheese has depth — sweet and salty caramel, sometimes even hints of butterscotch and almonds. The aging process results in crystal formation that adds to a complex mouth feel and a crunchiness.
For the Pradera I like wine with a bit of acid on the palate, and the Clos Cibonne Tibouren rosé from Provence is perfect for this cheese. Aged for one year in 100-year-old barrels under flor (a thin film of yeast used in sherry-making), this rosé takes on flavors of apricot and quince rather than strawberry and watermelon. Also, like sherry, the flor adds a subtle, controlled oxidization that rounds out the bouquet. Not straying too far from its roots, this rosé finishes like many Provence rosés, with a crispness and lingering minerality. This rosé can age, and I’m going to drink it all year round.
Eli Kulp, chef, Fork:
All I’ve got to say to this is: TWIG FARM! Their soft wheel is an amazing study in what Vermont goat’s milk can be turned into. It’s a washed rind, which becomes this funky orange color, and some serious flavors are developed. I had some with that Kutztown gem of a sparkling, Pinnacle Ridge, and it played nice. My favorite cheese by far at this minute.
Scott Schroeder, chef, South Philadelphia Tap Room and American Sardine Bar:
The coolest red wine I’ve had this year was R11 from Les Vins Contés from Olivier Lemasson, a sommelier turned winemaker. Ryan Mulholland, the GM at Vernick, introduced me to it and I loved it so much that I had it again the next time I was in. Sort of reminded me of Russian River’s Consecration (a tart ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) — just had this amazing sour quality that was really interesting.
My favorite cheese, now and forever, is Époisses de Bourgogne. It’s a cow’s-milk, brandy-washed cheese from France. Smells horrible and burns a bit. Absolutely wonderful!
Steve Wildy, beverage manager, The Vetri Family:
My favorite pairing of all time, including beer and food, wine and food, wine and cheese, etc., is Recioto with an extremely funky washed-rind cheese. In my experience, I’ve found that the greatest pairings are the ones with the most room for error — i.e., the most extreme concurrent flavors possible. And the more unexpected the match, the better the pairing. Beer with food and cheese is usually a safer bet than wine because it’s often a little softer in its approach, but it can often be less exciting. White wine is typically safer than red for the same reasons, and if you keep extrapolating that thought, sweet is harder to pair than dry.
This is a pairing with all the odds stacked against it, which is what makes it even more exciting. Recioto, or “Recioto della Valpolicella,” is the same grape blend as Valpolicella (usually Corvina/Rondinella/Molinara), which hails from an area outside of Venice in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. It is made from grapes that have been dried out on straw mats for up to five months and used to make a sweet wine (the same dried grapes are used to make a dry wine called Amarone) that tastes very much like, you guessed it, raisins, but also dried fig, prune, chocolate and spice.
When paired with an earthy-as-can-be washed-rind gooper like Epoisses or Jasper Hill Winnimere or Édel de Cléron or Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk or Brescianella all’Aquavit or the classical regional pairing, Monforte, it transcends all expectations. It’s essentially two dominant flavors at odds with one another fighting to be the alpha in the group, and neither ever takes the lead, resulting in this almost dissonant harmony (oxymoron, I know). It’s important to note that this is not my pairing at all, but a very classic one (again regionally Monforte with Recioto is traditional) and almost as exciting is the same wine paired with local Gorgonzola.
Tim Kweeder, sommelier, a. kitchen:
I adore the grower Champagnes from Raphael Bereche, especially his 100-percent Pinot Meunier Rive Gauche — a relatively new arrival at my other place of work, Moore Brothers Wine Company — with any creamy, buttery rich cheese. I dig Bereche for his wines that don’t undergo maloactic fermentation. This gives you a crisper wine, and the acidity shines quite well — a wine that dances a tango with foods that we heart but may not be particularly recommended to eat in heavy doses by your doctor, like fattened-duck liver, pâté or creamy cheeses.
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