People have practiced pairing wine and cheese for hundreds of years. Throughout history regional factors, folklore, and science have led to the fine culinary art of pairing wine and cheese by sommeliers and food aficionados.
Regional Considerations of Wine & Cheese Pairings
Historians have recorded that wine and cheese from the same region have been paired together for generations. Cheese-makers and Wine-makers from the same small village or on the same farm put together the things at the table that they had available. The close proximity led to regional wines, cheeses, and sometimes other local dishes being paired together. These recipes were passed down through generations and still exist today. These historical roots of pairing wine and cheese are especially evident in Europe:
- French Wine Regions The Beaujolais region of France has been famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau wine, whose roots date back to the Middle Ages, when it was a drink for serfs. Located close to the Brie region of France, which includes three modern-day departments, the area’s wines are the perfect complement to the soft, creamy Brie. This deeply-rooted pairing remains popular today.
- Italian Wine Regions Italy is also famous for its wine and cheese and has a pairing history that strongly correlates with its regions. For example, sommeliers often recommend Chianti or Brunello wines with Asiago cheese. Both originated near the same region of Italy.
Historical Adages About Wine & Cheese Pairings
Although regional customs play a large part in wine and cheese pairings, historical records indicate that British merchants in the 1600s and 1700s paired wine and cheese based on the philosophy, ‘buy on an apple and sell on cheese.’ This means that if a wine tastes pleasant with an apple, it is truly good wine that will pair well with cheese, making it easier to sell. The high sugar and acid content in fruit can make wines taste metallic, while hard cheeses soften the tannins in wine and make them taste full-bodied and fruitier.
Another popular adage from the time of British merchants is ‘white wine with fish and red wine with meat.’ This is based on the notion that matching the weight of a given food with the richness of a wine will result in the most pleasant pairings. This also transfers over to wine and cheese pairings in the way that it’s common to pair strong cheese with strong wine and vice versa. This common rule about pairing wine with cheese, and other food, still holds true today.
Scientific Basis for Pairing Wine & Cheese
Although wine and cheese pairings are rooted in regionalism and common wisdom that spread through the trading conducted by British merchants, modern day scientific studies have confirmed these practices. In a 2012 study, scientists found that “mouthfeel” plays a role in how people pair food. Different foods sit on different parts of a spectrum of taste. Those pairings that are on opposite ends of the spectrum complement one another. Another study in 2016 revealed that eating cheese while drinking wine improves the experience of drinking wine. Researchers provided subjects with wine and recorded their sensations, then gave them cheese and instructed them to drink more wine. In all combinations of wine and cheese, subjects reported enjoying the wine more with cheese.
If you want to learn more about the wine and cheese pairings in the Paso Robles wine producing region of California, visit Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery. They offer five to six cheese selections paired with one of their Limited Estate Collection wines, while one of their hosts guides you through the tasting and educates you about the different flavor profiles. You may also enjoy a visit to the Tasting Room at Jada Vineyard. They offer five wines plus five cheeses, apricots, pears, and figs. After sampling pairings in the Paso Robles area, make your own wine and cheese pairing after Vinome matches you to the perfect wine.
Robinson, Jancis, and Julia Harding, eds. The Oxford companion to wine. American Chemical Society, 2015.