The Penniless Epicure: The Principles of Pairing

Written by Josh Perilo on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


My sister Anna used to
dip her french fries into her Wendy’s chocolate Frosty when we were
children. I gagged every time I saw her do it. She knew that it
repulsed me, so she would move directly into my eye line when she did
this, overemphasizing her chewing, smacking her lips, and cooing, “Mmm,
Frosty and french fries! Yummy!”

It wasn’t until decades later that I
would realize my enormous mistake. My sister was a culinary genius at
the age of 6, and I was the philistine.

That very flavor
combination of salty and sweet represents one of the most basic
building blocks behind understanding how not only wine and cheese pair
together but also wine and food and, indeed, all flavors in anything.

Today,
we will stick with pairing wines and cheeses, however. It is a great
place to start on the road to understanding the palate and why some
things work and others don’t.

In my book, there are two major rules to
matching flavors in cheese and wine: matching like flavors together
(i.e. acidic with acidic, sweet with sweet), and matching opposite
flavors and textures together (i.e. sweet and salty, fatty and fizzy).

The
first principle of matching wine and cheese is the idea of like tastes
working well together in your mouth. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a
zippy, citrustinged wine with lots of grapefruit and refreshing lemon
flavor. A fresh goat’s milk cheese, like a chevre, while creamy, also
has quite a bit of acidity to it.You would think that putting these two
into your mouth simultaneously would create an overpowering acidic
taste that would lead to a violent pucker. Not so. In fact, it does the
opposite.The acidity in the wine and cheese, in essence, cancels each
other out.This in turn points up some of the more subtle notes in both
the chevre and Sauvignon Blanc that you wouldn’t be able to taste if
you had consumed them independent of each other. Suddenly the chevre is
creamier and sweeter, and the Sauvignon Blanc is more delicate and
floral.

The second principle of matching wine and cheese is
actually twofold: matching opposite flavors, and matching opposite tex
tures. Even if
you hate bleu cheese (and if you do, you just haven’t found the right
one yet) eat a bit of the French bleu cheese, Roquefort, and chase it
immediately with a small sip of Tawny Port.Tawny is a port that is less
tannic than Ruby or Vintage port, so the sweetness is more aggressive,
and on its own, many people find it cloying (though I am not one
of those people). Roquefort is an extremely salty cheese that is just
too much for many people.This is where my sister Anna’s genius comes
in, because together the salty and sweet create a third flavor in your
mouth that doesn’t otherwise exist. A sort of nutty, caramel, burnt
sugar flavor that is distinctive and delicate.

Now take a
piece of a triple creme cheese, like Brillat Savarin, and follow it
with a sip of Cava, which is a sparkling wine from Spain.The triple
creme, with its high fat content, can be overbearingly rich on its own;
but followed by a sip of Cava, the bubbles act like little scrubbers
all along your tongue, cleansing and refreshing your palate for the
next bite of cheese.

This is by no means an absolute set of
rules for pairing wines and cheeses. My motto with wine and food is,
and will always be, “Drink what you like with whatever you like.”These
ideas are merely a jumping-off point to guide you toward further
hedonistic exploration. It’s all about drinking something that tastes
great and matching it with a delicious piece of food. After all, no one
ever told Anna to dip her fries into her Frosty because they paired
well. She just did it ‘cause it tasted good.

josh@pennilessepicure.com

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