Cheese (and its respective wine pairings) can seem like a daunting amount of information to learn. There are hundreds of types of cheese to know ... and thus hundreds of individual pairings to master. But cheese can be classified neatly in one of four quadrants – with one additional for pairing purposes.
Cheddar and friends
With the cheeses in the other quadrants, acidification and moisture drainage take place consecutively; with cheddar and the like, these processes occur at the same time. This fact makes these styles the most labour- and time-intensive in cheesemaking.
Famous examples: Cheddar, cheshire, lancashire
Best pairings: Madeira, cider, beaujolais
Alpine cheeses, or "herder cheeses", require vigorous effort over a very short period of time. They were often made by herders or other nomads, people with the opposite lifestyle and demands of the farmer's wife. These cheeses develop a malleable texture that can dry and crystallise with age, and flavours often described as nutty and sweet.
Famous examples: Gouda, gruyere, comte, parmigiano-reggiano
Best pairings: Vin jaune, amontillado and palo cortado sherries, white Bordeaux
Lactic cheeses – "farmer's wife cheeses" – are acidic, dense, and flaky. They take longer to make, as the acidity takes time to develop, but don't require a lot of effort throughout the process.
Famous examples: Chevre, Valencay, Epoisses
Best pairings: Loire Valley sauvignon blanc, dry and off-dry riesling, rosé
The low-acid/high-moisture cheeses are the easiest and quickest to make: no acidification needs to occur, and very little moisture needs to be removed. Without the acid promoting calcium dissolution, these cheeses also have the creamiest and smoothest texture.
Famous examples: Mont d'Or, brie, harbison
Best pairings: California chardonnay, white Rhone wines, champagne
For pairing purposes, we've added a fifth quadrant (quintant?) to encompass blue cheeses. Blue cheese is defined by the addition of the mould Penicillium roqueforti, which becomes an important flavour component. These cheeses can range in terms of acidity and moisture levels, but always have a characteristic saltiness and sharpness.
Famous examples: Roquefort, blue stilton, gorgonzola
Best pairings: Port, Sauternes, Tokaji, peated scotch
This is an edited extract from Vignette: Stories of Life & Wine in 100 Bottles by Jane Lopes, published by Hardie Grant Books RRP $40.Illustrations © Robin Cowcher 2019