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European Cheese and wine Pairings -



A country without a fit drink for cheese has no cheese fit for drink.
Greece was the first country to prove its epicurean fitness, according to the old saying above, for it had wine to tipple and sheep's milk cheese to nibble. The classical Greek cheese has always been Feta, and no doubt this was the kind that Circe combined most suitably with wine to make a farewell drink for her lovers. She put further sweetness and body into the stirrup cup by stirring honey and barley meal into it. Today we might whip this up in an electric mixer to toast her memory.

While a land flowing with milk and honey is the ideal of many, France, Italy, Spain or Portugal, flowing with wine and honey, suit a lot of gourmets better. Indeed, in such vinous-caseous places cheese is on the house at all wine sales for prospective customers to snack upon and thus bring out the full flavour of the cellared vintages. But professional wine tasters are forbidden any cheese between sips. They may clear their palates with plain bread, but nary a crumb of Roquefort or cube of Gruyère in working hours, lest it give the wine a spurious nobility.

And, speaking of Roquefort, Romanée has the closest affinity for it. Such affinities are also found in Pont l'Evêque and Beaujolais, Brie and red champagne, Coulommiers and any good vin rosé. Heavenly marriages are made in Burgundy between red and white wines of both Côtes, de Nuits and de Baune, and Burgundian cheeses such as Epoisses, Soumaintarin and Saint-Florentin. Pommard and Port-Salut seem to be made for each other, as do Château Margaux and Camembert.

A great cheese for a great wine is the rule that brings together in the neighboring provinces such notables as Sainte Maure, Valençay, Vendôme and the Loire wines—Vouvray, Saumur and Anjou. Gruyère mates with Chablis, Camembert with St. Emilion; and any dry red wine, most commonly claret, is a fit drink for the hundreds of other fine French cheeses.

Every country has such happy marriages, an Italian standard being Provolone and Chianti. Then there is a most unusual pair, French Neufchâtel cheese and Swiss Neuchâtel wine from just across the border. Switzerland also has another cheese favorite at home—Trauben (grape cheese), named from the Neuchâtel wine in which it is aged.

One kind of French Neufchâtel cheese, Bondon, is also uniquely suited to the company of any good wine because it is made in the exact shape and size of a wine barrel bung. A similar relation is found in Brinzas (or Brindzas) that are packed in miniature wine barrels, strongly suggesting what should be drunk with such excellent cheeses: Hungarian Tokay. Other foreign cheeses go to market wrapped in vine leaves. The affinity has clearly been laid down in heaven.

Only the English seem to have a fortissimo taste in the go-with wines, according to these matches registered by André Simon in The Art of Good Living:

Red Cheshire with Light Tawny Port
White Cheshire with Oloroso Sherry
Blue Leicester with Old Vintage Port
Green Roquefort with New Vintage Port
To these we might add brittle chips of Greek Casere with nips of Amontillado, for an eloquent appetizer.

The English also pour port into Stilton, and sundry other wines and liquors into Cheddars and such. This doctoring leads to fraudulent imitation, however, for either port or stout is put into counterfeit Cheshire cheese to make up for the richness it lacks.

While some combinations of cheeses and wines may turn out palatable, we prefer taking ours straight. When something more fiery is needed we can twirl the flecks of pure gold in a chalice of Eau de Vie de Danzig and nibble on legitimate Danzig cheese unadulterated. Goldwasser, or Eau de Vie, was a favourite liqueur of cheese-loving Franklin Roosevelt, and we can be sure he took the two separately.
Another perfect combination, if you can take it, is imported kümmel with any caraway-seeded cheese, or cream cheese with a handy saucer of caraway seeds. In the section of France devoted to gin, the juniper berries that flavour the drink also go into a local cheese, Fromage Fort. This is further fortified with brandy, white wine and pepper. One regional tipple with such brutally strong cheese is black coffee laced with gin.
French la Jonchée is another potted thriller with not only coffee and rum mixed in during the making, but orange flower water, too. Then there is la Petafina, made with brandy and absinthe; Hazebrook with brandy alone; and la Cachat with white wine and brandy.
In Italy white Gorgonzola is also put up in crocks with brandy. In Oporto the sharp cheese of that name is enlivened by port, Cider and the greatest of applejacks, Calvados, seem made to go the regional Calvados cheese. This is also true of our native Jersey Lightning and hard cider with their accompanying New York State cheese. In the Auge Valley of France, farmers also drink homemade cider with their own Augelot, a piquant kind of Pont l'Evêque.
The English sip pear cider (perry) with almost any British cheese. Milk would seem to be redundant, but Sage cheese and buttermilk do go well together.

Wine and cheese have other things in common. Some wines and some cheeses are aged in caves, and there are vintage cheeses no less than vintage wines, as is the case with Stilton.


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