How to pair wine and cheese like an expert

Are there basic rules to Wine and Cheese pairing that an individual can follow?

“Complexity” is the true answer to this question. Traditional standards for wine and cheese pairing were created in a period when cheese focused on key styles (cheddar, Swiss, blue and brie) and wines were focused on French classics (thank you Julia Child). These classics are still spot-on and work perfectly, but in this day and age, the availability of cheese selections has expanded and wines have blossomed in style, region and varietal.

Gourmet stores have expanded their selection and availability of specialty cheeses. Not only are international regional cheeses  available to customers, but the expansion of domestic producers have elevated their cheese making  techniques to stand toe to toe with top international producers. This has now developed a glorious haven for the cheese lover and wine connoisseur.

A couple true-to-tradition pairings: Champagne and white wines will complement brie and double or triple creams. Chevre and goat cheese will pair beautifully with Sauvignon Blanc. Blue Cheese pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux; Gruyere will pair with Beaujolais, Merlot and Pinot Noir, and Havarti will complement Zinfandel, Merlot, Beaujolais and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cheddar or processed American cheese will create an off flavor when paired with red wines, while smoked cheese will be a miss with all wine styles.  The smoky character will influence all wines negatively.

Regional pairings work beautifully, and a hostess can create a food theme around the cheese selection. Dynamic couplings include Spanish Rioja with Cabrales cheese; Spanish Tempranillo or Grenache with Manchego; Tuscan Chianti with Pecorino; or French Chablis with Brie. Whether by coincidence or divine intervention, the foods within a geographical region often seem to complement each other. In this case, cheese is partnered best with wine produced near the cheese’s home.

What is the best type of cheese to serve at a party?

It is all about style and variety. You are now in an era where it is not about what I need to serve but what I want to serve. You are the driver in your culinary cheese and wine journey. You now have the choice between Gouda or aged Gouda; goat cheese or goat cheese rolled in herb, cranberry or pepper; double cream, triple creams or brie with mushroom. The selection can be endless, and includes cheeses rubbed with coffee, hatch chilies or red peppers. There are also dessert cheeses imparted with blueberry, cranberry or sweet hazelnut.

As a hostess or host, you also can include gourmet accoutrements. Although sliced baguettes are thought to be the best companion, a selection of nuts and jams can elevate your standard to “gold.” Various selections of crackers can showcase a unique style: Plain, herb, seeded, flatbreads or whole grain. A variety of nut and fruit complements can round out your platter presentation: Raw almonds, marcona (Spanish) almonds, candied walnuts, sliced pears, grapes, figs, raisins or dried apricots. These elements bring an added variety to your selection.

Jams and sauces can add a unique taste influence to your platter, as well. Fig jam is a perfect complement—flavorful, yet subtle on sweetness. Quince paste is often recommended with Manchego, while sweet jams or spreads with tart goat cheese. Honey drizzled over blue cheeses is delicious. The sweetness of the honey offsets the pungent bite of the blue.

Want to reach even higher? The elevator to the vice president’s lounge is as simple as balsamic vinegar. This is a real hidden gem when working a cheese platter. The complexity of flavors can truly elevate the cheese component. Drizzling aged balsamic vinegar glaze over brie with a slice of pear or a few drops of very good balsamic vinegar on Parmesano-Reggiano can add a flavor component that will dazzle your guests.

How does one create a gourmet cheese and wine event?

With these few simple hints about cheese and wine, one will find pairing or serving to be a much less difficult road to maneuver. Recommendations for any individual looking to create a spectacular cheese and wine platter: Be dynamic, challenge the traditional cheese styles, vary your selection, and select unique complements. And don’t hesitate to ask the experts! Visit any AJ’s Fine Foods Wine Cellar or Fromagerie for recommendations. Each individual is versed in the expanded selection of wine and cheese; experts can help you create the components for your gathering. Challenge your style, create your gathering, and introduce the future to your friends.

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