More often than not, when we're drinking and sharing food, we are more likely frantically trying to remember a person’s name or the punch line of a joke, than focusing on how well they go together.
Yet, just a few minutes spent deciding what wine to serve with what cheese, and the results can stop a conversation in its tracks – for all the right reasons. As any great matchmaker will tell you, pairing the right wine with the right cheese is a calculated decision, based on subtleties, distinct characteristics and of course, chemistry.
As the age-old adage goes, a great wine is only as strong as the cheese alongside it. There are some very simple rules to follow but above all, it's best to beware of generalisations like pairing sauvignon and goat cheese or sweet wines with blues. Ludicrous and erroneous assumptions that all goat cheese, blue cheeses or in the latter case – all cheeses – taste the same, which they obviously do not.
After all, a goat cheese can be blue, hard or soft like camembert, because any cheese made with cows’ milk can be made with goat, ewe, buffalo or even camel milk. To make the rules work we have to share a common “language” to describe each individual cheese. This quite simply means you need to know how to divide cheese into its six main categories.
In a bid to better understand one of my favourite pairings and help you brush up on your cheese knowledge right on time for Valentine's Day, I've taken one classic example of each, based on texture and the rind they grow, and paired each alongside a delicious wine from Maison Vauron.
1. If you fancy fresh cheese...
Chevre Buche and Paradou Cinsault Rosé 2016
A classic fresh cheese, goat log has no rind, is bright white in colour and lemony fresh with soft, aromatic notes. A touch of salt and a mousse-like texture, this cheese immediately hit it off with the acidity and red berry fruit of the Paradou Cinsault Rosé 2016. My suggestion? Enjoy a bottle of rosé and add this cheese to a summer salad of lentils and beetroot – heaven on a plate.
2. If you're craving something a little more mature...
St Marcellin AOC and Anne Laure Riesling
Beneath the classic, wrinkly rind the almost liquid interior, this delicious cheese offers an earthy, warm sea breeze tang and packs a seriously cheesie punch. This needs a wine with some acidity but also aromatic notes, so the Anne Laure Riesling, with its pink grapefruit tang was a lovely match, bringing out woody, resin flavours and tastes of wild honey overlaid with intense, meaty notes. When the cheese is baked, it's even better.
3. If you have a thing for the soft cheeses...
Camembert de Normandy AOC and Macon Village Cave de Lugny Chardonnay
Not just any Camembert, this is the original, with its classic white crusty rind, cabbage and new-leather aroma and a taste suggestive of creamy mushroom soup, made with beef stock and a dash of sherry. Traditionally served with Normandy cider or local craft beer, it nevertheless fell into the arms of this soft, well-rounded and buttery Macon Village Cave de Lugny Chardonnay, with its gentle oak. These two really bring out the best in each other.
4. If you're seeking a semi-soft romance...
Pont l’Eveque AOC and Albert Mann Riesling 2015
This brine washed cheese with its pink-orange rind and pervasive farmyard and old-leather whiffs, tastes like cheese sauce made with a strong meat and vegetable stock. A big but not overpowering cheese that totally fell for the subtle acidity and elegant fruit of the dry Albert Mann Riesling 2015, with hints of pear and melon on the finish – a true summer romance with serious long-term potential.
5. If you're playing hard (cheese) to get...
Beaufort AOC and Cotes du Ventoux Terrasses 2015
France’s favourite cheese is made in the French alps where the cows graze on pastures rich in wild meadow flowers, herbs and grasses, producing flavours that range from savoury and nutty to fruity with umami notes. With such complexity, it’s not surprising that beaufort loves both white and red wine. Reminiscent of a warm, spicy fondue in a Swiss chalet, wild herbs and spicy plum sauce, magic happens when this cheese is paired with the subtle, red berry fruits of the effusive Cotes du Ventoux Terrasses 2015 – talk about an amazing partnership.
6. If you have a case of the blues...
Bleu d’Auvergne AOC and Chateau Clos Bourbon Rose de Bourbon Cadillac 2014
The generalisation that blue cheese and sweet wine are perfect partners is based on the timeless love between the very salty, sharp roquefort and the honeysuckle sweetness and complexity of a sauterne. But it only works when the cheese is very salty, and the sweet wine is very sweet. So, unsurprisingly, the lovely and creamy, well-rounded and barely-salty blue I tried, decided it liked every one of these diverse and luscious wines.
Each wine brought out a different aspect of the cheese and vice versa. But by far the best partner for bleu d'Auvergne was the lovely Chateau Clos Bourbon Rose de Bourbon Cadillac 2014, with its 85 per cent merlot and soft tannins.
How do you decide what wine to serve with your fabulous summer cheese board? Truth is, it's easy. Start by visiting a real cheese shop, one that lets you taste before you buy. Keep it simple to start, choose three to five different cheeses to work with and select a rosé or a crisp, slightly aromatic white like pinot gris, or, if you prefer red, look for a drop with soft tannins like the ventoux, pinot noir or merlot.
Finally, the most important thing, like sailing, it’s the journey that matters – not the destination. With so many wines and so many cheeses to choose from, a truly unique partnership takes time, understanding, commitment and a little TLC.
To view the full range of La Fromagerie cheeses, shop their Valentine's Day offerings and Maison Vauron French wines, see their website here.