Wine is awesome. (Duh.) So is cheese. (See previous parenthetical.) When you put an awesome wine and an awesome cheese together, it should be even better than the two things were separately, right? Also duh?
Sadly, not always. Look, no one is going to tell you to not drink your favorite wine with your favorite cheese. But when it comes to wine and cheese pairings, deliciousness is dependent on balance.
Typically, the most adaptable cheeses are hard cheeses, because they stand up better to bigger-bodied wines. If your go-to wine is a bold red and your favorite cheese is a buttery Brie, the weight of that Cabernet pour will slap that pudgy Brie across the face. Meanwhile, if your favorite bottle is a bright white, you’ll have to mind your rinds — pair it with the wrong cheese and that brilliant acidity can turn harsh or bile-y.
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Never fear, though! We did some tasting and drinking (and more tasting and drinking) and came up with six cheeses of all textures that pair with (almost) any wine.
Comte St. Antoine
Comte is the most popular cheese in France, and for good reason. In order to be called Comte, it legally can only be made from the milk of a specific breed of cow, and each of those cows has to have around two acres of mountain pasture to graze on in the summertime. The 80-pound wheels are aged in old military forts until they are at their peak. All this loving care leads to the classic Comte flavor notes, including hazelnuts, steamed milk, brown butter, and stone fruit. It’s elegant, understated, and lovely with everything.
Prairie Breeze is what’s called an “Alpine Cheddar,” meaning it has sweeter, toastier flavors than you might expect in a cheddar. It was created when, one day, a brilliant Midwestern cheesemaker said, “I want what would happen if chicken broth, toasted sesame seeds, and almond toffee had a baby that was cheese,” and POOF! — Prairie Breeze was born.* If Prairie Breeze were a person, it would be that annoyingly, irresistibly endearing person who everyone adores (but who you also adore so you can’t be mad). Try it with a Chardonnay that’s seen a bit of new oak for a perfectly caramel corn-y pairing.
*Not actually how Prairie Breeze was born — it’s just top-notch cheesemaking using milk from small, family farms.
Parmigiano Reggiano is glorious. Its crystalline umami magic is a thing of beauty, a chunk of history in your hand. That said, when it comes to pairing a hunk of crystalline magic with whichever wine you happen to have on hand, we’d prefer a chunk of SarVecchio, Parm’s scrappy American cousin made in Wisconsin. Think Parm, but with less briny brothiness and more nutty butterscotch. A little less dry, a lot more snackable, and a few dollars easier on your wallet. Awesome with your favorite Pinot Grigio.
Also sold as “Semicurado” or “Curado,” young Manchego has all the silkiness of sheep’s milk with none of the animal-y flavors that come out with more aging. Common flavor notes include toasted nuts and freshly baked pastries — you wouldn’t even guess that sheep’s milk has almost double the fat content of cow or goat milk. Fat equals flavor, though, which means that young Manchego is both wonderfully complex and wonderfully adaptable to wine. It’s classically — and deliciously — paired with Rioja.
Up in Smoke
The only fresh cheese on this list, Up in Smoke is a dreamy rule breaker. The chevre is smoked over maple wood, then wrapped in maple leaves (which are also smoked) and sealed with a spritz of bourbon. Most chevre doesn’t pair well with bigger wines, but thanks to its minerality and campfire-y flavors, Up in Smoke is a friend to any wine (or person!) it meets.
Most goudas are both an excellent choice for snack time and for wine pairing. To get into the geeky cheese science: Gouda is a “washed curd” cheese. That means when the milk has been broken into curds (which are comprised of fat and proteins) and whey (water, lactose, some minerals, and some acidity), the curds are rinsed off to remove even more acidic whey. Cheesemakers do this to create the perception of sweetness in Gouda, which is why, despite there being no lactose, or milk sugar, in the final product, aged Gouda has caramely flavors. When you pair it with a brighter white wine, Gouda softens any harshness. When you pair it with a more dramatic red wine, latent brothiness is brought forth. Whatever you throw at it, Gouda’s got it.