Perfect Pairings

Wine and cheese are two of life’s great culinary pleasures —with a variety of complex flavors ranging from sweet to sharp, finding the perfect match can be a fun and delicious adventure.

I love cheese, so I always keep a selection of great cheeses on hand, along with some cured and sliced meats, jams, relishes and a variety of crackers.

I like to keep my appetizers simple and there’s nothing like a delectable cheese board and some fine wine to delight your guests. With a mix of sweet and savory elements and a variety of textures, cheese boards offer a little something for everyone.

When I was hosting some family members recently, I prepared a meat and cheese board with all the trimmings, including olives, hummus, roasted nuts and some crusty breads.

To match such an offering, a hostess needs to have some great wines on hand that will enhance the culinary experience. I found one such standout wine at Agapanthus in downtown Ocala. Pecorino, by La Valentina, is considered to be one of the most exciting new white grape varieties coming out of Italy today. The 2019 has been rated as the best year for this particularly pleasing white wine.

Time and time again, I come back to five of my favorite cheeses when preparing for guests. Here are my go-to varieties:

  • Manchego cheese from Spain is a firm sheep’s milk cheese with tangy, nutty and slightly grassy flavors. It can be served with sweet or savory crackers, thinly sliced serrano ham, olives, marcona almonds, walnuts and sweet spreadables like honey or marmalade. It pairs well with a fruity red cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir. I will typically offer up a nut brown ale for the beer drinkers. Take the manchego out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. Cut off the rind and slice into bite-size triangles.
  • Gouda is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that originated in the Netherlands. With a nutty, buttery taste infused with notes of caramel, Gouda is an all-around crowd pleaser. This Dutch cheese pairs well with good bread, fresh grapes, sliced apples, pears and dried Turkish apricots. Serve young Gouda with a pinot grigio or riesling and set out a deeply flavored merlot, cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay with an aged Gouda.

 

  • Any good cheese plate should include a brie. To really enjoy the subtle, creamy flavor and soft texture of brie, serve it with a sliced baguette and plain crackers. Fruits such as sliced apples, grapes and berries are also a delicious complement. I like to serve it with a good quality honey and fig jam for an epic combo of sweet and creamy. The go-to pairing is Champagne, but there are many other options, from wines like a fruity pinot noir or a dry sauvignon blanc to a stout beer, fruity pilsner or even a small-batch bourbon. About an hour before company arrives, set out the brie. This will allow it a chance to come to room temperature and get nice and creamy.
  • Originating in the English village of Cheddar, cheddar cheese has a nutty, sharp taste. In general, the longer the cheddar has aged, the sharper the flavor. Mild cheddar is aged for the shortest time and extra sharp the longest. You’ll see cheddar in both white and orange color. I like a sharp white cheddar. It is best when served with sliced apples and pears. I will often add some fresh strawberries as well. This is where you can pile on the sliced salami and pepperoni. Set out some whole wheat or sesame crackers and sliced French bread and a pile of roasted almonds. Enjoy a good sharp cheddar with a bold pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. You could also offer an English pale ale for the beer drinkers. Set out 30 minutes before serving.
  • Goat cheese has a wide range of flavors, from delicate and mild to pungent to grassy and sweet. Let’s start with the most widely known, the classic French chèvre. It’s a soft and spreadable cheese that’s often log-shaped and has no rind. Chèvre is sold plain or rolled in herbs, pepper or ash, and makes a great addition to cheese plates. I like to include bright and colorful berries, sliced pears, salami, olive bread or crackers, walnuts, honey, figs and dried cranberries. You can serve goat cheese with a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, zinfandel, pinot noir or malbec. Take goat cheese out of the fridge about one hour before serving. Set it out with a cheese knife for spreading.

With all of these cheeses, if you should have any leftovers, just wrap them individually in wax or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator. I keep mine wrapped and sealed in a glass storage container.

I hope this has inspired you to embark on your own delicious adventure. There is no right or wrong in creating your board—just let your imagination be your guide in arranging a beautiful and delicious experience for your guests.

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