The current fashion of wine pairing, carefully matching each course and even ingredient to a particular bottle, is a relatively recent one. But we’ve probably been eating wine with food for as long as we’ve known how to make it, which is why we’ve got some basic principles pinned down underneath all of the flashy, complex modern matching. Ask what foods are best suited to a decent bottle of wine and one of the first answers always be cheese.
But how did that come about; and just why do they go down so well together?
There’s the history
According to some, we’ve been matching wines and cheeses for hundreds of years. Apparently British wine merchants used to be fond of using the phrase “buy on an apple and sell on cheese”. That meant that if wines went well with something sweet, like an apple, they would probably go well with cheese too. This makes sense. It’s still relatively accepted that sweeter wines pair with milder cheeses, which many of England’s signatures are.
But while that tells us that people have known that they taste great together for a really long time, it doesn’t help us out much with why exactly wine and cheese taste so delicious together. As with most things, it turns out that science might actually have an answer.
And the science
A couple of years ago, some researchers at Rutgers University were apparently just as desperate to know the answer to these incredibly important questions and set to work studying them. It all comes down to words that dedicated wine drinkers will be familiar with, things like astringency, tannin and mouthfeel.
Basically, the researchers found that astringent drinks like wine and green tea created a naturally balanced mouthfeel when sipped with fatty foods like salami and cheese, and got better at cutting through that fattiness as the meal went on too. Basically, throughout a meal the dry feeling you get out of wine gets stronger and the slippery feeling you get from cheese gets lessened, creating an ideally balanced mouthful.
This is all just a starting point. Wine and cheese pairing is a varied, complex art with its own sets of principles and subjective ideas. You don’t just throw any old wine and cheese together.
But if true, the work of these noble researchers helps us to understand a little something we’ve known for some time; that wine and cheese taste awesome together. And, most importantly, it gives us something mildly interesting to smugly bring up over our next cheese plate.