Cheese & Wine…But Why?
Wouldn’t you like to travel the world, discovering and tasting the best wines that each region has to offer? While some people can only dream of an adventure like that (for example, yours truly), others are able to make that dream a reality. You could do this on your own, of course, or with the help of expert and experienced guides. Like, say, for example, the ones at Wine World Tours. They are, as they say on their website, “dedicated to providing the extraordinary “life experience” one finds tasting, discovering and adventuring with wine,” which they do through “customized and personalized wine country adventures in the world’s most prestigious wine regions of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.” Amazing, right?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a sponsored post. I wish. I’m not quite that big-time…yet. Here’s a little bit of back-story: At a dinner party a few months ago, my father met a man named David Marchese, who happens to be the CEO of Wine World Tours. My dad mentioned my brand-new career and, upon discovering that Mr. Marchese is a cheese-lover himself, gave him a link to my blog as well as my contact information. Before too long I was having a lovely conversation with David Marchese. We talked about our shared passion for both curds and words and discussed the possibility of doing some work together. Like most savvy businessmen who know what’s up on the web (that’s some serious tech lingo), the people of Wine World Tours are looking to update and diversify their online content. In the minds of most, cheese & wine go together like peas & carrots, so this made perfect sense. Was I interested? Of course! I may not be very knowledgeable about wine, but I’m certainly a fan of the stuff (I’m enjoying a glass of Pinot Grigio right now, in fact — can you tell?) and, more than that, I’d love to get more people to read what I’m writing. There was only one thing: I’d need to write more about wine. No need to change my focus or anything like that, but simply add a pairing suggestion or two for each cheese that I featured. No biggie, right?
Wrong. In truth, this condition gave me more pause than you’d expect, because it came just at a time when I was already dedicating a lot of thought to wine…and not necessarily in a favorable light. I enjoy wine just as much as the next guy (who enjoys wine), but…I’m not sure how I feel about having it with cheese. Over the past few months, I’ve dedicated a LOT of time to learning about cheese. Through my work at The Cheese School, my own research and writing, and now at Cowgirl Creamery. And I’ve discovered a theme. While almost every notable expert in the field dedicates a chunk of time, energy, or writing to the pairing of wine and cheese, they always do so with a disclaimer. And this disclaimer explains, in essence, that cheese and wine don’t really pair well together! They tend to get in each others way, overpower one another, or simply clash. I’m not kidding. Everyone I’ve read or talked to says that, as a rule, cheeses are more easily and harmoniously paired with beer, liquor, or other accompaniments…and then they go on to talk more about wine.
WHY? WHY?? WHYYYY???
That all-caps level of emotion is no joke and I can remember the exact moment in which I reached peak frustration. During a brief moment of downtime while working a class at The Cheese School, I grabbed a copy of Max McCalman’s beautifully authoritative Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and began to flip through the pages. Sure enough, at the very beginning of the section titled ‘Cheese & Wine’, I found the all-too-familiar refrain: cheese and wine are, in fact, not a marriage made in heaven. Right now, I’m looking at my notebook, and under the date of that class (8/5/12), there’s a massive, angry scrawling: “Cheese & Wine…BUT WHY? Why force the need to marry the two?”
Since then, I’ve been on a quest to find answers of any kind. The origin of this marriage, an impassioned defense of the tradition, or even just the proof of one pairing so good that it justifies the entire pursuit. So far? Not much luck. The closest I’ve come to discovering ‘the answer’ is from the introduction of Janet Fletcher’s book, Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying. As Fletcher explains, both cheese and wine became everyday dietary staples in Europe during a time when preservation was the name of the game.
“Over the centuries, humans have learned to preserve nature’s seasonal bounty for the times when nature is not so generous. The abundant milk that a cow gives in summer becomes cheese for the winter months. Fresh grapes, which last only days, become wine for future enjoyment. In the temperate climates that nurture both grapevines and dairy animals, it is not surprising that cheese and wine are savored together. Both have long been the daily sustenance of farmers in Spain, France, Greece, and Italy, who think of wine and cheese not as fancy foods for entertaining, but as the wholesome heart of an everyday meal.”
Hmm. Sure, the section in question, titled ‘Cheese and Wine: A Time – Tested Marriage’, sheds light on the history of the pairing, but does little to justify (at least in my eyes) why it persists as the standard. Fletcher suggests pairings based on complements and contrasts (in texture, intensity, acidity, and region of origin)…but, again, with a disclaimer.
“Whether you are choosing wine to accompany a platter of cheeses, or selecting cheeses to enjoy with a favorite wine, the objective is the same: to ‘do no harm’ to the taste of the wine. When we talk about a successful wine and cheese match, we mean that the cheese or cheeses do not diminish our pleasure in the wine. The wine tastes just as good with the cheese as it does on its own. Occasionally, but not often, a cheese may even enhance a wine.”
Okay, am I seriously the only one who thinks this sounds just a little bit crazy? Still, the passion with which Fletcher, and so many others just as intelligent and accomplished as she, pursue this particular pairing, gives me hope. I’m entering an entirely new field, but it’s only new to me. Cheese — its making, its selling, its enjoying — has existed for centuries, a history longer and richer than anything my mind can even really fathom. And you know what’s been there right along side of it? Yep, wine. With that in mind, I’ll continue to try and ‘get it.’ I’ll do more reading, more eating, more drinking (ugh, what a tortured existence!), and I promise to share with you what I learn.
But I won’t be sharing, at least not officially, with Wine World Tours. As much as I admire what they’re doing, and as much as I would love the extra attention (just being honest), catering to that audience, right now, simply wouldn’t feel right. I’m busier these days than I have been in a long time. I’m working at The Cheese School (where I’ve been hired to do some extra work beyond my internship) and Cowgirl Creamery, getting some amazing hands-on cheese time. I’ve also received my first freelance writing assignment, doing some short profiles of ACS award-winners for Culture magazine. This is all great – so great! – but I’m quickly realizing that the moments I’ll be able to dedicate to working on my own blog will be few and far between. And when I do have that time, I just want to write about cheese. Or maybe I’ll want to write about beer. Or maybe I’ll want to write about bread or fig jam or pickles or… Justin Bieber. I don’t know, and that last one seems unlikely, but the point is that I want to write about what I want to write about and, often, I don’t think that will be wine.
Which is ironic, since I spent a lot of time on it just now.