There are great pairings in the food world—peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs, for starters. But no pairing in the gourmand’s world can match that of fine wines with cheeses. There are hundreds of great cheeses and thousands of fine wines, so you might think that matching them up would make one dizzy with choices. The good news? It’s easy. One suggestion is simply take the wine you love and match it with the cheese you love. More good news—there are many world-class cheeses made right here in Marin County.
My favorite wine and cheese pairings are a Tuscan red, such as Chianti, with one of the greatest cheeses in the canon, Parmigiana-Reggiano. Other red wines from California, Spain and France match well with robust cheeses. Another gem is the pairing of a rich, sweet Port-style wine with stilton or a similar blue cheese. The combination of saltiness and sweetness will make your taste buds dance.
Sniffing wines (and cheese) may also be a great exercise for your brain, according to Dr. Gordon Shepherd at the Yale School of Medicine. He notes that sniffing and tasting is an ideal workout for the brain, engaging it more than any human behavior, even solving math problems. Let’s drink to that!
Bloomy, white and mild cheeses like camembert and brie match well with lighter wines—chardonnay, pinot blanc and, always, sparkling wines. Hard, aged cheeses match up well with red wines—merlot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, Burgundies and Spanish reds. Rich and salty blue cheeses do well with the sweetest wines—Port and sweet white wines like Sauternes or late-harvest wines and sweeter German rieslings.
The all-around, go-to wines are the many fine roses from around the world. These wines are delicious, crisp, refreshing, affordable and bound to make you happy. Some of the fine roses available in the Palace Market include Rosatello Rose (Italy, $11.99), Balletto Rose of Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $20), McEvoy Ranch Rose, Rosebud, (Sonoma County, $17.99) and Botasea Rose, Rosato di Palmina (Italy, $20.99). For a fine red wine, try Pey Marin Pinot Noir, Tres Filles ($45) and for an amazing red wine at an extraordinary value try Bogle, Essential Red (California, $11.99). This rich, smooth, mouth-filling red is made from four old vine grapes.
Sparkling wines are also versatile and get your dinner party off to an elegant start. Look no further than the sparkling wines from Point Reyes Vineyards, which has a great tasting room just north of town where many different wines are always available for tasting.
Now for the delicious details. There are four excellent cheesemakers in West Marin and each makes some of the best cheeses you can find anywhere in the world.
First, Cowgirl Creamery. Fame came quickly to the duo of Sue Conley and Peggy Smith. Mt. Tam, a soft buttery cheese with a hint of mushrooms, was their first cheese, soon followed by Red Hawk, my favorite, a triple crème that won “best American cheese” in 2003 and again in 2009. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company was founded in 2000 and makes a wide spectrum of fine products—Original Blue, Bay Blue, Toma, Gouda, White Cheddar and Mozzarella. I am especially fond of the Bay Blue and Toma. Marin French Cheese Company is the longest continually operating cheese company in the United States, begun in 1865. Look for its excellent Brie, Triple Crème Brie (a world champion twice!) and Camembert. Nicasio Valley Cheese Company was founded in 2010 and quickly rose to fame with its Foggy Morning, a very mild cheese; Formagella, a mild brie; Locarno, a creamy brie and Nicasio Reserve, a five-months aged cheese with a rich flavor.
You can grace your cheese plate with sliced apples, pears or almonds. Have a great time!
Ed Schwartz has written extensively on wine and food for many national and regional publications. He and his wife, Bambi, live in Inverness and Mexico.