Cheese

Why You Shouldn't Pair Cheese with Wine (Plus 10 Tips for Building a Better Cheese Plate)

September 23, 2015

Because the best thing to pair with cheese is more cheese.

Portland, Oregon is full of surprises: Turn a corner and you're in the middle of the largest wild park in the country, ask for directions and you'll leave the conversation with a recommendation for the best local cider, and order "omakase" at what looks to be a sushi bar and you may end up with a plate of cheese. 

Chizu has all the fixings of a classic Japanese sushi counter with floating origami cranes and bar-seating facing glass cases of food—except rather than sashimi, the cases are filled with Comté, soft Oregon goat cheeses, and German Sternschnuppe. Name a price and the cheese mongers behind the counter will arrange a variety of cheeses with nuts, honey, and chutney. Steve Jones, the owner of Chizu and its sister restaurant Cheese Bar, shares with us 10 foolproof ways to put together an elegant, delicious cheese plate at home:

1. Choose your board wisely.
When selecting a cheese board, Steve recommends using organic materials like wood, slate, or ceramic tile. In his own words, "It makes it look more alive if it's on something organic. If the cheese is on porcelain, it looks cold," which can lead to an univiting plate. Steve says, "It's true that you eat with your eyes first."

2. Set out an odd number of cheeses.
Steve says that he always chooses an odd number of cheeses simply because he's found that that "an odd number of cheeses looks better than even number." He usually chooses either three or five cheeses for any given plate, and rarely more than seven. "At that point," he explains, "you're going to lose people."

3. Make sure you represent the "Holy Trinity."
If you're making the minimum-sized cheese board, make sure you represent what Steve refers to as the "Holy Trinity" of cheeses: cow, goat, and sheep. Once you have that baseline, you can start getting into more unusual cheeses like water buffalo or soft, stinky blues.

  

More: Talk about your favorite dairy product like a pro.

4. Take texture into account.
You don't want every cheese on a board to feel exactly the same—mix it up with some differences in the texture and density. But, Steve adds, when taking into account texture and flavor, flavor wins.

5. Consider the region.
Steve recommends to either go "really dorky" and have everything from one region, like an all-Oregon or Pyrenees plate, or try to spread things out and have one from France, England, and Spain for a "quick trip around the world."

6. Don't pair your cheese plate with wine.
The wine list at Chizu is short—a decision Steve made because he discourages pairing wine with cheese. He says, "The tannins in wine dull the palate with every sip." 

7. But do pair your cheese plate with cider.
Cider, on the other hand, is the perfect drink to have with a cheese plate—and beer isn't so bad, either. Steve says, "With cider and beer, there's effervescence, so it keeps the palate lively—it's not being dulled out. With cider, you've got the natural components of fruit and apples, which are such a natural pairing with cheese." Think cheddar and apples—a match made in heaven.

More: Not sure where to start with cider? Here's everything you need to know about the apple-based drink.

8. Add other elements, like nuts and sauces, to your cheese plate.
Tucked between the cheeses I got at Chizu were hazelnuts, honey, dried fruit, and chutney, which Steve explains the monger chooses based on the cheeses on the plate. Steve says that some pairings, like chutney, are traditional with English cheeses and cheddars, and that nuts and honey go well with blue cheeses. Beyond that, feel free to experiment. His personal favorite pairing is cherries with triple-crème cheese, but you can also try citrus with chevre, or even chocolate with blue cheese. 

9. Arrange the cheeses from mild to strong, then eat them accordingly.
While Steve is hesitant to recommend eating cheeses in a specific way—it's fun to play around and see what works best for you—he suggests laying out the cheeses on the plate in order from the most mild increasingly to stronger cheeses, ending with a blue. As with wine and beer, eating the cheeses in this order ensures that you aren't overwhelming your palate with intense flavors before being able to taste the most subtle cheeses.

10. Trust your cheese monger.
Depending on how well cheeses are cared for, they can differ from counter to counter. "A really good Stilton," Steve explains, "can be available, but if it isn't well cared for, it is not fun to eat." The solution? Find a cheese monger you trust and let them guide you—they should be able to listen well for what you want and give you what you're looking for.

But at the end of the day, Steve says, "It's just cheese. Don't get overwhelmed." 

What are your favorite tips for putting together a cheese board? Are you willing to make the jump from wine to cider? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by James Ransom

14 Comments

Ed W. July 29, 2017
In Europe , eating cheese isn't so complicated. I guess we Americans like to add grandeur to simple things like cheese.
 
robin L. September 13, 2016
...how does a host offer cider without seeming like they're overdoing the alcohol options at a dinner party?
 
Maggie September 13, 2016
Offer it instead of something else
 
robin L. September 13, 2016
I read somewhere (here on Food52, I thought!) that potato (kettle) chips with blue cheese is a lovely simple combo. It IS! 8^)
 
Maggie September 5, 2016
IT'S JUST CHEESE?????????? It's never "just cheese."
 
jpriddy September 4, 2016
Perhaps stoneware ceramic tiles appear "organic" in contrast to a white porcelain plate—both made from clay dug from the earth? Is that the goal? I like the look of cheese on any natural wood or stone. But placed on porcelain tiles also appeals to me.
 
Nicole M. February 29, 2016
Also try organic pear cider! To good with Pecorino.<br />
 
Amol P. September 25, 2015
Adding celery sticks,strong and mild mustards like pommery some sweet chili sauce,tomato jam and some nuts,crackers also fill up the board and satisfies the palate and soul...
 
Judy S. September 24, 2015
My favorite rule for a cheese plate is: something old, something new, something stinky, something blue. Works like a charm and so easy to remember!
 
Peter F. September 24, 2015
I agree with you Jan. The whole carbonation thing waking up the palate is actually a lot of BS. Carbonation is carbonic acid and will numb the taste buds just as much as tannins will. It's really about personal preference for what you like to pair your cheese with.
 
Jan W. September 23, 2015
As a former cheesemonger - I have to take issue with the assertion about wines with cheese at #6. He is right that the tannins in wine can interfere with a good cheese tasting, but the thing is 1) not all cheese plates are for 'focused tastings' and 2) there are a lot of wines that don't have harsh tannins, due to being well aged, or the varietals used & properties of a particular bottling/vintage. This is true for white, rosé, and red wines - although red wines more often have high tannin levels than others. I personally love champagne and prosecco with creamy high-fat content cheeses. Fortified wines like oloroso & amontillado sherry, tawny & white port, madeira, and even vinsanto are excellent with many types of cheeses. Many people look for rigid one-for-one cheese pairings with wine, but in my opinion and experience there is a lot of flexibility based on personal preference and the desired effect, which is great because the same pairings would get boring after a while.
 
Andrea P. September 25, 2015
I totally agree. Having completed some of my fromagier courses, wine pairings are a must! I've tasted musty funky cheese that cry out for for a lovely cab to help them along. From Toronto and studied with Afrim from Cheese Boutique.
 
Diana Z. September 25, 2015
I agree too! Wine and cheese is a classic pairing for a reason. If you don't want tannins, you just have to choose the right wine, like whites or sparkling -- or a juicy red like Barbera. And anyway, some tannic wines will do well with cheese. Cider is probably a great pairing with cheese too.
 
Cookie July 29, 2017
So this guy "discourages" pairing wine with cheese?? Alrighty then, I'll just disregard the last thousand years of proven wisdom on that issue.