Say Cheese...

A new classic - Alvarinho from Vinho Verde with soft goat cheese Photo: Lyn Farmer, all rights reserved

A new classic - Alvarinho from Vinho Verde with soft goat cheese

Photo: Lyn Farmer, all rights reserved

The American website Tasting Table is a steady source of intriguing wine and food ideas, but even they trumped themselves on a recent post about wine and cheese. Everyone things wine and cheese go together and seldom ask "which wine?" and "which cheese?" The right wine with the right cheese and you've got heaven on your table, but things can just as easily go awry.

Because of the order of a meal's progression, usually from white wines to red, and the positioning of a cheese course (when it's offered) -- at the end of the meal -- the common wisdom is that red wine goes with all cheese. In fact, I find I more often prefer white wine with cheese. Champagne with aged Gruyère? Perfection.

Come the holiday season, festive dinners are the order of the day, and what could be more welcome in the prelude to the meal, or the aftermath, than a cheese board? Picking a variety of cheeses is a good idea - contrasting flavors and styles make for a wonderful tasting experience. I once heard a cheesy play on an old wedding rhyme: Something Old (and aged cheese), Something New (a fresh, creamy cheese), Something Goat and Something Blue. In other words, variety matters.

For new, I usually avoid truly new cheeses on a board, like mozarella burrata, farm cheese and even feta, and go for something creamy and younger rather than new. This could be a soft-ripened cheese like a good brie or camembert (and make sure they are ripe - no one wants chalky cheese).

For older cheeses, we are thinking of harder cheeses, like aged manchego or aged cheddar (the best brands are English classics like Neal's Yard Dairy or Montgomery, or a proprietary cheddar-style cheese like the fabulous Lincolnshire Poacher). Cave-aged gruyère or an older Parmesan are always welcome additions to a cheese table and I've recently become a huge fan of the bright orange, very hard cheese mimolette with its nutty flavor. Some cheeses also seem to fit in between young and aged because they are good at several points in their development, like pungent offerings such as époisse and tallegio

Goat cheese? Ah, my favorite category and full of options. I often include two just because I like them so much - the pyramid-shaped Valançay from France is a flavorful choice that I balance out with a creamy, older Humboldt Fog from California. These are high acid cheeses that ask for a high acid wine, like the traditional pairing of Sancerre, a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. 

And then, blue cheese. Many are salty, making them good options with wines with some tannic bite (salt moderates bitter flavors such as tannin) and most are strongly flavored, from slightly sweet gorgonzola to aged stilton.

But with all these cheeses, what wines do you feature? There are a number of guidelines one can offer - Umami plays a role, as does acidity - and it's easy to get confused. And here is where Tasting Table comes in. They created a map-style graphic that even men, infamous for refusing to ask directions and check a map while driving, will welcome as a reference.

Here it is:

Photo: (c) Tasting Table

Photo: (c) Tasting Table

Working from the center out, this is a guide, not an encyclopedia - it's a point of departure to give you some ideas. You'll still need to hone your cheese and wine craft, but this is a good starting point. There are more suggestions in Tasting Table's accompanying article that will take you quickly from the classic pairing of sauvignon blanc and goat cheese (and it's classic for a reason - it's a great match) to the adventuresome option of putting goat cheese with Alvarinho as I did recently on a wine trip to Portugal's Vinho Verde region, or with a substantial Spanish rosé.

And now, I've gotta run - this is making me hungry!