At this year’s Wine and Cheese Show, you can find wine that’s fine and choose cheese with ease. Options are almost endless, so we certainly don’t expect you’d find yourself in this situation. Still, it can be a bit overwhelming, so here is a primer on how to delve into cheese and wine, at the show or on your own.
- Your tastes will develop over time. Something you can’t handle today may later become irresistible. Maybe you’re ready now for something you used to dislike. The uninitiated may start out with brie and Chablis, but your mouth has not lived till it’s gone blue and red.
- Don’t stick to what you know. Different countries and regions tend to offer different characteristics, and pleasant surprises can come from anywhere. Dare to try local, and justify enjoying imports by pointing out that buying them here is better for the environment than flying overseas to try them.
- Yes, you can eat that part. No cheese is wrapped in poison. Peel off that layer of wax, foil or paper, but otherwise, go ahead and eat the rind. If you can’t tell what the outer layer is, take a chance and nibble it or squeamishly cut it off. No harm done either way.
- Yes, you should spit. Spitting out samples of wine may seem wasteful, but if you swallow ounce after ounce you may begin to imagine that each successive wine you try is more impressive than the last. If you are trying to choose a $70 bottle with which to dazzle your spouse, make sure you have a sober palate when you taste it.
- Wine first, cheese second. Wine and cheese together can’t go wrong, but you can do better than simply not going wrong. While the proteins in cheeses may nicely mask unappealing notes in an inferior wine (don’t throw out that homemade wine; cheese might make it drinkable!), you don’t want to miss out on the excellence of a great wine by blocking it with an unsubtle cheese. Some wine and cheese pairings are balanced and can bring out the best of both.
- You may not know much, but you know what you like. Start with what you know and ask for help branching out from there. If you’ve never had so much as cheddar or merlot, tell the seller your general preferences — spicy, sweet, mild — and they can guess what you should try. And, if at first you don’t like cheese, try, try again.
- Don’t rush your wine. Aeration is not just for wine snobs. A just-opened wine may change significantly after sitting open for an hour or being decanted (dumped in a jug). If you’re in a hurry, you can pour it through an aerator.
- Don’t rush your cheese. Generally, cheese is best enjoyed at room temperature when it will have fuller flavour and smoother texture, so take it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you sit down to eat it.
- Say what you think. Don’t tell the seller you like it if you don’t. Too robust for you? Too dry? That’s not an insult; it’s just your preference. They can suggest something else.
- Don’t be intimidated by wine talk. Smells and flavours are hard to describe. You don’t need to use “official” terms. When you describe what you taste, the first words that come to mind will probably be the best.
Evan Andrew Mackay is a Toronto playwright and humourist who writes about culture and social justice.