The internet is littered with cheese and wine pairings. Articles tell us which wines we should serve with which cheese at our next dinner party; in fact, I’m reasonably certain I’ve even chimed in on the topic a time or two. Drink Sauvignon Blanc with Brie, Chardonnay with Gruyère, Cabernet Sauvignon with Gouda, or Malbec with Roquefort. All of these pairings are beautiful, complex, and delicious, but how accessible and relatable are they for most people, most of the time?
On a random Tuesday evening after a long day at the office or Saturday afternoon after running from soccer practice, to dance class, to your kid’s hockey game, are you stopping at the store to buy some nutty Alpine Swiss, creamy gorgonzola, and delicate camembert? Ummm, no!! You’re trying to get home as quickly as possible to grab a 30-second cold shower, get something ready for everyone to eat, and then chug half a bottle of whatever’s open just to calm the nerves. Well, guess what, this article is just for you!
In an attempt to make wine approachable and easy, we will explore alternative cheese and wine pairings that will be loved by children and adults alike. Fortunately for the adults, we get wine, the kids get chocolate milk. Although, chocolate milk doesn’t sound terrible either. We are going to start with traditional versions of each dish, but there are infinite possibilities for each of these classics!
Mac N’ Cheese with Grenache
Mac N’ Cheese is an American institution that is thrust upon us at a very young age and stays with us as part of our souls well after our formative years. The simplest of ingredients made with love served as a way to get us to shut up when we were kids. How could that not stay with you forever? Traditional macaroni and cheese are made with shredded cheddar, usually of the sharp variety. Still, as most recipes we grew up eating, the cheese, ingredients, and technique varied from house to house. However, cheddar cheese and small macaroni pasta (my mom used medium shells instead of macaroni? See, every household is different) are the foundation and core of this nostalgic dish. You can’t go wrong with a Grenache, whether using mild or sharp cheddar. Grenache is often my comfort wine, much as macaroni and cheese is my go-to comfort food. Grenache is a medium-bodied red wine leaning toward full-bodied but light enough not to have heavy food and wine overload. The notes of dried herbs and earthy leather give you that warming feeling when you smell the wine before each sip. Then the red berries and plum jam-like notes help cut through the decadent cheesy dish. Like all of the dishes on our list today, you can alter the cheeses and ingredients in your recipe. Keep in mind that as your cheeses and ingredients change, so may your wine pairing. So have fun, and try different options.
Grilled Cheese with Pinot Noir
Like most kids, I grew up on grilled cheese. The ingredients are straightforward: Yellow American Cheese, thick white bread, and butter. Delicious, right? As I’ve gotten older and spent a lot of time in the kitchen, I have developed my methods and ingredient preferences, making the recipe a bit more sophisticated. Still, it’s always a good idea to go with a classic. Pairing a grilled cheese with wine is one of the most fun parts of eating these as an adult. American cheese is like a hybrid between a semi-hard cheddar and soft camembert and pairs wonderfully with Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a very light red wine, but that does not mean it lacks flavor or depth. Its umami earthiness, combined with red berries and vanilla, makes it one of my favorite varietals due to its complexity of flavor and depth. Pinot Noir will also go nicely with the tomato bisque that presumably will accompany your grilled cheese.
Fondue with Sauvignon Blanc
Cheese knows no bounds. Fondue is not a dish that found its way into the center of my dinner table growing up. I had never even heard of this French/Swiss mastery of the cheese game until I was in high school and the French club took a trip to The Melting Pot. Fondue is simple enough to make; you decide on your assortment of cheeses, you add a bunch of dry white wine, then begin adding your aromatics and cheeses. A classic fondue is made with Alpine-Swiss cheese, in this case, Emmentaler and Gruyère. I have some personal favorite Alpine-Swisses, as I’m sure many people do, so try adding some of your favorites and see how the flavors develop. Once the cheese is melted, ooey and gooey, the fun starts! Dip in your favorite raw fruits and veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, or apples. Then, of course, there’s my personal favorite, bread! Yes, place a large cube of fresh sourdough onto a skewer and dip it into that delectably sweet and nutty cauldron of melted bliss. Your eyes will inevitably roll into the back of your head with euphoria. With all of the creamy, rich decadence of fondue, you will be happy to have something light and crisp with plenty of acidity to cut through the earthy cheese. Sauvignon Blanc is often used in the emulsification of the cheese and pairs very nicely with the meal. Its fruity notes of peach and melon help round out the flavors of the cheese.
Pizza with Merlot to sparkling white (basically anything)
I couldn’t bring myself to write an article about cheese and wine pairings without including the dish that I have most frequently eaten whilst drinking wine. That’s not to say I always put a lot of thought into what wine I will drink with pizza because, honestly, pizza is the Type O Negative of foods. It pairs with everything! Creamy, slightly nutty mozzarella, spread over perfectly reduced marinara with flavors of sweet and tart tomatoes, dried oregano, and marjoram, all atop a beautiful light crust with a bit of a crunch to ensure the sauce does not make the dough soggy. It’s like an orchestra playing in perfect harmony, and just when you think it’s over, the crescendo! Some fresh basil chiffonade whimsically sprinkled on top just before you take your first bite. Pizza is simple in its complexity, and that’s why we love it so much. The simple ingredients in pizza allow for a wide variety of pairing options. Of course, you cannot go wrong with a Merlot, a medium-bodied red with an excellent tannin structure and medium alcohol, which will go nicely with each aspect of your cheese pizza. Mild soft cheese with acidic yet sweet sauce and dried herbs all fit perfectly into the flavor profiles of cherry, chocolate, and herbs found in Merlot. On the other hand, sparkling white wine or sparkling Pinot Grigio with very mild tannins, a hint of sweetness, and slight citrus zest pairs perfectly with tomato sauce and acts as a palate cleanser to not overpower your already perfect pizza!
So the next time you’re sitting around on a Tuesday night or Saturday afternoon and want to get a bit cheesy with your cheese and wine pairings, reference this article and have some experiments of your own.