Red Wine or Bust? 5 Rules for Pairing Cabernet & American Cheese
I love wine. I work in wine. I drink wine. I sip wine. I smell wine. I look at it. I dream about it. I love reds. I love pinks. I love whites. Those orange-hued ones are awesome too. But my go-to wine for pairing with cheese? White. No matter how delicious red wine is, white wine is almost always easier to pair with cheese.
Less oak (if you stay away from the oak-chip doozy Chardonnays), less tannins, often more acidity, and, less red fruit to offend touchy cheese bacteria.
Of course not everyone agrees with me. SOME PEOPLE NEED A RED WINE FOR THEIR CHEESE. That’s cool, that’s cool. I understand. Sometimes I need a red wine too. And when I do, I do the following. If you are a devoted red wine lover, say, ….. a Cab lover, and you need yourself a good cheese to pair with your heavily fruited, perhaps a little tannic, oaked bottle, this post is for you.
But why American cheese with Cabs? Because October is American Cheese Month! It's the perfect time to honor this country's excellent creations with a red party in a bottle.
5 Rules for Cabernet and Cheese Pairing
1. Loose the bloomy rind. Brie, camembert styles or cheeses with thick white wines don’t like Cab. I know, I know, they look good together in pictures, but in general, the bacteria in a bloomy rinded cheese doesn’t like the tannins or red fruit in your Cali Cab, and the two will end up fighting- on your tongue.
2. Think aged cheese. Aged cheeses can handle the big flavors of a Cab. Aim for five months and older. Aged cheeses have enough flavors of their own to fight back if a Cab gets feisty or overly oaky, and some of those flavors (buckle up!) actually match with a Cab’s. Tasting spice, pepper, herbs or meat in your Cab? Could be in your Vella Dry Jack or Mezzo Secco too.
3. Think Cheddar! Okay, this is more a suggestion than a rule, but let's roll with it. Cheddar is a magic cab-pairer. Pick a cloth-bound, aged one like Fiscalini, Bleu Mont, Jasper Hill’s Cabot, and the cheeses's sharp, meaty, and sweet flavors will practically start making out with a cab right in front of you. Awkward, sure, but a little sweet too.
4. Sheep’s milk! An aged or lightly aged sheep’s milk cheese like Garden Variety Black-eyed Susan (top photo), Bleating Heart’s Fat Bottom Girl, or Everona’s Piedmont loves a good Cab as much as you do. Their brown-buttery, citrusy, lively, and spicy notes are as snuggly with a cab as a cheddar’s.
5. If you really want a soft cheese, go with a mixed milk ideally, or, with a wrinkly-rinded goat’s milk cheese, without a bloomy rind. Seal Cove Tomme, Vermont Butter and Cheese Bonne Bouche or Crémont- all good with Cabs. And just herbal and citrusy enough to handle the Big Red. Cow’s milk softies sometimes work, but sometimes they’re a little too subtle for a Cab’s good.
What do you like with your Cabs? Have any favorite cheese Cabs you keep going back to?
Also- if you're in the Bay Area, I have my first book event at the Pasta Shop at 4th Street in Berkeley this Saturday, Oct 20th, and am getting my book-signing hand warmed up as we speak. Or as I write. If you have time, stop by! I'd love to meet you.