A Cheese and Wine Primer at Our Local Cheese Shop

Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Last week’s column focused on Second Mouse Cheese Shop in Pleasantville. I interviewed the proprietor, Ivy Ronquillo, and gained a unique perspective of her mission for the shop, which, coupled with her exuberance and passion, bode well for her success and our enhanced enjoyment of the vast world of artisanal cheeses.

Several readers requested a further drill-down into specific pairings of cheeses and wines. I returned to Ronquillo’s shop this week to focus and report on several of her offerings.

But first, a brief primer on the vast and varied world of cheese.

The production of cheese is highly parallel to the production of wine.

First, just as there are numerous grapes from which wines are crafted, so too cheeses are made from different base products: cow, sheep and goat milk.

Second, fermentation is necessary to transform each base product into a unique end product. Likewise, cheese and wine are constantly changing during aging process.

Third, the length of aging greatly influences the final product. A young wine or cheese tends to be soft in texture and simple in structure; an aged wine or cheese tends to be structured and complex.

Fourth, a winemaker or fromager may choose to influence their crafted results with external agents: oak for wine; molds, washes for cheese.

Fifth, terroir plays an important role in both wine and cheese making. I’ve covered the impacts of terroir extensively for wines. Similarly, locale and grass diet impart particular flavors or aromas to cheese.

Each of the above factors, when applied by a skilled fromager, result in a unique cheese. Generally speaking, I categorize the character of cheese into six broad texture groupings:

  1. Soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheese. Examples: Brie, Camembert.
  2. Semi-soft cheese. Aged a bit longer than bloomy rind, with a high moisture content. Examples: Morbier, Tallegio.
  3. Washed-rind cheese. Washed to kill the rind mold, thereby imparting new flavors to the rind and cheese. Examples: Epoisses, Tomme.
  4. Semi-hard cheese. Influenced by the type of bacteria and the length of aging. Examples: Gouda, Comte.
  5. Hard cheese. Influenced by bacteria and the length of the aging period, much longer than semi-hard cheeses, thereby accounting for the low moisture (hardness) of the cheeses. Examples: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego.

 

6. Blue cheese. Here, bacteria does its job when injected into a cheese, unlike other cheeses for which bacteria works externally. Examples: Roquefort, Stilton and a rising number of American blue cheeses.

There are no strict rules for matching cheese with wine; it’s a matter of your individual palate. Experiment with different combinations. What you’ll likely discover is that white wines, especially those with high acid levels, will counter the creamy texture and flavor of many cheeses, whereby red wines tend to pair well with semi-hard and hard cheeses.

Approaching the cheese display case at Second Mouse for the first time can be overwhelming and daunting. But fear not, Ronquillo and her staff quickly dispel any trepidation. On any given visit, up to 75 cheeses are on display, each replete with a detailed and informative card. And samples are eagerly offered to educate your palate. The cheeses are sourced from most Western European countries and close to 20 American states. Her favorites right now: Swiss, Spanish and Portuguese.

On to Ronquillo’s suggestions for pairings with a broad selection of her favorite cheeses.

Narragansett Burrata (Rhode Island; fresh cow): Sauvignon Blanc.

Lazy Lady Bonaparte (Vermont; fresh goat): Cotes du Rhone Rouge.

Von Trapp Farmstead Mt. Alice (Vermont; blooming rind cow): Chardonnay (Unoaked).

Jacobs & Brichford Ameribella (Indiana; washed rind cow): Sancerre.

Arethusa Farms Tapping Reeve (Connecticut; hard cow): Cabernet Franc.

Kaserei Tufertschwil Challerhocker (Switzerland; semi-hard): Pinot Noir.

Reypenaer Reserve XO (Netherlands; semi-hard cow): Cognac or Chianti Classico.

Point Reyes Farmstead Pt Reyes Original Blue (California; semi-soft cow): Syrah.

With so many choices of high-quality cheeses available, selecting and pairing them with wine may seem daunting at first. My advice: just as you vetted local wine merchants to educate your palate, so too with cheese. I have found my favorite, right here in Pleasantville.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

 

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