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Guide to pairing cheese, wine and other foods

Impress your guests with the perfect matchup of cheese, wine, and other foods

Cheese tastes great by itself or on a cracker, or melted and drizzled across a few tortilla chips. Of course, it does. However, if you want to make an impression at your next party, you should learn a few more details about partnering cheese with wines and other types of foods.

Purists will tell you that cheese and wine are enough. Forget the fruits, the olives, the small rings of red onion that might show up on a cheese platter. Really, it is all a matter of personal taste.

If you want to cube a block of cheddar and pair it with a sangria and some grapes, that's just fine. There is so much more that you can achieve, though, with just a few more cheese varieties, a bottle or two of chardonnay and cabernet, a few fruit slices, and bread.

Choosing the correct wines for a variety of cheeses is daunting. The choice of cheeses, wines, and accompaniments are also dependent on the time of day and type of occasion. A cheese tasting requires a much different treatment than a dinner course or a brunch.

A few basics will help you traverse the road to successful wine and cheese pairings.

If you are serving only one or two wines, limit your cheese selection to two or three varieties. A nice cheese tray, at most, will have only five types and never more than seven. You will definitely require a wider wine selection for larger trays.

Stronger cheeses can benefit from a robust red, but tread carefully with mixing red wines with cheese. You can get away with a cabernet or a Burgundy if you are serving a Gorgonzola or a hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano. These choices fare well with pears and melons, too.

Avoid sweet wines, especially if you are serving fruits. The sugar content will overpower the cheese. These are different from "fruity" wines, which do go well with some of the lighter cheeses. Try a light white wine with aged Gouda, apples, and grapes.

If you are aiming for a regional taste, get suggestions from both the wine and cheese experts at your favorite stores. They can steer you in the general direction of a variety that will please the palate.

Chevre, which is goat cheese, pairs well with a Sauvignon Blanc, a hearty bread, and toasted almonds.

One wine type you with which you cannot go wrong - for any cheese or any occasion - is the sparkling variety: champagne and spumante, for instance. Most experts will agree that if you have only one wine, it should be a sparkling one.

Often, an ale or beer is just the right taste for your cheese board. Zinfandels, although not wildly popular with connoisseurs, are nice and light for brunches and with some of the softer, spreadable cheeses.

Remember to make non-alcoholic beverages available for your guests. Fruit juices, sparkling water, and flavored waters will pair up with a nice cheese arrangement.

Specialty breads are always a better accompaniment than crackers. Slice and toast baguettes or serve at room temperature. Big breads with hard crusts are also a welcome choice. If you do make serve crackers, choose rye and wheat flavors; they will blend well with cheeses and wines.

Black walnuts and hazelnuts, placed in bowls, make a tasty complement to your array of foods and beverages.

You are certainly not limited to the basic rules. These are just a starting point to use as you build your cheese expertise. Mix and match cheeses, wines, and complementary foods to meet your own expectations and tastes.

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