The only official rule of cheese pairing is that there are no rules. Your taste buds are your best guide, and even the most unlikely pairings will delight some cheese lovers. That said, we consulted Wisconsin Cheese expert Jeanette Hurt for some basic guidelines to help when indecision strikes.
DO- Start small.
Hurt recommends beginning with no more than 3-5 cheeses and 1-2 wines. That way, you can keep your pairings focused and your palate from getting overwhelmed! (Here are five must-haves.)
DON’T- Pair strong cheeses with delicate drinks.
For example, a delightfully pungent limburger requires an equally assertive beverage pairing so both sides of the relationship get equal billing with your taste buds. On the other hand, if you have a light-bodied wine, you’ll want a delicate cheese to match.
DO- Go with where it grows.
When you’re not sure what to pick, Hurt suggests following heritage. Unsure what goes with Sartori’s classic parmesan? Opt for an Italian wine like pinot grigio.
DON’T- Serve full-size portions.
Sometimes too much cheese is a bad thing. Plan for 2-3 ounces of cheese per person, to start. You can always bring out more, but remember that many fresh cheeses must be thrown away if they’re left out for more than two hours. (Wisconsin Cheese covers everything you need to know about cheese storage here.)
DO- Think about contrast.
Hurt loves pairing a creamy, salty, slightly-earthy blue cheese with a sweet dessert wine like sherry. Just add a touch of honey as a bridge, and you’ve got a perfect pairing!
DON’T- Get too adventurous.
While pairings are a great opportunity to try more challenging cheese varieties, Hurt advises against straying too far from your comfort zone. If you like cheddar, introduce something like a BellaVitano or a slightly-aged gouda–don’t jump all the way to sharp-edged gorgonzola.
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