I love wine and cheese on their own but I prefer them together. The two have been paired for thousands of years to create an enjoyable experience of the senses. But not every wine matches a cheese. We have to take into account the texture of the cheese, the intensity, the wine’s tannins to make sure we create a perfect marriage between the two.
With the run up to Christmas, everyone appreciate the finer things in life a little bit more, and for Port & cheese (and chocolate) does the trick. Traditionally Port has been paired with Stilton – the creaminess and saltiness of the cheese cuts through the sweetness and alcohol of the Port wine.
So how do we break the mould?
What are other great Port & cheese pairings? I was lucky to attend a Taylor’s Port & cheese tasting with top experts – Sarah Jane Evans MW and Chris Parkman of Paxton & Whitfield, one of Britain’s oldest cheesemongers established 1797. At Christmas time the queues at this cheese shop extend till the next street and they sell out of the favourites very quickly. Pre-ordering your cheese is a good idea!
Taylor’s Port is synonymous with consistent excellence being was one of the first British Port houses to be established in 1692 which is still family run. I have visited them in the Douro Valley at Quinta de Vargellas and Croft during harvest 2015, and it’s easy to see why they deliver such gorgeous Ports year after year – there is attention to detail in every aspect, from the slope at which they plant the grapes to the careful blending and ageing of the wines. Hospitality is also at heart of the experience – the family run the best luxury wine hotel in Porto, The Yeatman, awarded the Best Boutique Hotel in Portugal with its own Caudalie Spa, and recently purchase The Vintage House Hotel in Pinhao and the newly opened Croft Visitor Centre.
Port & Cheese – The 5 Unexpected Pairings by the Experts
We tried 5 different Ports and paired them with one and sometimes two different cheeses to compare. Here is what we had and I must admit I have been practising my Port & cheese matching at home in time for Christmas!
1. The Wine: Taylor’s First Estate Reserve & Goat’s cheese: Bosworth Ash Log from Staffordshire, England
The wine: Taylor’s First Estate Reserve, a youthful and fruity wine that bursts with flavours of cassis, redcurrant and plum. The wine spends a short time in oak vats and then is bottled quickly which helps the Port keep its colour. Price: £12 (bargain, widely available).
The cheese: Crunchy on the outside with a volcanic ash thick rind. Chris tell us that traditionally the purpose of the rind was to protect the cheese from things flying into it, like flies, nowadays it’s more esthetic. This goat’s cheese is only 3 weeks old and it’s quite salty and creamy. It perfectly emphasizes the young fruity flavour of the Port. This is a light combination and can be had as an aperitif too. It does the bees knees! Price: £9.50 for 220gr.
Other perfect cheeses for the Taylor’s First Estate Reserve are: Brie, Tallegio and Camembert
2. Taylor’s 2010 Late Bottled Vintage & Brillat Savarin from France
The Wine: Taylor’s 2010 Late Bottled Vintage or the LBV, the first choice of a knowledgeable Port drinker! It’s more of big red wine compared to the First Reserve. It is blended from grapes from the same vintage and spends between 4 to 6 years in oak usually before it gets bottled. This creates an elegant wine with firm tannins and with hints of black liquorice. Price: £15 available in many supermakets.
Cheese: Brillat Savarin, a triple cream cheese from Burgundy made from cow’s milk. It’s young, creamy and it’s almost like eating butter. Incredibly moorish. The buttery texture of the cheese cuts through the firmness of the LBV enhancing the fruit aromas of blackcurrant. Price: £6.50 per 250gr.
Other cheese pairings for the LBV Port: goat’s cheese like a Caprino or Saint-Maure, Stilton
The wine: Paxton 10 Year Old Tawny – a classic Tawny made by Taylor’s for Paxton & Whitfield. Smells of Christmas already with aromas of toffee, mince pies, woolen blanket, oranges, kumquat, cinnamon and walnuts. The wine is a blend of different vintages with 10 years being the oldest. It’s best enjoyed chilled and can stay in the fridge for 2-3 months. Price: £19 for 50cl.
The cheese: Cabot Clothbound – an unusual cheese this time from America. It resembles a mature cheddar, nutty, caramely, with it’s own personality. It’s made from the milk from the cows on the same small farm for s more homogenized taste. The nuttiness of the cheese blends perfectly with the toffee flavours of the Tawny. Price: £58 per k.g
Alternative pairing for 10 Year Old Tawny: Gruyere, Cornish Blue (see below)
4. Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny & Cornish Blue from Cornwall, England
The wine: Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny – this older Tawny is less fruity, with a more intense caramel and nutty flavours, as well as a warmer feeling due to the higher alcohol. The colour is less intense with a lovely amber toffee hue. Price: £38.
The cheese: Cornish Blue – a new cheese first made in 2001 from a farm in Cornwall that only make just the one cheese. It’s an unusual blue, hard and not designed to be creamy, with a sweet finish. Voted best cheese in 2010 in the world. This is the first cheese within an appellation in the UK (Chris tells there are 9 cheese appellations in the UK but it hasn’t done so much for cheese as for wine). I love the crunchy crystals in this blue – Chris explains these are from ageing and form then the lactose has crystalised., meaning it had less lactose so for those intolerant these cheses could be a solution. Simulated nowadays with sea salt in cheap cheese.
Alternative pairing for the 20 Year Old Tawny Port: Cheddar, Gouda, Comte
5. Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2002 & Manchego from La Mancha, Spain
The wine: Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 2002 – vintage port is made only in exceptional years, every 3 years or so from only the best grapes of the winery (2% only are used). It’s made in a unique traditional way involving foot treading. The vintage ports are aged in bottle and in my opinion are best drunk 10 years after it’s vintage. This 2002 vintage port is powerful, intense with flavours of blackcurrant, spice and violets. You may find the cork brake so be careful with these ones! Price: £30.
The cheese: Manchego – one of the oldest cheeses in the world, from La Mancha, it’s made from sheep milk, all made by hand. This one is a vintage Manchego – 9-10 months old, unpasteurised with punchy flavours that match perfectly the bold vintage port. Price: £36 per kg.
Alternative pairing with the vintage Port: Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort
Last Tips You Cannot Miss!
To get you through Christmas I would recommend a tawny and an LBV. The great thing about tawny is that you can put it back in the fridge for up to 3 months (not that you will ever need to) with the rest of the Ports about 36 hours. Tawny is also more of an adaptable wine, it goes well with cheese and chocolate!
Cheese wise, go for bolder and less traditional pairings and just experiment, nothing can go wrong. Buy your cheese up to a week before consumption and never hold the cheese in vacuum! It kills the cheese, makes it sweaty. Just take it out as soon as you can and place it in wax paper if you can in the vegetable drawer!
Also read Port History in 3 Minutes >
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