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Being from Minneapolis, I have to be somewhat of a Hipster.  We are the Hipster capitol of whatever, as you know.  I’m not the glasses, flannel, and skinny jeans type; no (that’s so passé), but it is certainly not beneath me to state that something that has now become popular is suddenly uncool.  That something is the wine and cheese pairing party trend.  The mid-2000s called; they want their snobby party idea back.

Like most things I oppose, this one is mostly on principal.  I won’t belittle it because it gathers people together to quaff large quantities of wine while enjoying cheese on the side and a feeling of “fanciness” in the air.  No,  I fully support people who enjoy that sort of thing taking part in that.  It is the fact that the event is a complete sham and people are only maintaining the illusion that they are learning something about wine that I just won’t stand for.  And since I won’t call it out when some guy is talking about how amazing his wine and cheese parties are at a wedding reception and it’s “Just something [he] likes to do”, which apparently makes him a “Wine Guy”; I will do it here.   I’m so passive-aggressive.

So let me lay it out for you: why you should step it up a notch at your next wine-inspired event.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to crack down on the Kraft cheese.  That isn’t the issue.  I’m not even going to crack down on the casual appearance of Two Buck Chuck: still not the problem.  The problem is food science.

Cheese is composed of fat, protein. and salt.  That’s all of it.  The balance of which will cause you to define it as a creamy cheese (i.e. Brie), a salty one (i.e. Aged Cheddar) or something in between (i.e. Gouda).  Plastic-y is something else entirely.  Hopefully, you read the results of my rebelliousness previously and will at least pick up that salt has a certain affect on red wine.  Fats and proteins have long been paired with red wines because they bind with the tannins, thus reducing the cotton-mouth feeling you get from them.  Salt, as previously reported, has a similar effect, and also reduces bitterness.  If you add a couple grains of kosher salt to your coffee, you’ll get a similar smoothing as adding cream.  In fact, milk is still an acceptable additive in numerous parts of the world to ease the bitterness and astringency on overly tannic red wines.

Then there’s acid.  Acid in wine can help lighten up a heavy dish by “cutting through” some of the fat.  A dash of vinegar or citrus in a heavy cream sauce or soup can turn a dish from bland and heavy to focused and structured.  Voilá.  Thus, higher acid in wine cuts through heavy and creamy cheeses.

So here are the two experiences you’ll ever notice at a wine and cheese party. First, when you have a creamy or salty cheese with a red wine, you are masking the tannins or “softening” them in wine lingo and left with the fruit of the wine.  This generally encourages those who aren’t too fond of tannins to drink more red wine.  Then, if you pair an acidic wine with a creamy cheese, you’ll be ok with eating more of that cheese.  At the end of the night, you’re primary experience will be, “Wow, I ate a lot of cheese and drank a lot of wine.”  You will have spent most the evening masking certain items of either cheese or wine.  This is like erasing the horrible lead guitarist in the band and not replacing them with anyone better.

Wine and food pairing, much like a good band is about balance.  Everything has to play a part to create a more complex and enduring experience.  As someone who plays music solo a lot, I can tell you that I crave, crave, crave a full band sometimes to make it more interesting for the listener.  Do you want to listen to a drum solo the rest of your life? I didn’t think so.

When I’m doing a wine and food pairing event, I admit I’ll occasionally have a cheese and chocolate course at the end with a tannic red.  But it’s to show the specific effect the elements of cheese have on tannins in red wine. That’s a drum solo within a song.  Rock on!

Therefore, if you truly want to make the night an interesting experience over and over again, you have to change the mix of interactions between the wine and the food.  There are five different basic tastes you can play around with.  Have something sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (umami) and then see what happens with each of those and the chosen wines.  You will learn something, I guarantee it.  From then on, you can taste a food or wine and ask yourself what you think is missing or what more you are craving to make that sensation balanced.

This self-impression of balance is what is being referred to when someone says,”This pairing did/did not work for me.”  But only by getting beyond wine and cheese events will you be able to answer the most important part to that, which is why.  There’s certainly a time for having a little wine and cheese as a snack, because sometimes simplicity and comfort are what we are craving, but that one note solo is not going to make for an entertaining evening again and again.

As a side note, if you really want to seem cool at these parties, use my music metaphor and tell people you need a little more of the bass line on a certain pairing trial and they’ll be astounded.

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