Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Iberian Tipples & Cheddar

"cheeses, fruits, matching port wines," by The Gifted Photographer on Flickr.

To be honest, when on my own, I don't give too much thought to pairing drinks with cheese or any other food for that matter. As long as it's on hand and cheap, that's good enough for me.

If, however, I were to follow a rule for selecting a beverage for a particular dish, it would be to stick close to home--the domain of both the food and drink, that is. While enjoying an alpine cheese, for instance, I'd drink a Swiss beer or wine. Same goes for French cheese and wine, etc. I'm even exploring, with cocktail maven Kara Newman, monastic cheeses with monastic spirits for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in mid-May. Foods and drinks from the same region tend to go well together, and it's what the locals (even monks!) do. For this reason I primarily gravitate toward ale and cider with my favorite cheese (you know which one!).

Why, then, am I suggesting classic drinks from the Iberian peninsula as potable accompaniments to Cheddar? There ain't much Cheddar in Spain or Portugal (and what there is, save what's on offer at the upscale cheese shop Poncelet in Madrid, is pretty crappy). There is, however, a strong English connection with Port from Portugal and with Sherry from southern Spain. Keep in mind that Port is an English innovation, and many Sherry cellars were established by English families.

It shouldn't be too much of a mental stretch to twin Port with Cheddar. After all, Stilton, the king of English cheeses, can hardly be mentioned without this fortified wine. Its sweet richness is a welcome foil to the savory saltiness of the blue cheese. (Just don't pour a perfectly good Port into a hollowed out circle of a perfectly good Stilton--what a waste!). Port and Cheddar can work amicably together, too, bringing out the best in each other. When drunk with a slightly sour domestic cheese, like Mountain Valley Gootessa Sharp Cheddar--as I did a few years back at a class at Murray's Cheese Shop, "Night Cap 'n' Cheddar, Perfect Togeddar: A Port and Cheddar Pairing," led by Sue Sturman of Epicurean--Port becomes increasingly fruity. With a barnyard-y English cheese, like Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar, the Port tames the barnyard and calls forth its richness. Yummy things can happen when they're consumed together.

Manchego, or another aged Spanish sheep's milk cheese, is probably what first comes to mind when pairing Sherry with cheese. It's a classic match. While I've never drunk Sherry with Cheddar in the same studied way that I did with Port at Murray's, just recently I attended an illuminating lecture on authentic Sherry (i.e., only those wines that are produced in the Jerez region in Andalusia), organized by the Culinary Historians of New York, at the International Wine Center, and learned that Sherry pretty much goes with everything. Very food friendly, Sherry boasts more varied flavors and styles than any other wine in the world. You're guaranteed to find a Sherry that goes perfectly with a hunk of Cheddar. How about a rich, dark, and dry Oloroso? Or add a touch of Amontillado to a beer and Cheddar fondue, as Fine Cooking recommends, to contribute a nutty touch and a depth of contrasting flavors?

Another factor in Sherry's favor is its affordability. Not hip and fashionable like other Spanish wines, Sherry has yet to be "discovered" and this keeps its price low, at least in the U.S. Port's another story, but there are still bargains to be had.

Intrigued? Read more about Sherry in my blog for Sickles Market, due out this Friday.

In the meantime,
Buen Provecho!

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