Chardonnay isn’t the obvious choice for a wine-and-cheese party. Chardonnays range in style from lean and crisp to rich, buttery and oaky, and as a general rule, the oakier a wine, the less cheese-friendly it is. "Oaky wines are tricky to pair because the cheese can exaggerate the same rich, buttery qualities you’re attracted to in a big Chardonnay,” says Laura Werlin, author of The All American Cheese and Wine Book and The New American Cheese. Still, even liberally oaked Chardonnays pair beautifully with more assertive cheeses like strong blues and aged cheddars.
We asked Werlin and two other experts—Max McCalman, maître fromager at New York’s Artisanal Cheese Center and cheese-friendly Picholine restaurant; and Liz Thorpe, wholesale manager for Murray’s Cheese in New York City—to name some of their favorite Chardonnay-and-cheese matchups. To make the pairing even easier, we’ve divided Chardonnay into three categories: unoaked, moderately oaked and lavishly oaked, so you can find the best cheese for your favorite style of wine.
“A lean, crisp Chardonnay untouched by oak is fantastic with mild, semisoft cheeses,” McCalman says. Two of his favorites are a goat’s-milk Selles sur Cher from France’s Loire valley and a creamy Colston Bassett Stilton made in England from pasteurized cow’s milk. (Both cheeses are available at artisanalcheese.com).
Moderately Oaked Chardonnay:
For a medium-bodied Chardonnay with well-balanced oak and fruit flavors, Werlin loves Mt. Tam, an elegant triple-cream made by the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, California. Thorpe’s favorite pairing is a Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar, which won Best in Show at this year’s American Cheese Society awards. “It’s sweet and nutty with a slightly caramelized flavor on the finish that goes so great with Chardonnay,” she says. (Mt. Tam is available at cowgirlcreamery.com; Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is available at murrayscheese.com).
Lavishly Oaked Chardonnay:
The creamiest, oakiest Chardonnays can handle more assertive cheeses. Werlin and McCalman both favor a medium-sharp, firm cheese, such as the Westcombe cheddar from Somerset, England. McCalman also recommends unpasteurized cow’s-milk blues, such as the Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. (Both cheeses are available at artisanalcheese.com).