When in doubt, pick Champagne.

By Noah Kaufman
Updated June 19, 2017
Credit: Noah Kaufman

This is one of our dispatches from a busy weekend at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

I’ll just say it: Cheese is the best food on the planet. With apologies to the other heavy hitters—your cured pork, your crusty bread, your dark chocolate—nothing is better than something sharp and crumbly. At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen I had the pleasure of introducing Laura Werlin and Bobby Stuckey as they gave out some of the best French cheese you’ll find this side of the Pyrenees, paired expertly with half a dozen French wines. Werlin is the James Beard Award winning author of half a dozen books on cheese and the president of the National Cheese Education Foundation. Stuckey is a recently anointed master sommelier and the wine director of Frasca up the road from Aspen in Boulder, Colorado. As Werlin and Stuckey guided us through a seminar on dairy in its most perfect state, they shared some tips on the makings of successful wine and cheese pairings that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Always try the wine first

Even though she’s a proponent of the concept of “cheese and wine” rather than “wine and cheese,” Werlin emphasizes that you need to taste wine with a clean palate. Especially if you’re going to pair it with flavors as big as a sharp, hard cheese or a funky blue, you could throw off the whole game if you eat the cheese first (as much as you might want to)

When in doubt, pick Champagne

“Champagne is the ultimate high/low wine—it goes with everything,” says Stuckey. “It can pair with caviar or it can pair with potato chips.” Werlin goes on to say that whenever anyone asks what they should do if they can only pick up a single wine to go with their cheese board, it should always be Champagne.

Don’t ignore the rind, just pick the right wine to go with it

The rind is almost certainly the least appreciated part of any cheese. But it can add a great gaminess to your cheese eating experience you would miss out on if you just scooped out the interior. Stuckey and Werlin say that a higher acid wine (Stuckey chose a Sancerre from Domaine Bailly-Reverdy) help bring that gaminess out.

What grows together goes together

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it can work. In the case of Werlin and Stuckey’s talk in Aspen they paired (very successfully) Saulnois, a hard cheese with a rind washed in brandy made from local Mirabelle plums, with a blend of 13 alsatian grapes from Domaine Marcel Deiss called Berckem. Both hail from the Northeast of France.