Quesadillas are a cheese course too. Here's how to pair them with a good bottle.

By Tammie Teclemariam
October 05, 2020
Advertisement
Credit: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

I have no qualms about sipping on a rare dram of something or popping some bubbly to honor the mere fact that it’s Thursday. My problem lies in finding a suitable food pairing when the drinking is just for one. Now that pandemic restrictions mean I’m forbidden from entertaining a group, there are fewer reasons for me to labor over the fancy foods that typically accompany wine. You know, the time-consuming cooking projects whose pursuit is equal parts educational, entertaining, and gustatory, like layering phyllo for spanakopita or roasting bones for sauce, entrées that have earned the right to be served with great wine.

Thankfully, cheese always begs for wine, and it’s easy enough to procure in single, or at least manageable portions. Although centuries of experts have confirmed the affinity between bleu cheese and Sauternes, chevre and Sancerre, and Manchego and Sherry, which inform the logic of today’s cheeseboards, I prefer the stuff hot and melty whenever possible. Sometimes it means pizza, or mac and cheese, but more often than not I enlist a quesadilla to keep my wine company.

You don’t need to cook a banquet in order to open a special wine. Quesadillas are instant gratifying pockets of melty dairy, but they’re also endlessly versatile. While some of my interpretations are satellites to their Mexican forebears, the opportunity for pairings are so on point, I can’t complain—or stop.

Think of the tortilla as a sturdy croûte for your favorite fromage and refrigerator scraps of the day, a tabula rasa. A pack of flour tortillas is like a stack of canvases in your fridge, or else grab an empty bottle and roll your own.

My favorite gastronomic quesadilla pairings are inspired by classic food and wine matching rules, but you don’t have to open a book every time. Try basing it on go off of other successful pairings you’ve had, and don’t be surprised when the quesadilla plate becomes a permanent addition to your wine-dining rotation.

Roasted Poblano and Queso Oaxaca

Consider this a shortcut to a classic chile relleno minus the batter, delicate assembly, and frying. Roasting a poblano until charred over a flame or on a hot skillet turns the vegetal pepper meaty and tender while mellow queso Oaxaca gives you all the melty stringy pull you could want.

Pair with: Double down on the green pepper with a pyrazine-heavy Loire Cabernet Franc. Look for something with a light body so that it doesn’t overpower the milky cheese.

BBQ Chicken

Quickly pickle some thinly sliced onion or shallot by covering with a layer of red wine vinegar. Coat some cooked chicken with barbecue sauce and broil until brown and sizzling and shred or cut it into strips when cool enough to handle. Add both to your quesadilla with smoked gouda or cheddar and Monterey Jack.

Pair with: With the combination of sweet sauce, sharp onions, and rich chicken, dry Riesling is a no-brainer here. On the red side of the spectrum, a California zinfandel or Rhone blend goes well with the smokey flavors.

Croque Señor

Make a small amount of bechamel in a saucepan by cooking a couple teaspoons of flour and a tablespoon of butter into a roux before adding a cup or so of milk. Stir while simmering the sauce until thickened, a few minutes. Spread a couple tablespoons of bechamel on one side of a tortilla and top with grated gruyere and thinly sliced ham and cook it in lots of butter until brown. Leftover bechamel can be saved in the fridge for three days for future sandwiches or baked pasta.

Pair with: Chardonnay with some oak matches the richness here, as well as Pinot Blanc and other Alsatian white varieties.

Mountain Cheese, Potato and Mushroom

Gooey, funky Taleggio or more buttery fontina demand wine to as a necessary counterpart to their richness. Adding slices of boiled potato give a hearty, extra layer for the cheese to cling to, while the mushrooms bring a contrasting earthy flavor.

Pair with: Pinot Nero, Schopettino, Bardolino and other light northern Italian red are often soft on tannins with ample acidity to brighten your palate.

Brie, Apple, and Bacon

True to the traditional cheese board, I occasionally like to incorporate a fruit element like fig jam or guava paste. I wait until the end to arrange the apple slices until just before I fold it over so they stay as crunchy as possible.

Pair with: With so many flavors and textures here, bubbles are the move. Any sparkling wine should fit the bill, especially something toasty or a rosé. Alternatively you could set this up with dry or off-dry cider.

American Cheese and Canned Beans

This is a likely last minute midnight snack cobbled from canned beans and individually-wrapped slices of cheese, and it always hits the spot.

Pair with: Juicy Garnacha or Tempranillo from Spain won’t break the bank, but for a more refreshing option try spicy vermouth and soda topped with a wedge of citrus and a cherry.