Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on July 25, 2016 0 Comments Ask anyone who’s been on holiday to France about food and drink, and they’ll probably all tell you the same thing. While the restaurants of rural France are unparalleled for rustic fare, and the bistros of Paris are the masters of elegant, nonchalant cuisine, by far the best meals you have are the ones made up of things grabbed at the local market. Picnics of crusty, light baguettes, some cured cold meats, and above all, the cheese. France is a cheese lover’s heaven, and the French take their cheeses very seriously indeed. Many of the best fromages have strict rules and regulations placed upon them by the European Union and French government, ensuring quality is as high as it can be, and traditions are upheld with an astounding level of reverence and care. It doesn’t end there. Everybody knows that there are few light meals in the world as fine, or combinations as exciting and compelling as cheese and wine. And what else, apart from cheese, does France excel in? Of course, the answer is fine wine. From the gentle rose wines of Provence, to the stunning, crisp whites of Alsace and the deep, dark, complex and world-beating reds of Bordeaux, France takes its wines every bit as seriously as it does its cheeses, and the same reverence for tradition and regional pride is instilled in almost every bottle as is found in the prettily decorated cheese boxes piled high in every marketplace. The wonderful thing about French wine and cheese is that there is no need to travel to Europe to replicate those sunny, al fresco experiences of sitting outside and enjoying the two together. Thanks to an ever-increasing and long-present fascination with French gastronomy and viticulture, you can put together classic cheese and wine combinations at home with items picked up from your local supermarket or whole foods store. Impress your friends and demonstrate your savoir faire with some tried and tested combos…and here is a quick guide of where to start, and some winning combinations that will prove to be a taste sensation! Always Experiment First Before we go into the details of which wines and which cheeses are classically combined, it is worth mentioning that you should always experiment with what you like, rather than what is dictated by tradition. After all, everyone has different tastes and preferences, and the world of food and wine would be very boring indeed if we all liked the same thing. So have a go – get your favorite bottle of French wine, and taste it with a combination of different cheeses to see what works for you. Who knows, you might discover a new blend which you otherwise might have overlooked. Keep it Regional Probably the best place to start when combining French wine and cheese is to keep things regional. Regionality in France is massively important – indeed, many French people would argue that there is no such things as ‘French Cuisine’, instead, you have a series of distinctly different gastronomic zones, which produce and celebrate the best of their local ingredients. These regions have been establishing themselves for centuries, and as such, the wines and cheeses have evolved together, reflecting each other’s qualities for generations. If you find a good wine from Provence, for example, chances are the region’s cheeses will match beautifully and give you an insight into the culture of flavor of that specific region. Here are some of the more popular and internationally available cheeses (ones you’re likely to be able to find yourself), and the best French wines to serve with them. 1. Brie and Camembert Who doesn’t love these soft, creamy, fragrant cheeses? They’re dinner party favorites, served at room temperature so they’re nice and oozy, giving off their distinctive aroma and packed full of fascinating, complex flavors. Bries and Camemberts are thick, fatty cheeses, and as such require a French wine that is going to cleanse the palate and have you reaching for more. For me, the best pairings with these softer cheeses are Chenin Blancs. The sharp apple and pear flavors of a good Chenin Blanc (especially those from the Loire Valley) cut through that fattiness, and the wine also has the strength and weight to stand up to the funkier edge of a ripe Camembert. 2. Goat Cheese There are many, many goat cheeses in France, but the best are probably the creamy, slightly crumbly chevre cheeses from northern France, served in long logs that are sliced through and served on crackers or with grapes and other fruits. These cheeses require a stronger wine, as the flavor of a good goat’s cheese can be really powerful, with a lingering aftertaste that would obliterate lighter, gentler French wines. Pair classic French goat’s cheese with a good, full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc. It doesn’t really matter too much where your wine is from, as Sauvignon Blancs tend to be pretty reliable the world over, but if you want to keep things as Gallic as possible, stick again with the Loire Valley, where you’ll find the wonderful Sancerre wines. Delicious! 3. Roquefort Roquefort really is a cheese lover’s cheese. Blue, runny, incredibly powerfully flavored, but utterly delicious and devilishly moreish, it really is the star of any cheeseboard as well as being a winning ingredient in many classic French dishes. It is also one of the only French cheeses that comes with a classic and famed wine pairing that oozes sophistication and typical French eccentricity. You might not have thought of pairing a (very) sweet dessert wine with cheese before, but there is a long-standing tradition in much of Europe of serving cheese with sweeter things (in the north of England for example, the crumbly Wensleydale cheese is served traditionally with Christmas cake!). The truly sumptuous dessert wine of Sauternes, made from withered grapes and bursting with flavors of dark honey, dried and candied fruits and treacly nuts, alongside Roquefort cheese is one of those epiphany moments you won’t forget in a hurry. 4. Morbier Morbier is one of France’s more recognizable cheeses. Soft, slightly elastic and yellowish, it has a thin black line running through the middle of it (made from ashes as the two layers of cheese are pressed together in the mold). It is a rich and creamy cheese, perfect for snacking on with good bread, and its bitter aftertaste makes it a lovely, fascinating and complex addition to a cheeseboard or picnic. The classic French wine to serve with Morbier is a Syrah, which lifts the cheese with its dark fruit flavors, and compliments its nutty, bitterness.