the appetizer:

Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager by Max McCalman and David Gibbons includes articles like Serving & Storing Cheese: Guidelines for Home; Organoleptic Profiling: Matching Cheese with Wine; and Tasting Plate: But There Are Swiss Cheeses.

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Organoleptic Profiling:
Matching Cheese with Wine

by Max McCalman and David Gibbons

Cheese with Wine


Organoleptic is defined in Webster's as "affecting or involving an organ, especially a sense organ as of taste, smell, or sight" and "responsive to sensory stimuli." With respect to fine cheeses and wines, the point is that everyone of them creates an overall, composite impression by its combined effects on all the senses.

The organoleptic profile of a cheese or a wine begins and ends with its aromas. We start out by smelling the cheese and then taking a whiff of the wine, creating a preview of what their respective aromatics will offer. (Remember, there are about 10,000 possibilities.) As we've learned, some wines and cheeses have very light aromas, while others have everything from delicious floral or fruity notes to startling barnyardy ones. We're generally looking for a complementary relationship between cheese aromas and their wine counterparts. A couple of examples: a Pinot Noir, with its mouthwatering ripe cherry-like aromas might work well with the meaty, somewhat gamey aroma of a thistle-renneted sheep's milk cheese such as Torta del Casar; the yellow citrus aromatics of a Sauvignon Blanc might find harmony with a classic milky-tart, pleasantly soured mild goat cheese from the Loire Valley.

A pairing's first impression (aka its attack) involves the five basic flavors of the tongue, along with emerging and developing retronasal aromas and sensations of texture. Just as when we taste a cheese alone, the pairing delivers taste and mouth feel by way of its numerous components, texture included. You can preview a cheese's texture by giving it the old Pillsbury Doughboy poke and/ or crumbling or breaking a piece between your thumb and forefinger. To do the same for a wine, slosh it around up to the edge of the glass, then watch how its "legs" drip. The more viscous the wine, the more slowly and unctuously it will slide back down. An interesting and related aspect of mouth feel, by the way, is astringency, which is the drying-type effect certain cheeses and wines may have on the tongue.

The basic goal of organoleptic profiling for pairings is to delineate how the partners' textures play off each other to create an overall mouth feel and complete the full sensory impression. It's fascinating to experience how the aromas of a pairing, along with its flavors and textures, present themselves and develop, as they migrate from the tongue, spread across the palate, and create a full retronasal imprint. You won't have a verdict until you let the two partners inhabit your mouth together for a while, do their partnership dance, and see how they finish together.


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This page created April 2011