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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 32, Summer 2005   
Matching Cheese and WineMatching Cheese and Wine  Contents 
Issue 31, June 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 33, September 2005

Matching Cheese and Wine

Cheese and wine represent high enogastronomical values in the cultures of many countries, they are good allies of the table and can make fabulous matchings

 Since the times humans have learnt the dairy techniques for the production of cheese - a practice being thousands years old - this precious food has always represented an important element in the enogastronomical cultures of the countries where it is being produced. It is more likely the production of cheese was invented in order to keep and concentrate milk and its nutritional properties, therefore ensuring a good reserve of proteins, fats and mineral salts. Cheese is also a complex world, vast and rich in aromas and tastes, it certainly is to be considered among the most complex foods produced by humans. In the course of centuries the dairy art has evolved and adapted to the many countries in which cheese represented a precious food; techniques have developed, also thanks to the providential help of casual discoveries that - despite their initial and apparent negative effect - turned to be fundamental for the production of many cheeses while making them unique in their kind. The connection with wine is very strong: according to the type of milk, the place and the production technique - including time and method of aging - are virtually obtained countless results.


The Production of Cheese

 The production of cheese makes use of techniques and methods which vary according to the type of product to be obtained. No matter the type, the production of cheese is always the result of milk coagulation, a process which transforms milk into a solid matter having different consistences. It will be the processing of this solid matter - called curd - to make cheese the way we are used to see it on our tables. The whole production process begins - of course - by milk. There are many types of milk which can be used for the production of cheese and each of them has proper organoleptic characteristics that will give personality to the final product. The most common milk types used for the production of cheese are the ones of cow and sheep, however are also very important goat and buffalo milks. Cheese can be made with the milk of a particular type only, or by blending different types. However it is good to remember the organoleptic qualities of cheese do not depend by the type of milk only, but also by the type and quality of animal's feeding, latitude and area of grazing.

A classic matching: Marsala
Superiore Riserva and Gorgonzola cheese
A classic matching: Marsala Superiore Riserva and Gorgonzola cheese

 Milk can be used both fresh of milking, as well as after an appropriate pause of 12-24 hours, provided it is kept at a temperature of about 10°C (50°F). Before processing, the milk is being skimmed in order to determine the quantity of fats in cheese. Methods used for skimming the milk are two: spontaneous cropping up of the cream, or by means of the mechanical process of centrifuge. Moreover, before the process begins, the milk is properly treated - generally by means of pasteurization - in order to make it more hygienic and to eliminate any possible pathogen bacteria, a practice which is indispensable for average aged cheese. In the production of blue cheese, it can be now added spores of the Penicillium species. After the appropriate treatments - including the adding of starter serum in order to promote acidification - the milk is now ready to begin the procedure that will transform it into cheese.

 The next phase consists in coagulation, that is the process allowing the separation of protein and fat substances - mainly casein - from whey. Coagulation can happen in two different ways: acid coagulation and enzymatic coagulation. Acid coagulation happens because of the effects of some micro organisms capable of transforming lactose into lactic acid and, as a consequence, determines the precipitation of casein, the main protein contained in milk. The result is a pretty creamy curd rich in humidity and this is the process used for the production - for example - of yogurt and other fresh and creamy cheeses. Enzymatic coagulation is obtained by using rennet, a substance extracted from the stomach of calves, lambs and kids. Coagulation occurs thanks to the action of some enzymes found in rennet and which form a curd separated from whey, rich in calcium, very elastic and not friable. With this type of coagulation are being obtained - for example - Grana and Emmenthal.

 The curd is then allowed to stay and therefore processed in order to obtain small pieces - operation called breaking - by using specific tools. According to the type of cheese to be produced, the breaking of the curd is done in different ways. For cooked of semi cooked cheeses, the breaking is preceded by an appropriate heating at a temperature of 45-60°C (113-160°F); in case of spun paste cheese, such as mozzarella, the curd is allowed to stay in the hot and acid whey for some hours. The curd is then extracted from the boiler by using a cloth and therefore having the whey to drip. In the production of soft cheese, the dripping of whey is done naturally, that is by leaving the curd suspended in a cloth. In hard paste cheeses, the curd is put into a mold - also having the purpose of giving the cheese its typical shape - and the dripping of whey is done by means of compression. Whey can be used for the production of ricotta cheese or it can be skimmed and used for the production of butter.

 The curd molds undergo now the process of salting, both by plunging them in brine, or by covering the surface with salt. At the end of salting, the cheese is kept in specific rooms in order to allow a proper aging according to style and type to be produced. The aging of cheese is a critical and fundamental operation which will give the product its typical organoleptic qualities and requires all the experience of a talented dairyman. At the end of aging, the cheese is now ready to be packed and commercialized. The production of cheese is essentially an artisan work and it is thanks to the differences and the skill of every artisan the cheese always have different and personal qualities. These qualities are also determined by the type of milk used for the production and by the area in which the grazing is located, the type of feeding for the animals from which it is obtained milk, as well as the culture and tradition of the place.


Classification of Cheese

 According to a commercial point of view, cheese is classified according to many productive, physical and chemical qualities. There are many factors to be considered in the classification of cheese, including acidity, the contents in fats and the area of production. A cheese with a quantity of lipidic substances higher than 42% is defined as fat, from 20% to 40% is semi fat; light in case it was produced with skimmed milk, a condition not allowed by the Italian law. Another important factor for classification is the consistency of the paste. Cheeses with a quantity of water greater than 40% are considered as soft paste, a quantity lesser than this value defines hard paste cheeses. The paste is also classified according to the method used during the production. Are called raw paste those cheeses whose curd was not heated after the breaking. Fresh and soft cheese usually belongs to this category. In case the curd is being heated after the breaking at a temperature of 44-45°C (111-113°F), the cheese is classified as semi cooked paste, at a temperature of 54-55°C (129-131°F) are being classified as cooked paste instead.


 Are classified as spun paste the cheeses whose curd is allowed to age in the warm and acid whey for some hours in order to give plasticity to the paste. The paste is then spun in water at a temperature of 70-90°C (158-194°F) in order to give the cheese its typical shape and aspect. Belong to this category, for example, Mozzarella, Provolone and Caciocavallo. Are being classified as blue, those cheeses to which was added in the milk spores of Penicillium Glaucum or Roqueforti that, thanks to the holes made in the paste and allowing the introduction of air, will develop the typical mold. Spores of Penicillium are also used for the treatment of the crust, in particular for those cheeses classified as flowered crust, which can be recognized by the layer of white micro-flora covering the whole crust. In this case are being used spores of Penicillium Album and belong to this category - for example - Taleggio, Brie and Camembert. In order to avoid the formation of molds that could be detrimental for the quality of cheese, the crust can be washed in a solution of water and salt, however it can also be used oil, paraffin as well as materials made of wax or synthetic substances which replace the crust. Even aging defines the classification of cheese, which can be slow in case it is more than 6 months, average from 1 to 6 months, rapid in case it is lesser than one month, absent for cheeses destined to an immediate consumption.


Cheese and Cooking

 The use of cheese in cooking is pretty frequent, from immediate consumption to the use as an ingredient for the preparation of many recipes. Cheese - consumed as it is produced - is a food rich in proteins and fats, it can therefore make a course of its own as well as replacing a meat recipe. The consumption of cheese with no other processing is also used in appetizers and desserts; in fact it is preferred by many connoisseurs at the end of a meal instead of having a dessert. A typical way of serving cheese - in particular at the end of meals - is to match them with honey made of different flowers, of which the most common ones are acacia, chestnut and lime. Cheese can be well matched to fruit jams, as well as vegetables jams, including sweet mustards - either produced with fruit or vegetables - characterized by the typical piquant and pungent taste.

 The use of cheese as an ingredient in cooking is common in those country where it is being produced. Cheese is an ingredient for the preparation of many pasta and risotto dishes, added at the end in order to exalt flavors and to give a creamy consistence. It is also a fundamental ingredient for puddings, soufflé and the preparation of sauces to be used for pasta and meat. Cheese can also be served cut in thick slices and broiled, just like a steak. Hard and ground cheese is used for the preparation of pies, pizza and buns, whereas cubed can give taste and structure to many salads. Even in pastry cooking the use of cheese is pretty common, in particular soft cheeses, ricotta and mascarpone cheese. Among the many desserts made of cheese are mentioned tiramisù - made with mascarpone - and cannoli alla Sicliana and cassata alla Siciliana in which ricotta cheese represents a fundamental ingredient.


The Matching of Cheese and Wine

 Cheese is a very complex food, with pretty intense aromas which can even be pungent, tastes varying from delicate to complex and strong. For this reason, the matching of cheese and wine is not always easy even because of the wide selection of products available in the many countries in which it is being produced. According to a nutritional point of view, cheese is rich in proteins, fats and mineral salts, present in pretty variable quantities according to the type. According to an organoleptic point of view, cheese is a pretty invading food and therefore it requires the matching with a wine having equal invading characteristics. A very aromatic cheese requires a wine having an equal aromatic strength, a cheese with strong taste and a long gustatory persistence, requires a wine with intense flavors and long persistence. It is usually believed the best matching with cheese is obtained with red wines, indeed this “rule” has not practical reason because of the many types of cheese available and the many organoleptic qualities. Soft cheeses, in which it is appreciable a certain acidity - such as Mozzarella, Crescenza and Robiola - can be perfectly matched with many white or rosé wines.

 Generally speaking, the higher the structure of the cheese - represented by the hardness of the paste and of aging - the higher the structure of the wine. Therefore an average aged cheese - such as Emmenthal or Asiago - can be matched with red wines having a good body, whereas aged cheeses - such as Parmigiano Reggiano and hard Pecorino cheese - require the matching with a full bodied red wine. A particular consideration should be done for piquant cheese with pungent and strong tastes, such as blue cheese or cheese aged for a long time. In this case it will be appropriate a robust red wine with an appreciable roundness and alcohol volume. An excellent matching is obtained with sweet and fortified wines, because of their good roundness, alcohol volume, structure and sweetness. For example Roquefort can be wonderfully matched to Sauternes, and Gorgonzola can be matched with aromatic sweet wines - such as Passito di Pantelleria - as well as a fortified wines with an appreciable sweetness, such as Marsala Superiore Riserva. The matching of cheese with sweet wines probably represents the most amazing choice thanks to the perfect balance which can be obtained, however this is a matching that is appropriate only in case cheese is served at the end of a meal or when the cheese is consumed alone and makes the only course of the meal.


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  Corkscrew Issue 32, Summer 2005   
Matching Cheese and WineMatching Cheese and Wine  Contents 
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