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The Science Behind Cheese Best Paired with Wine

What makes cheese an ideal pair for wine? There’s quite a scientific explanation.

Wine enthusiasts around the world have always paired wine and cheese for the longest time. This combination is like yin and yang in the culinary world. Historical records dating back over hundreds of years ago show that wine and cheese from the same region were paired together for several generations. Many varieties of wine and cheese were grown together, usually within a small village or the same farm. As a result, regional recipes combining wine and cheese were developed and passed on from generation to generation.

Despite the long history that establishes the strong bond between wine and cheese, no one has been able to fully explain why this combination works, well, not until today! Thanks to science, we now have definite proof to say wine and cheese really is a match made in heaven. However, before going to the actual explanation behind the pairing, it is vital to analyse the flavour profile of the two food items.

Cheese - The Science Behind Cheese Best Paired with Wine

The main characters of the love story: wine and cheese

  • Wine

Wine has two essential qualities. First, it contains tannin – a substance also found in the grape stem, seeds and skins. It produces a dry, chalky sensation when they react with the proteins found in your mouth, just like when you drink black tea.

Tannins provide backbone and structure to the wine, which is why they are used by winemakers to bring out the distinct flavours that we long for. The amount of tannin partially determines if a wine is drinkable. They can squeeze the grape to eliminate the juice to ensure that only a small amount of tannin is released. They can also crush the grapes to extract more tannin, just like what they do with red wine.

Second, wine has acidity. In wine tasting, “acidity” pertains to the sour, fresh, and tart attributes of the wine. There are three acids found in wine: citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. This trait is why your mouth puckers and salivates every time you drink certain types of wine.

  • Cheese

Cheese is creamy and fatty by nature. It also contains certain proteins that coat and lubricate the palate of your mouth when ingested.

Antagonism between fat and astringent sensations

Food scientists from the National Institute of Health did a study in 2012 that explores the role of mouthfeel in how people determine food pairings. The concept of “mouthfeel” pertains to the way a particular type of food is felt in the mouth.

Food scientists believe that foods on the opposite ends of the taste spectrum usually produce a satisfying taste sensation. Such a sensation is registered as a good match in the brain. The same thing is true for wine and cheese.

The results of this study also touch on the science behind “palate cleansing”. It’s a common concept in food pairing. Studies found that pleasant sensation results when creamy foods are alternated with astringent foods.

What causes the pleasant sensation brought by the wine and cheese combination?

Wines that contain a large amount of tannin can be harsh to our taste buds. It can also overpower the subtle flavours found in the wine. However, when the cheese is consumed with tannic wine, the fats and proteins found in cheese can break down the tannin. Cheese also coats the palate and protect it from the harshness of the tannin. That is the same reason why people in England add cream or milk to black tea.

Experts suggest a simple experiment to prove their point. First, try tasting a bold, tannic red wine. Then, mix a cube of hard cheese into the wine and let it sit for around two minutes. You will notice that the wine will taste smoother afterwards. You will also observe that the hard cheese will turn purple since it absorbs some of the tannins from the wine.

Cheese - The Science Behind Cheese Best Paired with Wine

Why do white wines also pair well with cheese?

Some might argue that white wines do not contain tannin, so what can explain the same pleasant sensation brought about by eating cheese with it? A lot of white wines have good acidity. This astringent property helps cut through the creaminess of the cheese. On the other hand, sparkling wines have effervescence and crisp acidity. It serves as a perfect counterpart to salty foods, making them a great pair with salty cheese.

Studies prove that wine and cheese really do go together

Sceptics may say that all of these theories are purely subjective. In 2016, a group of researchers in France actually dared to collect data to say otherwise. A new method called Temporal Dominance of Sensations (TDS) was developed to check how taste changes over time.

Previous methods used were static, wherein experts only give a numerical rating to describe the intensity of a particular flavour. However, approaches like this cannot describe how food and drinks affect each other. With TDS, the subjects of the study were requested to give the sensations they receive as they sip on wine. They were also asked to note the sensations they receive after they are given cheese and take more sips of wine.

Four varieties of wine and cheese were tested. Despite the several combinations given, all of the subjects noted that their wine tasting experience improved with the help of cheese.

Cheese - The Science Behind Cheese Best Paired with Wine

Discover the best wine and cheese combinations with Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours

Are you curious if you will also get the same experience when combining wine and cheese? If you are in Australia and are hoping to have an unforgettable wine-tasting experience, Hunter Valley should definitely be on top of your itinerary. It is one of the most popular wine regions in Australia. With over 180 years of experience in producing varieties of wine, a wine enthusiast like you will definitely feel like you are on cloud nine.

Ready? Our team at Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours is eager to accompany you in exploring the best wine and cheese combinations in this area. Contact us to schedule a wine tour today!

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