7 All-American Cheese and Wine Pairings
We are living in the golden age of American-made cheese. The once adolescent category is now coming into confident, delicious and diverse adulthood. As you plan summertime gatherings, these domestic cheeses will add sophistication and joy to any spread—all the while celebrating the country that birthed them. Naturally, we love to pair them with fantastic American wine.
“There are many cheesemakers who have been celebrated regionally and are starting to gain more national attention,” says Jessica Kesselman, host of Cutting the Curd, a cheese-focused podcast on Heritage Radio Network. “I think about Perrystead Dairy in Philadelphia, Blakeville Creamery in Wisconsin and Mystic Cheese Company in Connecticut. These are cheesemakers who have been working steadily in the industry for a while now and are creating true American originals.”
Many of the creameries that were just starting to get distribution in independent cheese shops when Kesselman first began working at the cheese counter in the early 2000s are now mainstays in supermarket chains, and even sold globally. “I think social media and podcasts help people discover new cheesemakers, but I also think the rise in e-commerce during the pandemic helped people find cheeses that aren’t available where they live,” she explains. New independent cheese shops are opening, she adds, plus grocery stores are raising the bar for their cheese selections.
When pairing them with wine, “I strive for a balance, some type of harmony where the cheese and the wine sing together,” says Kesselman. Here are seven American cheese and wine pairings—which might be the most delicious display of patriotism.
American Cheese and Wine Pairings to Try
92 Points Wine Enthusiast
Brie lovers will fall for this pudgy, smooth beauty from Mystic Cheese Co. in Groton, Connecticut. Made from single-herd milk from local farms, Melinda Mae is named for a beloved Shel Silverstein poem. It has a delicate sweetness and is perfect for packing in your picnic basket with a bottle of pink bubbles.
“[A bright] acidity is key to get your mouth watering and to cut through the paste on your palate,” says Pamela Vachon, certified sommelier and cheese writer. “Acidity primes you for the next bite of butterfat richness.”
Sparkling wines are also generally lower in alcohol, with a lighter body. “Let the cheese carry the weight here,” Vachon says.
90 Points Wine Enthusiast
Humboldt Fog is a gorgeous wheel of goat’s milk cheese with a clean, lemony and lactic taste that becomes earthier and mustier with age. Its bright white, smooth paste is bisected with a thin line of black vegetable ash. It was created by Mary Keens at Cypress Grove Chevre in McKinleyville, California and named after Humboldt County’s thick morning fog. Keens started crafting goat cheeses in the 1980s and helped lead the American artisanal cheesemaking revolution.
Libby Brodie, founder of Bacchus & Brodie wine consultancy and the wine columnist for London’s City AM newspaper, recommends pairing it with a cool Sauvignon Blanc.
“The classic pairing for goat cheese is Sancerre,” says Brodie. “I’d look for a Sauvignon Blanc leaning towards the grassy, mineral French style rather than the more tropical fruity notes from New Zealand. This will lift the earthiness of the goat cheese and smooth over its chalky texture.”
Goat cheeses from Vermont Creamery and Oregon’s Rivers Edge Chevre also make great friends with Sauvignon Blanc.
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
Kesselman taught a class recently in which she paired Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a Pinot Noir from Oregon.
“The wine had some herb, black cherry and vanilla notes that went beautifully with the cheese,” she says.
But what really made the pairing sing was the silky smooth textures in both the wine and cheese. “Soft tannins and low acidity complemented the cheese so well, which was rich and earthy. Taking a sip after having a bite of cheese was like putting on a silk robe,” Kesselman recalls.
The cheesemaker, Mike Gingrich, makes smooth, firm Pleasant Ridge Reserve from raw milk produced by his 150-cow herd in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, during the summer months, when the cows graze on the lush pastures. The cheese takes on a fruity, olive-like depth. It’s a full-flavored award-winner—a sort of American gruyère. If you for some reason have any extra, melt it on a burger or pack slices for lunch with an apple and crusty bread.
90 Points Wine Enthusiast
“American cheddars, young and aged, are really rich and bright,” says Vachon. Some have tart, yogurt-like notes, and others have a touch of sweetness. “A rich Cabernet Sauvignon stands up to cheddar and yields in the right places. They have good amounts of acidity, the tannins can balance out the creaminess of the cheese and the fruit complements the cheese,” Vachon explains.
Cabot has been crafting cheese for more than a hundred years in Vermont, and their five-Year Cheddar is puckery, powerful and well-rounded. It’s a gorgeous example of American cheddar. Savory and sweet, rich and smooth while at the same time bold and balanced, it’s ideal for snacking and melting over a bowl of chili.
90 Point Wine Enthusiast
American cheesemakers, unencumbered by the strict traditions and rules of their European colleagues, are free to play. Murray’s Cave Aged Limited Shiso Chizu is the sort of unexpected delight that happens when that play goes well. Murray’s wraps squares of fresh cheese from Old Chatham Creamery in sake-soaked shiso leaves and stashes them in their Long Island City cheese caves. A bloomy rind forms around the shiso, which infuses the rich cheese with an herbaceous freshness.
“You want to be sure to let the herbal notes of the cheese shine,” says Brodie. “A rosé is excellent as they often have subtle floral and hedgerow notes, too, which won’t dominate the cheese.” This makes a spot-on summertime snack—just add some fruit salad and your favorite sunnies.
89 Points Wine Enthusiast
At Jasper Hill in Vermont, baby Harbison wheels are wrapped in strips of spruce cambium, the tree’s inner bark layer, which harvested from the operation’s own woodlands. As Harbison ripens, it develops a pudding-like gooeyness, perfect for dipping right into with a piece of crusty baguette (or a spoon), and a subtle mushroom-y funk. This is a cheese with staying power—and the power to make an impression.
“Washed rinds are often some of the most difficult to pair because high alcohol or firm tannins can often clash with the cheese’s rowdier notes,” says Vachon. “A little sweetness can go a long way here to soften the edges while still emphasizing the cheese’s complexity, as with an off-dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes.”
Don’t know what to serve for dessert? A wheel of Harbison, a sleeve of Raincoast Crisps and a bottle of semi-dry Riesling may just be the perfect finish to a summertime feast.
98 Points Wine Enthusiast
“A blue cheese typically has a powerfully strong flavor, so it needs a powerful wine to meet it,” Brodie advises. “They also have this lovely saltiness to them, so my first choice would be a sweet dessert-style wine to create that gorgeous salty-sweet combo.”
As it ages, Rogue Creamery’s Cavement Blue develops a fudgy, creamy texture with earthy notes of shiitake mushroom and brown butter. Serve it for dessert with shards of dark chocolate and honeyed late harvest Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc or add it to roasted squash for a welcome peppery blue bite.
Published on May 26, 2023