Lou DiPaolo is the head cheese guru at DiPaolo’s in Little Italy, and being an avid consumer of Italian cheeses he even knows a thing or two about wine pairings, which will be the focus of his workshop.
Read on for some amazingly detailed tips and tricks (Spoiler Alert: A recipe for cheesy Valentine’s Day Seduction is included.)
What’s a good rule of thumb when putting together a cheese course? How can a host streamline the pairings?
A good rule of thumb to remember is: Diversity
Diversity in the:
The presentation of the cheese plate should reflect this diversity, the cross section of terrains. Below are a few examples that represent diversity on these levels:
A young cheese such as Asiago Pressato DOP which has a soft, buttery rich quality texture and a creamy finish. The secret is the freshness of this milk produced by cows who feed on the rich fertile pasture lands of the Asiago Plateau at the base of the Alps.
I might also include a Piave DOP made from the milk of free grazing cows in the Veneto’s beautiful Belluno province. This is a hard, but smooth textured cheese, with a nutty flavor reminiscent of hazelnut.
A terrific cheese called Valtellina Casera DOP is made in Northern Lombary near the Swiss border. Casera is a medium hard cheese, it is neither hard nor soft. This cheese has a wonderful tangy flavor from the local milk that contains hints of wild herbs and grasses native to the Valtellina.
Finally, I would introduce to the cheese plate a historic cheese such as Grana Padano DOP. This cheese is actually produced within 5 of Italy’s 20 regions. One region where it’s made for example is Lombardy in the provinces of Brescia and Cremona. The rich sweet milk imparts a sweetness in the cheese that is extremely pleasing to the palate. This sweetness coupled with its unique, crunchy texture is amazing.
They say, “What grows together, goes together,” would you say that rule holds true for cheese pairings as well?
Definitely. I always like to choose food products from with the same region.
An air-dried beef bresaola from the Valtellina topped with shavings of Casera Cheese and finished with Olive Oil made from olives grown along the Lombard banks of Lake Garda is an example. With this Breseaola, I would serve a local wine like Nino Negri’s Inferno Valtellina Superiore DOCG made from nebbiolo grapes.
Another favorite dish of mine that speaks to this idea is a risotto made with Vialone Nano rice typical of the Veneto. This rich, creamy risotto dish incorporates grated Grana Padano cheese that is also produced locally in Verona or Vicenza and really intensifies the flavor. This Vialone Nano Risotto dish is complimented beautifully by a Valpolicella wine like the Cesari, Mara Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso DOC also from the Veneto. This wine is made principally from local grapes mainly Corvina followed by Rondinella and a small percentage of Molinara.
Are there particular rules or guidelines when it comes to wine pairing with cheese textures?
There are no rules. Everyone has their own tastes. It’s a discovery process. Every individual needs to understand what best satisfies their own unique palate. There is no right or wrong way.
That being said, I personally really enjoy a sparkling wine such as the Bellavista Francia Corta with the grainy crunchy texture of a flavorful aged Grana Padano such as the Stravecchio Oro del Tempo when served as an aperitivo. If instead this cheese is served as the final compliment to the meal than an alternate pairing would be a slightly sparkling red frizzante wine like the Rosa Regale Bracchetto d’Acqui. This effervescent red is fresh with pleasant fruit that will cleanse the palate and partners well with this cheese at the conclusion of a meal.
A medium aged firm textured cheese like the Valtellina Casera, which is slightly moist in the center but overall firm, pairs nicely with a nebbiolo based wine which is complex but doesn’t overpower the cheese.
Aged cheeses that are smooth, firm and dense in flavor such as the Piave – domand a vino Corposo , that is with body & structure to handle the cheese. I would say at a minimum a ripasso wine can pair well all the way to an Amarone which is likewise dense in flavor, rich and sits like velvet on the palate.
Are certain wines always or most often better with soft cheeses etc.?
It’s always a matter of personal taste. I would say a soft cheese needs an easy drinking wine. It does depend on the soft cheese however. For instance a cheese with a buttery, creamy texture like Asiago will pair well with a refreshing white such as a soave or prosecco from the Veneto.
A complex soft cheese such as Taleggio would require a full bodied, rich red wine. If it’s something like a 3 milk cheese for instance the Alta Langa- Toma della Rocca from the Piedmont you will need a complex red like a Barbaresco or Barolo.
In Tuscany for example, where the sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino Toscano DOP is produced, you will need a wine with more tartness to compliment this type of cheese like a Sangiovese which is well suited and counterbalances the robust character of Pecorino. The Banfi, Belnero cultivated in the Montalcino territory almost exclusively from Sangiovese grapes with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and a Montefalco Rosso wine made from Sangiovese, Merlot and Sangrantino from Umbria will both pair well with the Pecorino Toscano .
What’s a versatile wine to accompany the “I have no idea what to pair with this cheese” dilemma? Or a versatile cheese?
Wine: A wine that will go with almost any cheese is the Nero d’Avola from Sicily. It will compliment a strong, sheep’s milk cheese like pecorino and yet has a remarkable fruit character that will pair well with a softer milder cheese like a fresh caciocavallo from Sicily made from sheep or cow’s milk.
Cheese: A fontina Val d’ Aosta is a cheese that compliments both red and white wines. It pairs well with white wines due to its softer texture. Its complexity of flavor however allows this cheese to stand up to the boldest of reds.
It‘s almost Valentine’s day–if you had to pick one wine/cheese combo to celebrate amore (or be seduced) what would it be?
I would pick a gorgeous pink hued Franciacorta Rose’ from Brescia near Lake Garda and couple it with a Robiolo due latte cheese from Piedmont. This cheese represents the marriage of two milks- sheep and cow. It tends to be soft hearted, a little runny and slightly sweet. A near perfect Valentine’s day wine and cheese combo in my opinion.
What’s a good versatile, inexpensive wine/cheese combination?
A good quality bottle of Italian wine can be found between 10 & 15 dollars. I would suggest serving a Primitivo Wine from Puglia with an aged piece of imported provolone. The provolone which is sharp and intense in flavor will satisfy the palate and compliment the Primitivo making a fulfilling combination. Provolone is not inexpensive per se but a smaller portion will go farther as it is satisfying.
If you had to pair a wine with Cheez Whiz or Velveeta,what would it be?
To me Cheez Whiz is best served on a salty cracker like a Saltine or Ritz. I would pair it with a Sangue di Giuda Wine from the Oltrepo Pavese. This wine, served slightly chilled is refreshing , slightly sweet with a dry finish and will nicely compliment the saltiness of the cheez whiz served atop a salty cracker.
As for the Velveeta, I would enjoy it in a grilled cheese sandwiched slathered with deli mustard. In this case I would go to the dark side and enjoy a nice cold beer with the grilled cheese sandwich.
Lou’s seminar is part of the Italian Cheese Road Tour presented by Agriform in collaboration the Italian Trade Commission and featuring the Igourmet POP UP CHeese Shop. It’s on Saturday, March 2 @ 2:30 pm. Check out Igourmet.com or visit Lou himself at Di Palo’s Fine Foods at 200 Grand Street for some fantastic formaggio!
Click here to buy tickets to the Expo, and be sure to use the code CORKED10 for $15 off!