wine + cheese

oh, sweet cheese. sweet, glorious, delicious cheese!

*this is a revamp of a presentation I gave at work - nothing special, just an enthusiastic cheese eater/wine drinker's point of view*

Here in blogland we find ourselves talking about it fairly often and let’s face it, we’ve all done the uh, research. But how much do we really know about cheese and wine? Sure, we live in a time where we are encouraged to enjoy whatever foods we want with whatever we’re eating (and there is great merit to that, lord knows) but still, there are pairings for a reason…

Certain cheeses just taste better with certain wines!
(and vice versa!)

So let’s take a few minutes talk about something we love – food and drink!

(if anyone is opposed to this, I encourage you to eat a piece of cheese as that always seems to help ease the mind – plus, it’s a lot harder to raise opposition with a mouthful of cheese)
There are plenty of standard pairings for wines and cheese (i.e. champagne & brie, or port & Stilton) but for the sake of this investigation, we’re going to explore some more experimental partnerships in the land of cheese and wine.

And since I for one happen to be at the flavorful mercy of Willamette Valley Cheese already, that’s where we’ll focus.

Interested in a quick history of the company?


From the website: “It’s sunrise at Volbeda Farms. The creek runs cold and clear in the countryside surrounding Salem, Oregon. Rod Volbeda’s jersey cows are enjoying a breakfast of home-grown, fresh forage. Their milk is the prime ingredient for the award-winning line of Willamette Valley Cheese Company brand Gouda, Havarti, Jack,Cheddar,Brie,Fontina, Mozzarella and other farmstead cheeses.”


What does “farmstead” even mean?

From the American Cheese Society’s website: “In order for a cheese to be classified as ‘Farmstead’, as defined by the American Cheese Society, the cheese must be made with milk from the farmer’s own herd, or flock, on the farm where the animals are raised. Milk used in the production of farmstead cheeses may not be obtained from any outside source.”

Glad we got that cleared up – moving on!

Rob spent time as an apprentice with Dutch cheese masters in Holland where he learned some classic European recipes. But back in Oregon, he began to turn things in a more Pacific Northwest direction – that means the importance of keeping Willamette Valley Cheese’s product all natural from pastures to packaging.

(I knew I liked that stuff)

Rod also keeps things interesting by updating those tried-and-true recipes, adding in the exciting flavors of herbs and spices, smoke and aging to create new versions of the classic cheeses he first learned to create.

So where does all this cheesy goodness line up with wine?

It can be agreed on that harder cheeses pair nicely with heavier, tannic wines; creamier cheeses with something more acidic; and salty cheese with something that has a nice hint of sweetness about it.

But now the real fun begins… Time to put these basics into action and kick it up a few notches.

Let’s talk cheese + wine!

- for the sake of this post, I will be pairing Willamette Valley Cheeses with Erath Wines -

Brindisi & 2010 Oregon Pinot GrisThis Italian-style aged fontina was actually created by Rod! Fairly hard and with a nice kick of saltiness, this older fontina starts off pretty sharp but mellows into a rather creamy richness. That quality allows it to pair nicely with the crisp acidity of this classic pinot gris (also, that hint of sweetness compliments that salty component). It is also a nice balance considering fontinas tend to have milk fat contents of around 45%. Fun fact: Rod actually got to name this cheese – “Brindisi” is his mother’s maiden name.

Boerenkaas & 2010 Le Jour Magique White Pinot NoirThis aged gouda’s name literally means “farmer’s cheese” in Dutch. It is made from raw milk which means the milk was not pasteurized (“Cheeses made with unpasteurized (raw) milk can not be sold in the US unless they have been aged for at least 60 days…. After 60 days, the acids and salts in raw-milk cheese naturally prevent listeria, salmonella, and E. coli from growing.”) This cheese has a fairly buttery texture with hints of nuttiness and even some citrus, pairing up with the creamy decadence of the barrel-aged Le Jour Magique and its lemon and honey on the nose.

Smoked Gouda & 2009 Estate Selection Pinot NoirThis more traditional gouda is taken one step further in flavor when the wheels of cheese are placed downwind of a Traeger filled with smoking pellets of cherry and applewood. The smoke funnels through a pipe into an “oven” where the flavor is absorbed into the cheese. Pinot’s key characteristic is emphasized by the building flavor of smokiness in the cheese, and the toasty notes attributed to barrel-aging are accentuated by a creamy mouthfeel as it melts into your palette.  

Herbs de Provence Havarti & 2005 Neiderberger Pinot NoirTaking the smooth, creamy and sweetly mild havarti to another level, Willamette Valley Cheese adds the classic blend of herbs (some combination of oregano, sage, rosemary, basil & thyme) to create a flavor-packed bite. Though while the herbs are prominent, the flavor of the cheese is not lost. Pinot noir is a common havarti pairing, and with this cheese especially, a vintage that has definite spice and floral notes, along with the earthiness of the Dundee Hills, all flavors meld perfectly. The deeper cherry notes also compliment the herbaceous quality of the cheese.

Cranberry Havarti & 2010 Sweet Harvest Pinot Blanc – When pairing anything with a dessert wine, it is important to remember that what you eat should not be sweeter than what you drink. With that in mind, sweet wines are often paired with cheese and fruit. Havarti is easily complimented by a bright, acidic white wine and, tending toward mild saltiness as it ages, balances nicely with the high residual sugar of an ice-style wine. With the addition of the cranberry, a bit of tartness lends a hand in producing a mouthful of sweetness without being overpowering or cloying. Fun fact: the textures of the Cranberry Havarti and the Blueberry Havarti are drastically different because of the varying acid levels in the fruits.


So while this is only the tip of the iceberg, these are some jumping off points to discover new cheese and wine pairings of your own! The key things to keep in mind are balance and compliments.

·      Make sure the flavor of the wine won’t be overpowered by the flavor of the cheese (and vice versa)·      If the wine is slightly sweet, try to balance that out with a saltier cheese·      Find flavors that blend well and compliment one another, like a smoked cheese and a smoky pinot·      Above all, eat and drink what you like! And don’t be afraid to experiment!


For more information:


  1. WIll you do a wine and cheese post every week? I want to absorb your knowledge.

  2. This is fantastic. Now I want to have a wine and cheese party. I will be returning your email shortly (clearly lies about getting back to you this weekend) and we will swap addresses for some local wines to enjoy!!

  3. So I was kind of bummed that I wasn't able to make it to your presentation, because I will ASSUME that there was wine AND cheese there? Yes? Also, I could have raised my hand and asked you (in a very south Alabama redneck voice), "What about the Velveeta and Boone's Farm? My cousin Cletus says that Strawberry Nights goes best with Velveeta, on Ritz of course, and I wanted to get your professional opinion."

    PS Your job sounds amazing and you are a very knowledgable employee!