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Matchmaking: wine and cheese

Natassja Hoogstad Hay

Wine and cheese are without a doubt two of life’s greatest luxuries, and when properly paired, a true joy.

Despite being a great lover of both, I can’t say I know much about matching the two. It’s usually just a case of “buy cheese”, “buy wine”. I’ve never put much thought into which wines and cheeses complement each other.

A new series hosted at Joe’s Bar at East Hotel has arrived just in time to educate us in the art of wine and cheese and of course, there will be plenty of tasting – it’s the only way learn, really.

Starting today, Wednesday 17 February, and likely to be held monthly, each event will introduce an intimate group of fifteen guests to a different region of Italy. The Italian theme reflects Joe’s Italian-themed menu and wine list, as well as the heritage of East Hotel’s owners.

Joes_bar_photo_1 (1)

First up is Piedmont in Italy’s north, a region which shares borders with France and Switzerland and sits at the foot of the Alps.

Guiding us on the journey are local wine guru Fergus McGhie and Janet Gavey, cheese buyer and co-owner of Essential Ingredient in Kingston (aka foodie heaven).

When it comes to Italian wines, I usually stick with what I know, which admittedly isn’t much: prosecco, pinot grigio and chianti. On Italian wine regions, I don’t have much of a clue. Yet. Fergus tells me that Piedmont is famous for its arneis (a soft, full-bodied style white), barbaresco and nebbiolo red varieties, which are all on Wednesday’s menu.

Joe’s Bar’s wine list, which Fergus developed, features around 120 varieties (a lot for a small bar!) and is all about Italian and Italian-style wines, with a good representation of local wines too. Although an extensive list this underlying philosophy brings cohesion and character to the menu.

While the local wineries are familiar to many Canberrans, Fergus says the idea behind these events is to bring more awareness to some of the lesser-known Italian varieties, of which there are hundreds. No prior knowledge needed (phew).

“It’s really casual,” says Fergus. “You don’t have to be a connoisseur, it’s just a chance to get together with some friends, try some lovely wines and learn more about the region.”

Photo #2 caption: Inside the cheese room at Essential Ingredient

Inside the cheese room at Essential Ingredient

As for the cheese to match, Janet has an array ready to match the wines, mostly from the region. With the enviable job of sourcing the finest cheeses from around Europe and Australia for Essential Ingredient, Janet knows her cheese.

Wednesday’s menu includes rocchetta, a creamy white mould variety made with cow and sheep’s milk; washed-rind rosso di langa; and capra al foglia di noce, a semi-hard goat’s milk cheese wrapped in walnut leaves. I got a preview in Essential Ingredient’s cheese room and they all look amazing (see photo above!).

Since Wednesday’s event can only fit a small group, I asked Janet for a few tips on how to match wines and cheeses to share with HerCanberra readers. Janet’s only caveat was simply “if you like it you’re allowed to eat it”.

“For something like acidic champagne, you need as much fat as possible, like a French triple cream brie,” explains Janet. “White wine goes best with a white mould or a semi-hard cheese.”

Janet says she only matches blue cheeses with dessert wines: “the sugar in dessert wine and salt in the blue is fantastic.” For big reds, cheddar goes well as the fat binds with the tannins.

Another of Janet’s tips is that “what grows together, goes together”. This refers to washed-rind cheeses, which are usually washed in regionally-produced wine. So a washed-rind cheese and a wine from the same region will generally be a good match.

Can’t be too hard to remember for my next dinner party, can it?

the essentials

What: Italian Wine and Cheese Masterclass, tickets $55 per person, includes a glass of prosecco on arrival, sample six wines from Piedmont, paired with selected cheese. Selection of antipasto platters provided following the class.
When: Today, Wednesday 17 February (further dates TBC)
Where: Joe’s Bar at East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston ACT 2604
Enquiries: 02 6178 0050, or visit www.joesateast.com

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Natassja Hoogstad Hay

Natassja Hoogstad Hay is a communications professional working in Canberra. An unashamed foodie, she loves cooking and going out to eat, and has a special love of coffee and wine. She’s obsessed with social media (handy in her field!) and is working on perfecting her Instagram game. In her spare time you might find her at a yoga class, cosied up on the couch with a book or the TV, or outside taking photos of beautiful Canberra sunsets.

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