In our series on Canadian Cheese, cheese lover Ashley Linkletter explores why now's the time to get excited about Canadian cheeses. Are you curious about pairing blue cheese and dessert wine? Today Ashley shows us how to conduct a tasting to discover which cheeses and wines show each other to best advantage.

Canadian Cheese: Tips for Pairing Blue Cheese and Dessert Wines

As with any healthy relationship, blue cheese and dessert wine bring out the best in one another. The saltiness of blue cheese becomes more pleasantly pronounced when paired with the sweetness of many dessert wines. As for the wine, subtle notes that might otherwise have lingered in the background are suddenly made clear as soon as they're matched with a suitably strong blue cheese.

Whether it’s the delicious tradition of sipping on port while making your way through a hunk of Stilton or trying some of the many Canadian dessert wines with one of the many impressive blue cheeses being made in our country today, it’s always fun to discover the intricate relationships between cheese and wine.

It’s also just as interesting to discover pairs that don’t work at all, despite what you may have thought going into the tasting. If you’re worried about mispairings, especially if wine and cheese make up an entire course at a dinner party, buy the smallest amounts of cheese possible and try them ahead of time with a bottle of the wine you’ll be serving to your guests. You’ll get the satisfaction of arranging a perfect pairing while having fun making your own tasting notes.

General Tasting Tips

If possible, let your cheese sit out at room temperature for an hour before the tasting. Likewise, serve wine at the correct temperature and give it some time to breathe before pouring. (Check with the helpful folks working at the wine shop ... they're usually a wealth of information.)

Cubed pieces of baguette make excellent palate cleansers, especially with some of the more strongly-flavoured blue cheeses.

It’s helpful to leave out some small pieces of paper and a couple of writing instruments in case anyone wants to jot down their tasting notes (but feel free to do most of the comparisons via conversation).

Finally, try not to go into tastings with preconceived ideas about what should pair together. You’ll discover some new favourites while learning that some classic pairings are seriously underwhelming.

The Dessert Wines

Pairing Blue Cheese & Dessert Wine

2016 Botrytis Affected Optima — Quail’s Gate, Okanagan Valley

  • Tasting notes: This dessert wine is made from Optima grapes that have been affected by the mold botrytis cinerea (also known as “noble rot”). This mold causes the grapes to dehydrate and shrivel up, resulting in extra-concentrated fruit sugars. Lighter than many other dessert wines, Botrytis Affected Optima has notes of apricots, pears, quince, and honey.

2016 Platinum Reisling Icewine — CedarCreek, Kelowna

  • Tasting notes: Made from Riesling grapes that were picked at night while the temperature was a very chilly -10° C, this Platinum Reisling Icewine has intense notes of peaches, apricots, pears, and tropical fruits. Slightly syrupy, this icewine is also mildly acidic, which works to cut through some of the intense sweetness.
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The Cheeses and Their Pairings

Pairing Blue Cheese & Dessert Wine

Bleu d’Elizabeth — Fromagerie du Presbytère, Centre-du-Québec

  • Type of cheese: Semi-firm blue cheese
  • Type of milk: Raw cow’s milk (technically the milk is thermalized, but Health Canada doesn’t distinguish between unpasteurized and thermalized milk)
  • Tasting notes: Bleu d’Elizabeth is a great blue cheese for beginners to die-hard fans; buttery, not-too-salty, and with notes of hazelnuts, this spreadable cheese an ideal pairing for sweet dessert wines.
  • Perfect pair: Everyone agreed that the Bleu d’Elizabeth was a delicious pairing with both wines. The lighter taste and subtle stone fruit notes of the Botrytis Affected Optima wasn’t overwhelmed by the cheese and it felt like “there is just one thing in your mouth rather than two textures.” The Riesling Icewine lessened some of the intensity of the Bleu d’Elizabeth and the cheese brought out the pear notes in the wine.

Bleu Bénédictin — Fromagerie de L’Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Cantons-de-l’Est

  • Type of cheese: Semi-firm blue cheese
  • Type of milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
  • Tasting notes: Made by the Benedictine monks at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Quebec, Bleu Bénédictin is a great blue cheese for beginners. While not overly salty, this memorable cheese has a not-too-intimidating bite as well as notes of fresh churned butter and wild mushrooms. Bleu Bénédictin traditionally pairs well with sweet dessert wines, fortified wines, and Rieslings.
  • Perfect pair: One taster particularly loved Bleu Bénédictin with the Botrytis Affected Optima, observing that the lighter, crisp flavours of the wine helped to enhance some the the cheese's buttery notes. It was unanimously agreed that the intense fruitiness of the Riesling Icewine was somewhat lessened by the natural sharpness of the cheese in a way that was pleasing to the palate.

Castello Canada Gorgonzola — Arla Foods Canada

  • Type of cheese: Firm blue cheese
  • Type of milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
  • Tasting notes: This cheese is modeled after classic Italian Gorgonzola DOP although it's considerably firmer, saltier, and less nuanced than the original cheese. Out of all the cheeses we sampled this one definitely had the biggest “funk” factor and we quickly discovered this cheese didn’t pair well at all with the dessert wines. In fact, this was an excellent opportunity to learn about unsuccessful pairings (which are often more interesting to talk about than successful ones).
  • Perfect pairing: Although the cheese didn’t work well with either the Botrytis Affected Optima or the Riesling Icewine, we all thought it would be right at home with a big Italian red wine. As an aside, we also thought that the Castello Gorgonzola would also be delicious crumbled into polenta or mashed potatoes.

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Canadian Cheese is written by Ashley Linkletter. Ashley is a Vancouver-based cheese expert, writer and blogger at musicwithdinner. You can connect with Ashley on Twitter or Instagram.

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