Time to Dine on Spanish Cheese & Wine
Need another excuse to indulge in Spanish cheese and wine? National Wine and Cheese Day is on the horizon, so let’s get our pairings together with the help of expert Gretchen Thomas
As if anyone ever needed an excuse to indulge in cheese and wine, along comes National Wine and Cheese Day. This delicious occasion helps us remember the necessities of life, and the pleasure of pairing them.. Naturally we’re looking to Spain and it’s ample larder for inspiration. But where to start?. We enlisted the help of Gretchen Thomas, Vice President Creative of the Barcelona Wine Bar brand, for her in-depth guidance on the matter.
Gretchen Thomas’ long career as sommelier focusing on Spanish wines makes her a highly qualified authority. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, she also has a host of Spanish wine qualifications under her belt, including Sherry Specialist and Spanish Wine Scholar. She takes time out from a busy season - opening two new Barcelona Wine Bar locations in Miami, Florida and Cambridge, Massachusetts - to give us the finest wine and cheese pairings from Spain to put on the table.
If you could pick one Spanish wine and cheese region, which would it be and why?
“A cheese from Castilla y León - Leonora - is a creamy aged goat cheese with a bloom on the exterior that literally rocks my world. Leonora is made by a very small artisanal cheese producer that has their own herd of goats. They take a lot of care with their fermentation, with different aging profiles. If I was to match it with anything it would be with wines from neighboring Bierzo DO, like a Mencía wine because it’s so fruity with acidity. Paired with the natural intensity of the Leonora, it is like heaven, honestly.”
Hailing from the León region in North Western Spain, Leonora is a semi-soft cheese made with alpine goat milk. It has a creamy, tangy center, while the ashy outside crust contributes to a slightly smoky taste. Produced using artisan practices, the brick-like shape and complex flavor give this cheese its unique appeal - think lemon undertones with herbs! Other wine pairing suggestions for Leonora cheese also stay reasonably local - try it with Albariño if you like white wine.
Can you give us five classic Spanish cheese and wine pairings?
1. “Manchego DOP - I consider manchego to be almost like Spain’s version of a parmesan, it's good both young and aged. I like to put it with similar wines, such as tempranillo, particularly from DOQ Rioja. It’s fun to pair a young manchego with a young tempranillo, then aged with aged etc.”
2. “Queso Idiazabal DOP - it’s a mild cheese and interesting to cook with too. In terms of pairing, I would look for acidity, for example a Txakoli has green apple and floral flavor, or a white wine from Galicia.”
3. “Mahón-Menorca DOP - this can be pretty soft and delicate, our chefs like to layer this with other things. Being a nice, creamy, fatty cheese, something like a Mediterranean garnacha is really appropriate for this.”
4. “Queso Tetilla DOP - this teardrop shaped cheese can sometimes be quite smoky, usually made with cow milk. From Galicia, this cheese is excellent with an unoaked white wine, such as a Godello.”
5. “Cabrales DOP - I’m particularly fond of Valdeón, as a less intense version of Cabrales blue cheeses. Classically I would put it with a sweet wine, such as PX sherry, you could practically pour this one on top of the cheese and enjoy it like that!”
What would be your best Spanish wine pairing for queso trufado - truffled cheese?
“When it comes to pairing with truffle, and that beautiful earthy mushroomy quality, a light red wine that has to have structure and earthiness, like a Trepat from Catalunya or a garnacha from Sierra de Gredos, close to Madrid. These Sierra de Gredos wines have tannin, floral aroma and a real sense of mountain - like herbs and red fruit but a surprising amount of structure. Those elements go really nicely with something, like truffle, that can handle it.”
What’s an unexpected wine and cheese pairing to try in 2022?
“Just recently, we’re bringing in cheeses from the Canary Islands. There are some pretty interesting things going on there. One of my favorites is a cow and goat cheese that is aged with local ingredients, for example with a cornmeal rind that really infuses grainy aromatic flavor. Another variety is aged in pimentón - paprika - so the whole exterior is a terracotta burnt red rind but the interior is a golden cheese. These cheeses from the Canary Islands have really unique profiles, so when you think of the wines - particularly the reds - from this region which are light, low alcohol, with a distinct volcanic island quality, you’ve got a really cool pairing to seek out.”
What are your tips for wine beginners, particularly with regard to Spanish wines?
“We do have people who come to Barcelona Wine Bar who aren’t really into wine. So the best first step would be to try a wine cocktail, like sangría, or another mixed drink where wine is the main component, adding fresh fruit and citrus. Another option would be a vermouth, all by itself, as a good introduction because of its sweetness. On the other hand, for someone that wants to dive into Spain in particular for the first time, they need to start somewhere as there’s a huge spectrum of pricing and flavor. Find an Albariño wine from Rias Baixas, this is a great example of how beautiful - and reliable - a Spanish wine can be. In terms of red wine, the Rioja region is the first rock you need to turn over if you’ve never had a red wine - it’s so different from the rest.”
Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or a total beginner, there’s an exciting Spanish pairing out there that will surprise the palate, so go on - all that cheese and wine won’t eat itself…