White wines pair beautifully with cheese. Liz Thorpe, author of “The Book of Cheese,” says serving oaky Chardonnay with creamy havarti is “crowd-friendly cheese and wine 101.” The Kitchn swears by floral Gewürztraminer with gooey, pungent morbier. And Loire Valley chèvre is “perfect” with local Pouilly Fumé and other Sauvignon Blancs.Yet the French, masters of all things cheese-related, tend to serve their cheese boards with red wines only. Comment dit-on, what gives?
The practice is more cultural than culinary, explains Anne Moreau, a public relations official for Maison Louis Moreau in Bourgogne. “During the First World War, the daily ration given to soldiers included one Camembert cheese and 25 centiliters of red wine,” she says.
These rations may strike contemporary servicemen and women as luxurious, but the impetus was practical. Polluted water supplies made bottled wine safer for soldiers to drink.
French winemakers were primarily producing red wine at the time, too, Moreau says. “They had replanted new varieties after the phylloxera disaster,” she says, and vintners were seeing “much higher yield.” Donating surplus juice to soldiers in the field boosted morale.
Toward the end of the war, wine rations in the field were up to 75 centiliters. “The alcohol was much lower, so the soldiers could drink it on a daily basis,” Moreau explains.
Today, French armed forces reportedly no longer receive alcoholic rations, though they have been known to paratroop into battle with MREs of canned cassoulet.
Regardless, Moreau says, the red wine and cheese pairing persists in civilian life. Traditions are harder to break than old Comté.
I unleashed six extremely stinky cheeses in my apartment until my nostrils couldn’t take it anymore.
There was no missing the smell, even in the hallway outside. “Whoa,” said more than one person as they stepped into my apartment, most clutching wine for the sake of courage as much as for pairing. I’d assembled these friends (maybe former friends, now) as human guinea pigs with one purpose: To find the very stinkiest cheese. Submitted for our approval were seven assertive, pungent, and occasionally quite freaky creations—provided by Murray’s Cheese and curated by Elizabeth Chubbuck, the Greenwich Village–based cheese purveyor’s senior vice president of sales and marketing and, as far as my nose is concerned, a diabolical dairy-wielding sadist. (A very nice sadist, but still.)