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.