Max McCalman of the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center in New York gives a wine a cheese pairing class during the Rogue Creamery's sixth annual Oregon Cheese Festival Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Cheese and wine are a perfect pair

Wine and cheese pairings offer a limitless exploration, but a few tips can help increase the chances of harmony, as some of the revelers at the Oregon Cheese Festival, held at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point, learned Saturday during a class with one of America's leading cheese experts.

"This is something Americans think about a lot," said Max McCalman, dean of curriculum at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center in New York City. "What makes wine and cheese work well together?"

McCalman should know.

He was the first American restaurant cheese connoisseur to be named Maitre Fromager (Master Cheesemaker) from France's Guilde des Fromagers (Guild of Cheesemakers).

His latest book, with co-author David Gibbons, is "Mastering Cheese: Lessons from Connoisseurship From Maitre Fromager."

The perception of a good wine and cheese match is partly related to the conditions under which a person is eating wine and cheese, McCalman said.

"If you are hungry or thirsty and there's a lot of anticipation, the wine and cheese are probably going to work because cheese is the best thing you can put in your mouth," he said.

Like many relationships in life, the relationship between a wine and cheese is a "balancing act," he said. Neither should overwhelm the flavor of the other.

The Fraga Farms Rio Santiam goat cheese with the Domaine Paradox 2007 Pinot Noir provided some of that balance.

"The salt in the cheese brought out the berry flavor," McCalman said, after tasting both.

But don't jump to conclusions when tasting wine and cheese. The flavor on first contact is going to change slightly, for the better or for the worse.

Next, consider temperature.

"Wine should be presented at the right temperature, and cheese should be at room temperature," he said. "In America, we tend to drink white wine too cold and red wine too warm. This does affect pairing."

The soil, weather conditions and nourishment of the grapes — or in the case of the cheese, the milk-producing mammal — also play a role in the flavors and textures of the products and how they interact.

When tasting wine and cheese, it's a good idea to keep a neutral palate by avoiding beverages like coffee beforehand or cleaning the palate with water and/or bread and crackers, which help lift acids off the tongue, he said.

He recommends keeping a list of good pairings to refer to later.

Two of the class's favorite pairings were the Rivers Edge Chevre Full Moon, out of Logsden, with the Roxy Ann 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris, out of Talent, and the Willamette Valley Creamery Brindisi Fontina with the Domaine Paradox 2007 Pinot Noir, also out of the Rogue Valley.

"The Pinot Noir makes the Fontina creamier," said Lez Trujillo, who visited the festival from Chicago.

Saturday was McCalman's second visit to the Oregon Cheese Festival, now in its sixth year.

His presence is a testament to how prominent the Oregon cheese scene has become nationally and internationally.

"Vermont is worried about Oregon and have been comparing their cheeses to Oregon's," McCalman said.

Scott MacAdam, a Takilma resident, said he took the class to discover new ideas for wine and cheese pairings.

"The more you expose yourself, the more open-minded and the more you find things you like," MacAdam said. "It's not like there is just one right way to combine wines. I came here just to try new combinations."

MacAdam, who read two of McCalman's books on cheese, said he likes McCalman's take on cheese because it focuses on the nutritional richness of cheese and the loss of some of that value through pasteurization.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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