Perfect Port and Cheese Pairings.
There’s no better time than now to discover artisan cheese. With hospitality industry lurching from lockdown to lockdown, producers of those very special morsels of cheese you find on a posh cheese board are suffering. At the end of the food chain and with production that can’t be put on hold and an end product that can’t often be stored, I know from industry sources there has been something of a cheese mountain at times. And, once you’ve tried artisan cheese at home, I suspect you’ll find it hard to return to supermarket blocks of cheddar (other than for cooking). Already a convert I was delighted to be invited to learn more about how to pair cheese and port from the lovely people at Paxton and Whitfield. Samples of cheese, half bottles of port and a zoom session to find out more. As someone who drinks white port chilled on its own as an aperitif or as port and tonic in the summer and who sips tawny port with nutty desserts or with chocolate, it was a revelation.
We started with Fonseca Siroco White Port, served chilled and paired with Manchego Curado PDO. Now, having hesitated at the idea of white port and cheese on reflection this was a perfectly legitimate choice. In Spain and Portugal, your aperitif will often be accompanied by morsels of cheese, charcuterie and almonds. The delicious Manchego Curado won Best Cheese in Spain in 2016 and is made to a 100-year-old recipe with unpasteurised milk from the manchego sheep. Aged for 9 months it’s deliciously nutty and really complements the sweet, smooth, ripe fruit notes of the Fonseca Siroco which comes from the cooler higher vineyards of the Douro Valley. With an RRP of £17 this is a Port to enjoy both as an aperitif and, as I discovered, with cheese if you are looking for a fresh, nutty accompaniment to your board or simply want to give diners the option of a white Port.
Three ruby ports were paired with four kinds of cheese. I have to confess to mixing and matching and I doubt I’d serve more than one of these.
Fonseca Bin 27 is a modestly priced Port blended from selected reserve Ports that are chosen for their fruity character and full-bodied rounded palate. It’s just £14 for a full bottle but has a lovely velvety texture and is full of autumn fruit flavours. The recommended cheese pairing was a robust Golden Cross unpasteurised goats cheese from East Sussex. My youngish sample was full of zing and really worked well with the Bin 27.
The Fonseca Late Bottled Vintage 2015 has an RRP of £18. I’m a huge fan of LBV Port – it seems to me to have many of the benefits of a vintage port at a value price point. The Fonseca LBV has an RRP of £18 and offers a mouthful of summer fruits that paired beautifully with the Westcombe Cheddar PDO that we enjoyed.
Of the three ruby ports, the Fonseca Guimaraens 2008 was outstanding. An RRP of £28 for a bottle made this moe most expensive of the ports we tried but this fine wine was utterly delicious. We tasted it first with Shropshire Blue from Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire. It’s an interesting cheese to partner the port, with a nutty taste and distinctive colour both from the annatto colourant and from the dense blue veining. I’m a huge fan of our second cheese, the Crozier Blue from Cashel Blue which is a delicious blue sheep’s milk cheese.
Finally, we tried the Paxton’s 10-year-old tawny, served chilled, which has an RRP of £24.95 for 50cl. This was paired for us with Gruyere Premier Cru. I loved the delicate fruity notes of the Gruyere and having tried some of the ruby ports as a pairing can really appreciate how well the tawny port paired here.
For me, it was an eye-opening tasting because some of the pairings were ones I wouldn’t have considered. I also learnt that other than the vintage port, once opened port will last for a couple of weeks.
You can buy all the cheeses from Paxton and Whitfield through their shop in Jermyn Street or online together with their own label ports.
The ports are available from various suppliers.
Fonseca Bin 27 – Majestic, Harvey Nichols, Ellis of Richmond, VirginWines (RRP, £13.50)
Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage 2015 – Saxtys, Speciality Drinks, Jaded Palates Wines, Fortnum & Mason, Ellis of Richmond (RRP, £16.50)
Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage 2004 – Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Corney & Barrow, (RRP, £28.00)
Fonseca Siroco – Selfridges, Vivino, (RRP £17.00)
Paxton’s 10 YO Tawny (50ml) – Paxton & Whitfield (RRP, 24.95)