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Terroir Of Culture

wine and cheese what do they have in common

Authored by Rachel Hendry

“Wine is not fruit. It’s a culture. It’s born of fermentation. There are two main types of AOC in France: cheese and wine. Then there is bread. All are products of fermentation. Milk is not cheese. Wheat is not bread. It's the starting point.”

  • Robert Walters, Bursting Bubbles

Wine and cheese are a much loved pairing. But aside from the fact that it is rare to find one without the other, what else do they have in common?

As the quote above—one of my favourite—says so directly, both wine and cheese are products of culture and as a result they have far more in common than one may think.

Fermentation is alchemy and is magic, I won’t hear anything to the contrary. Wine is a transformation of grapes. Yeast—naturally occurring or an added ingredient—consumes the sugar present in ripened grape juice, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide until the sugar is gone and the yeast subsequently dies. 

The journey from milk to cheese is not dissimilar. A culture is added to milk, but instead of yeast it takes the form of an acid—again, one that is either naturally occurring or added as a starter culture. This causes the formation of curds and whey which are then separated and processed until cheese forms. 

Both of these definitions are simplified, the work of winemaking and cheesemaking is extremely skilled, taking years to master, work I can only attempt to do justice. But the essence of these bastardised definitions is similar. A base liquid (milk, or grape juice) makes contact with a culture (yeast or acid) and a fermentation takes place, resulting in a completely transformed product (wine or cheese). See what I mean about magic?

With fermentation comes a sense—and protection—of place. For whilst fermentation may be universal, culture is not one size fits all.

An AOC is short for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée and in short is a controlled geographical area with a set of standards for the production of a product, namely wine. It ensures that Champagne, the wine, can only be made in Champagne, the region, and that Roquefort the cheese can only be made in Roquefort the designated place. These boundaries and regulations are set to protect wine and cheese from global attempts to profit from their success.

AOCs are based around the idea of terroir. Terroir is the word for the all encompassing natural environment that contributes to something's flavour. With wine this is applied to the growing of grapes via soil, weather, altitude etc. With cheese it speaks of the ground that cattle and other mammals graze upon, as well as the animals themselves. 

This is all to say that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to pairing cheese and wine together. So next time you’re in Two Belly, browsing the delicious displays, why not pick a wine and a cheese that share a region and see if you can taste the terroir that comes with culture? 

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