Thursday, January 5, 2012 & cheese experts

About thirty years ago, some wine experts in France decreed that red wines should be chilled before being served. I was idiotic enough then to believe them and so chilled my red wine …but only once or twice. I rapidly came to the conclusion that I prefer my clarets at room temperature and have never been tempted back since.

Now, in an article published last week in The Daily Telegraph, another group of experts are reported to have patronizingly told us that we have all been fooled for years, that we must really accompany cheese with white wine, not red wine since the reds dominate all but the most robust cheeses, according to them. And of course, we must continue to serve white, never red, with fish.

All this is of course stuff and nonsense. The combination of wine and cheese that go best together are the wines and the cheeses which you like, ones which give you pleasure. I have always preferred my fish with a good claret and will continue to do so. I have always preferred my cheese with a good claret and will continue to do so. I agree more with Dr. Johnson, no wine expert he, when he said that “a fish must swim three times, once in the sea, once in butter, and once in a good bottle of claret”!

No doubt, as with the silly ideas about chilling red wine that the experts pushed some thirty years ago, they will sooner or later be pushing the idea that cheeses are best accompanied by red wine after all. And recall all this fuss about nouvelle cuisine some years ago, much of it extremely dreary. In fact there is a hilarious accompanying article in the same issue of The Daily Telegraph which pokes good fun at a seemingly new brand of nouvelle cuisine restaurant, which has opened in London.

Experts can peddle their silly views only when we lack confidence in our own tastes and in our own judgment. Why we do so is itself a very interesting psychological and neurobiological problem, as is the problem of why some combinations are judged better than others and why, in spite of our better judgments, we defer to the dubious authority of experts.

Which brings me to an interesting puzzle: why is it that, in England, we have the somewhat barbaric habit of serving cheese after dessert (have any experts commented on this?). Well, I have found out the reason, or one reason. I don’t know how true it is, but it is not implausible. The French have cheese pour faire chanter le vin [to make the wine sing], before moving on to the dessert accompanied by dessert wines, which ends the formal dinner. Apparently, in England quite some time ago, there was an anxiety on the part of men to end the formal dinner as quickly as possible so that the women could retire [or be made to retire] to a separate room, and the men could continue with refined binge drinking and men talk. And since dessert ends the formal dinner in both cultures, all they had to do was swap the cheese and the dessert around. And the habit has lingered on.


Djohar said...

I was just born 30 years ago, but I never heard about chilling the red wine. I was raised in Paris and to me it's a thing I discovered in UK,I was surprised by this habit and didn't like it. Not only you should beware of experts' sayings in general, you should do so even more when it's french experts telling brits something about food (...I m still amazed by the price of bad wine I never heard of in Waitrose for instance...)we just have fun tricking you... :-)

S.Z. said...

But Djohar...Britain has some of the best wine experts too!