This article is dedicated to all wine and cheese enthusiasts. We will discover ingenious ways of pairing Croatian cheese and wine.
By reading gastronomic portals, I noticed a lot of articles about pairing French, Italian and Spanish wines and cheeses. I am aware that these markets are large and that the demand for such articles is huge, while Croatian gastronomy is still relatively unknown in global terms. I decided to disregard the basic laws of economy and write a text on how to pair wine and cheese the Croatian way.
The history of the relationship between wine and cheese
First written sources on pairing wine and cheese date back to the 16th century (although it is presumed that this tradition was known from the Roman period). At that time, people combined wine and cheese from the same geographical areas and thus they created combinations that are upheld until today (an example is the French combination of the Brie cheese and the Beaujolais wine).
British wine merchants stuck to the following formula: if the wine tastes like sour apples, it will go well with many types of cheese.
There are many examples of pairing, that have become rules over the years. The oldest rule (one that can often be heard today) is that “white wines go well with fish, and red wines with meat”. This rule is based on harmonizing the fullness of the body of the wine with the heaviness of certain food.
Wines that have over 14.5% of alcohol are more intense and better suited to firm aromatic cheeses.
Wines that have less than 12% of alcohol are paired best with softer, creamy cheeses.
The rule of the same region (mentioned before) refers to combining wine and cheese from the same region. Each region has typical climate conditions and other features, so there is a greater possibility that the wine and cheese would match.
The pairing of wine and cheese effect
In order to achieve the desired pairing effect, a simple rule should be applied: wine-cheese-wine.
If we taste the wine first, our palate is acquainted with the wine’s characteristics.
Then we try the cheese (for five to ten seconds), that releases its aromas and creates a layer of fat, covering the taste buds on our tongue and palate.
By drinking the wine again, the desired pairing effect is achieved. The taste buds are now covered in a layer of fat and cannot recognise the initial bitterness of the wine. The wine is a bit sweeter and it reveals its other characteristics, that were initially masked by its bitterness.
Combinations of Croatian cheeses and wine
For this pairing the Croatian way, I decided to completely break the “same region rule”. My task was to create tasty combinations of wine and cheese from different regions of Croatia. It is especially important to achieve a balance between the wine and the cheese, and one should not dominate the other.
Smoked cheese and the red blend
OPG Pranjić from Slavonia produces smoked cheeses with various additions (my favourites are olives and chives). The cheese pairs well with the Rebellion wine from Korčula.
Rebellion is a blend of five varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Plavac mali, Alicante Bouschet). The wine is very well balanced and none of the five varieties is over-emphasized. Rather, they all form a harmonious whole.
Truffle cheese and Pinot noir
Over the recent years, the Croatian market has been filled with truffle cheeses. It is my opinion that many of these cheeses possess an overly dominant (aggressive) truffle aroma.
The MIH cheese dairy from the island of Pag created a well-balanced truffle cheese named Tartufin. Tartufin is a hard cow’s milk cheese with an exquisite balance of the cheese flavour and the sliced black truffle.
For pairing with the Tartufin, I decided to go with the De Gotho Pinot noir from Kutjevo. Plum and raspberry aromas are present in the wine, alongside vanilla (due to maturation in oak barrels).
Herbal cheese and Merlot
Should your path lead you to Kvarner, make sure to visit the Mrakovčić family farm on the island of Krk. The Magriž and Zeleni bodul cheeses represent the specific flavour and scent of the Kvarner islands. Magriž is a sheep’s milk cheese with immortelles and sage, while the Zeleni bodul contains rosemary.
Merlot pairs well with all cheeses with herbs or garlic. It is a mid- to full-body wine that, when paired with said cheeses, offers aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, and sour cherry.
I would recommend the Brzica family Merlot from Slavonia.
Škripavac cheese and Istrian Malvasia
Šripavac is a full-fat soft cow’s milk cheese produced in Lika and Kordun. It derives its name from the Croatian word for squeaking (škripati) because it produces a squeaking sound when chewed.
Škripavac belongs to gentler cheeses, so it should be paired with a gentle-scented wine that will offer balance, and not dominate the cheese.
My recommendation for this pairing would be the Monterosso Malvasia or their sparkling wine, the Monteclassico. If you prefer continental wines, I suggest the Kalazić Graševina.
Pag cheese and Teran
This is a Dalmatian-Istrian combination for all gastronomic traditionalists.
The Gligora Pag cheese is a hard sheep’s milk cheese with a strong and aromatic flavour. The 2015 Benvenuti Teran Anno Domini can offer the required balance to Pag cheese. Two years of maturation in oak barrels make the wine rich in tannins. The wine is full-bodied, dark and opaque ruby in colour.
Istrian mozzarella and Sauvignon blanc
Istrian mozzarella is a new product by the Latus dairy farm and another proof of the famous Istrian ingenuity.
Now that we have our own mozzarella, we need to know which wine to pair it with.
Top-quality wines from the Štampar winery from Međimurje are the answer to this question. Sauvignon blanc is a fresh, summer, light wine with citrus and floral notes. Another white wine that pairs well with mozzarella is Pinot gris.
If you like sparkling wines, it is worth noting the Urban rose by Štampar.
Gran Istriano and Dingač
Istrian cheese Gran Istriano is a full-fat hard cow’s milk cutting cheese that becomes extra hard as it matures. As the cheese matures, it loses water. By maturing, it gains a stronger flavour because the amount of fat increases. An increased amount of fat in a cheese are a counter-balance to the high levels of tannins in wine, which is why cheeses like the Gran Istriano are the perfect match for wines rich in tannins such as Dingač Matuško (particularly their Dingač Royal).
Sheep’s milk cheese and Pošip
When presented with a semi-firm, fat sheep’s milk cheese that is also mildly to moderately aromatic, Pošip lovers (such as myself ?) have no doubt at all. The Pošip made by the Kraljevski vinogradi (Zadar) or the one made by the Bačić family (Korčula) are the perfect choice, particularly during summer.
Experience is the best way to learn how to pair wine and cheese. Tastes differ, so you might like a most unusual combination – this is why it is necessary to explore the world of wine and cheese.
General guidelines on pairing might be helpful, but the best advice I can give you is to listen to your senses.
About me ?
An economist by profession, a gastro enthusiast by choice.
I am studying at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
I’ve also studied the production of brandy and liqueur at Velika Gorica.
I have five years experience selling and promoting Croatian gastronomic products.
My goal in particular is to promote small local Croatian producers and present the best of Croatian gastro products to our costumers.
In my spare time I hangout with my family and friends, read books and play sports.