Cold Cuts, Cheese and Wine
A sybarite’s guide to the basics
Bologna, cheese and Wonder Bread: It's a vivid memory for us Americans. Just as vivid, that childhood sandwich would invariably get stuck to the roof of your mouth. With no sandblaster to remove it (not without adult supervision, anyway), you had to reach deep into your mouth and scrape it loose with your index finger. At which point you'd narrowly avoid choking to death. Even today, in school cafeterias across the nation, most kids' introduction to cold cuts and cheese is a near-death experience.
Bologna and cheese is considered as all-American as baseball, but we don't devote much brain power to these two foods. Yet pre-sliced, vacuum-packed lunch meats such as Oscar Mayer, Louis Rich and Hormel, along with processed "cheeses" such as Velveeta and Kraft American Singles, make up a $7 billion-a-year industry.
Since eating cold cuts and cheese is such an American pastime, it might behoove us to learn a little more about them—types, quality, even how to pair them with a decently priced bottle of wine.
Trent Anderson has more than 20 years of culinary experience. I believe he's the one authority in Albuquerque with enough expertise to readily converse about all three of these foods, having served at and managed restaurants such as Artichoke Café, Scalo and Vivace. Today, he’s is the wine buyer at Stoneface Package and Wine Shop. I sat down with him to learn more about this underrated triumvirate and to decipher how to combine them to bring out their best flavors. His advice:
• Sniff Out the Best Products
“Cold cuts are simply pre-cooked or cured meats such as salami, pastrami, chorizo, braunschweiger, head cheese, bologna and liverwurst. To get quality products, you may want to visit a specialty shop such as Alpine Sausage Kitchen, where the owners William Schmaeh and Vera Scherer make most all their products in house, so the quality is unbelievable. Tully’s Italian Deli, a small operation owned by Johnny Camuglia and family, also has outstanding products, which are on a completely different level from cold cuts and cheeses you will find in most supermarkets. Kellers as well as Whole Foods have incredible selections. Whole Foods' cheese department is marvelous."
“Be a lustful gourmand and sample exotic cold cuts such as head cheese—which is made by boiling together most parts of the animal’s head.”
• Know Your Cheese
"If you would like to learn about quality cheeses, I highly recommend a book by Steven Jenkins titled Cheese Primer, which is a handy reference. There are hundreds of artisan cheeses to choose from. It’s is impossible to encapsulate all this info into a few words, so you really have to make an effort to learn about the difference between artisan cheeses from different geographic locations and those made in a variety of ways. You have washed rind, pressed, fresh, blue-veined, goat, cow and sheep cheeses, and they are all completely distinct."
• Remember the Rules
"A rule of thumb for pairing foods and wine is just maintaining balance. Mild flavors with other mild flavors, and bolder flavored cheese and cold cuts should be paired together with a more full bodied wine. Also keep in mind texture, so that the food items interact without X-ing each other out. High acid is the most important characteristic in wine that you will combine with food. Acid will cut through the fat of cheese and cold cuts, so high acid whites create better combinations. Many heavy reds will overpower most cheeses and lunch meats. Also, try to combine items from the same region, such as Spanish cheese with Spanish wine."
• Push Your Limits
"The only way to learn about these items is hands-on experience. Be adventurous. Be a lustful gourmand and sample exotic cold cuts such as head cheese—which is made by boiling together most parts of the animal’s head. Another must-try is blood tongue sausage, which is made of pig's blood and tongue combined with other items into a sausage.”
Putting It All Together
Below Anderson offers suggestions for great combinations, which include cold cuts with their appropriate cheese, as well as a perfectly matched libation.
Blood Tongue Sausage with Raclette
Raclette is a semi-soft goat cheese. Anderson views it as "the world’s finest melting cheese."
White: Rudi Wiest Selections, Mosel River Riesling • Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany ($11.99)
Red: Qupe, Central Coast Syrah • California ($12.99)
Mortadella with Double Gloucester
Double Gloucester is a pressed cow’s milk cheese. This combo is "the real bologna and cheddar" and takes a high-end boxed wine.
White: Black Box, 3 Liter, Chardonnay • Monterey County, California ($21.99)
Red: Black Box, 3 Liter, Cabernet Sauvignon • Paso Robles, California ($21.99)
Anderson argues that "pairing with cheese is unnecessary, since the gelatinous quality of head cheese makes the pairing superfluous." But as for wine ...
White: Tabali, Sauvignon Blanc • Limari Valley, Chile ($13.49)
Rosé: Domaine Amido, Tavel, Les Amandines • Rhône, France ($15.49)
Pre-Packaged Lunch Meats with Processed Cheeses
We're talking Oscar Mayer, Hormel or Louis Rich with Velveeta or Kraft Singles. What you want to do with this combination is "get it out of your mouth as soon as possible." Go for quantity over quality.
Wine: Riunite Lambrusco • Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($8.99)
Beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon ($7.99 for a 12-pack)
Serrano Ham with Manchego
Serrano ham is similar to prosciutto, while Manchego is a firm Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. Serve both with a chilled Manzanilla Sherry.
Fortified wine: Osborne, Manzanilla Sherry • Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain ($9.49)
Sopressata with Provolone
Sopressata is a form of salami and Provolone is a cow’s milk semi-soft cheese—a more flavorful Mozzarella.
White: Paso a Paso, Verdejo • La Mancha, Spain ($10.99)
Red: Mazzi, Valpolicella • Veneto, Italy ($17.99)
Prosciutto with Parmigiano-Reggiano
An Italian combo that’s "the classic ham and cheese."
White: Tiefenbrunner, Pinot Grigio • Alto Adige, Italy ($15.99)
Rosé: Saintsbury, Vin Gris de Pinot Noir • Carneros, California ($13.99)
Capacolla with Fontina d’Aosta
Don't get thrown by the intimidating name: Fontina d’Aosta is a mild cow’s milk cheese.
White: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Toscolo • Tuscany, Italy ($16.99)
Red: La Posta del Viñatero, Bonarda • Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99)
Hold the Meat, Please
Try these classic cheese and wine pairings.
Cypress Grove, Humboldt Fog
An ash-layered goat cheese
White: Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc • Marlborough, New Zealand ($18.99)
Ca de Ambros, Taleggio
A soft, Italian washed-rind cow’s milk cheese
Red: Terra di Ripanera, Super Tuscan • Tuscany, Italy ($18.99)
A soft French cow’s milk cheese
Red: Vosne-Romanée, Premier Cru, Les Beaumonts • Burgundy, France ($84.99)
Rouzaire, Brie De Meaux
A classic Brie
Red: Georges Duboeuf, Chiroubles • Beaujolais, France ($12.99)
Mac and Cheese
... Because you're an adult now, and mom's finest deserves better than apple juice.
White: Bonny Doon Vineyards, “Pacific Rim,” Dry Riesling • Santa Cruz, California ($13.99)
Red: La Vieille Ferme, Côtes du Ventoux (Grenache, Syrah) • Rhône, France ($9.99)