Food & Wine Pairing Is For Jerks, Right?
- Mike Willison
One of the reasons that a great cheeseburger is so wonderful has to do with balance. The fat of the cheese, meat, and mayonnaise is offset by the tang of vinegar from pickles, ketchup and mustard, and salt from the seasoning. Other ingredients provide textural complements like crunchy lettuce or snappy tomatoes, while bacon sways the balance again with fat and salt and is often paired with something spicy like chipotle. While there are many ways to ruin a perfectly good cheeseburger (the indignity of medium-well and beyond, for example) I find that the choice of bread and how it is handled can make or break the entire deal. Soggy, too crusty, sweet and aromatic, or worst yet, absent. The bun is both the Achilles heel and the keystone in a well-balanced burger.
Making a good burger isn't all that challenging. Making a great burger has its difficulties but, as in many things, a little sustained initiative and practice should produce the desired results. So it is with pairing food and wine. It isn’t magic but rather it addresses the same constructs as does making a proper cheeseburger; most notably balance. If I am faced with a butter-poached lobster, what it is lacking is the vibrancy of acid. Squeeze a lemon on it, or enjoy a racy glass of Pinot Gris to begin to understand how the balance works.
Imagine a gloppy bowl of cheese dip. Now imagine how it turns your mouth into a slow-motion astronaut walking on planet mud puppy. Ask yourself, "What am I going to do about this viscous glob of deliciousness in order to prepare my palate for another heaping chipful?" Perhaps you will consider the brisk, cleansing sizzle of a carbonated beverage. The more sophisticated palate might apply the same principle to a delicious beer or a sparkling wine. It works because it creates a balance between the goo of the fat and the zoinks of the fizz. Wine is really just food, full of all of the same elements and more, that make the balancing act of cooking and eating so compelling, fun, and surprising.
Culinary genius is spawned of centuries of trial and error using the simplest ingredients in myriad ways, many of which were pretty lousy, like Spam or Chipped Beef. One need only to look at how many French dishes are basically scrambled eggs gone wrong to realize that the good ones stick around. So try a plump white wine with an arugula salad or black olives with marshmallows and see what comes of it.
- Carrie Kalscheuer
Why does it have to be so technical? That's a lot to remember when standing in the supermarket aisle. Personally, it is an easy task- all I need to know is what I'm in the mood for. Who cares if I want red wine with fish? I've had many an enjoyable Syrah with salads. Sure, choosing one’s dinner and accompanying wine based on whim or mood might not create rare transcendent moments of taste bud bliss, but it needs to be said that one’s personal tastes are just that – personal.
Food and wine pairing isn't for jerks, it's just not something that needs to be so dang complicated.