Entertaining | Cheese and crackers - and wine!

Entertaining

Cheese and crackers - and wine!

"Cheese and crackers" was a school lunchbox favourite when I was a kid. The crackers, always a Ritz, and the cheese, some kind of Wisconsin cheddar. This American tradition of combining cheese with a thin wheat-based product actually goes back centuries. Among many things it was a food ration in the Civil War where soldiers referred to it as a "square meal". Much like the UK equivalent of the ploughman's lunch, cheese and crackers was very much peasant food. But much like my taste buds, which probably couldn't stand a Ritz cracker nowadays (no offence to Ritz fans), a lot of has changed.

Today, cheese and crackers have transcended their humble origins to become an almost ubiquitous and elevated party food, achieving artisanal status where the cracker is as crucial as the cheese. No longer confined to my lunchbox, this convivial pairing now graces a myriad of social gatherings, from casual picnics to sophisticated dinner parties. And for those of us who also enjoy wine, it adds an extra layer of fun pairing challenges. What wine - and what cracker - to pair with your favourite cheese?

And although we're talking cheese and crackers here, you can apply the same wine pairing principals to all manners of cheese boards, cheese platters, and cheese plates.

Cracker Evolution

Over the last several decades, crackers for cheese have undergone a significant evolution, moving beyond simple accompaniments to become sophisticated, diverse, and artisanal products. And if we're talking wine pairings with cheese and crackers, the crackers can often play a role as much as the cheese. Think about the flavour implications of the cracker (r)evolution:

  1. Diversity of Ingredients: Traditional wheat-based crackers have expanded to include a wide variety of ingredients such as whole grains, seeds (like sesame, poppy, or flax), herbs, and spices. Their expanded flavour profile can have a distinct influence on the wine you might choose to drink.
  2. Ancient Grains: Cracker producers are increasingly using trendy ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, and spelt in their recipes, each of which bring a unique flavour to the mix.
  3. Thin and Crispy Varieties: While thicker, more substantial crackers still have their place, there's a trend towards thinner and crispier options which brings to the fore whatever cheese you happen to be serving with the cracker.
  4. Flavored and Seasoned Options: Crackers now come in a plethora of flavors - sea salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic, truffle, seaweed, you name it. Again, flavour variations that impact whatever your serving with the cracker, be it cheese, wine, or both!

10 Popular Crackers and Their Most Complimentary Cheeses

  1. Water Crackers: Think Carr's water crackers or Jacob's cream crackers, these plain and neutral crackers are widely available and a versatile choice that won't overpower the flavors of delicate cheeses like Brie or fresh goat cheese. That said, they're a bit "basic".
  2. Crisp Bread or Flatbread: Here in the UK, Peter's Yard has taken the crispbread market by storm, popularizing the concept with their artisan thin sourdough rye crisp breads and various flavor iterations such as plain, whole grain, or seeded. They work well with a variety of cheeses, particularly those with robust flavors. And if you can't find crisp bread in the shops, try making your own.
  3. Multigrain Crackers: Packed with different grains and seeds, multigrain crackers add an extra layer of texture and flavor. They pair nicely with aged cheeses like cheddar or Gouda.
  4. Rye Crisps: Think Ryvita here, thicker crackers with a robust and slightly tangy flavor. They can be a meal in themselves and tend to complement stronger cheeses like blue cheese or smoked gouda.
  5. Rosemary or Herbed Crackers: Crackers infused with herbs like rosemary or thyme are best with soft cheeses like camembert or with goat cheese.
  6. Seeded Crackers: The examples of these, both store-bought and home-made are endless (try these pumpkin seed crackers or these easy seeded crackers with everything bagel seasoning for a start). Seeded crackers bring a distinct nutty flavor and crunchy texture and pair well with a variety of cheeses, including hard and aged varieties, though I personally like the texture juxtaposition of a soft goats cheese with a super seedy cracker, and maybe a fig or cranberry chutney (more on chutneys below!)
  7. Ritz Crackers or Wheat Thins: Yes, the Ritz! No judging if this still has a place on your cheese platter. These slightly sweet and buttery crackers can be versatile and work with a range of cheeses, though I'd say they're best suited to a mild cheddar so you don't drown out the flavour of the Ritz.
  8. Graham Crackers: Not just for s'mores! While traditionally associated with sweet treats, graham crackers can be a unique choice for pairing with certain cheeses, especially those with sweeter profiles.
  9. Flavoured Crackers: I'm talking anything with unique ingredients like fruit olive oil, truffle oil, or anything else that packs a gourmet flavour punch. As for the cheese, it really depends, but with strongly favoured crackers it can often be best to go with a milder cheese. Let the cracker shine.
  10. Toast for cheese: Like those from the Fine Cheese Company, thin crispy toasts studded with dried fruits and nuts. These are a lot of fun and given the fruit element, tend to go well with strong blue cheeses like Stilton or a soft goats cheese.

cheese and crackers and wineImage credit: Lindsay Moe on Unsplash

Crackers For Your Favourite Cheeses - And the Best Wines To Drink With Them

  1. Brie:
    • Best Cracker: Water crackers or French baguette slices
    • Best Wine: A bright fruity red like a Beaujolais or a crisp rosé
  2. Camembert:
    • Best Cracker: Rye crispbread or French baguette slices
    • Best Wine: A Côtes du Rhône but - whisper it - I prefer cider with Camembert
  3. Cheddar:
    • Best Cracker: Multigrain crackers, or skip the cracker and go for apple or pear slices
    • Best Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon is great as is - perhaps surprisingly - a rich chardonnay
  4. Aged Gouda:
    • Best Cracker: Rye crispbread, wheat crackers, or pumpernickel
    • Best Wine: tawny port or dry oloroso sherry are both delicious with gouda
  5. Blue Cheese:
    • Best Cracker: Something fruity (for example the toast for cheese mentioned above), or go left field with a ginger snap or graham cracker
    • Best Wine: Zinfandel, primitive or other southern Italian reds. Or a late bottled vintage port
  6. Goat Cheese (Chevre):
    • Best Cracker: Herbed crackers, or something fruit with figs or apricots
    • Best wine: sauvignon blanc by a country mile
  7. Gruyère: 
    • Best Cracker: Whole grain crackers, seeded crackers or sourdough crispbreads
    • Best Wine: Similar wine matches to Comté. A chardonnay or savagnin from the Jura would be delicious - or any mature chardonnay come to that
  8. Manchego (and other sheep cheeses):
    • Best Cracker: Olive oil and sea salt crackers
    • Best Wine: Rioja, preferably a reserva.
  9. Epoisses:
    1. Best Cracker: Better with a baguette than a cracker
    2. Best wine: Tricky! Try a gewürztraminer or a strong Belgian Trappist ale
  1. Parmesan:
    • Best Cracker: Crostini or olive oil flatbreads
    • Best Wine: A great foil for a good Italian red like a Chianti Classico or a Brunello

Bonus: Elevate your Cheese and Crackers - and Wine! - with Pickles and Chutneys

I would be remiss if I didn't mention chutneys, pickles and other accoutrements which can further enhance your cheese though they can detract from your wine. If you’re serving a chutney I wouldn’t pour a fine wine (simple reds like Côtes du Rhône are fine) but would often go for a beer or cider instead.

Here are my 7 favourites, with cheeses to match. For more, check out how to take your cheeseboard to the next level with homemade pickles.

  1. Cranberry Chutney:
    • Cheese Pairing: Brie, Goat Cheese
    • Why: The tartness of cranberry chutney complements the creamy and mild nature of Brie, and it adds a zesty kick to the earthy flavors of goat cheese.
  2. Caramelized Onion Chutney:
    • Cheese Pairing: Blue Cheese, Camembert
    • Why: The sweet and savory notes of caramelized onion chutney provide a flavorful contrast to the intense and salty profile of blue cheese, and it complements the milder taste of Camembert.
  3. Quince Paste:
    • Cheese Pairing: Manchego
    • Why: A Spanish classic. The sweet and dense quince paste pairs beautifully with the nutty and salty flavors of Manchego, creating a balanced and delicious combination.
  4. Piccalilli:
    • Cheese Pairing: Cheddar
    • Why: The tangy and slightly spicy flavors of piccalilli enhance the sharpness of Cheddar, creating a vibrant and dynamic pairing.
  5. Pickled Onions:
    • Cheese Pairing: Gouda, Cheddar
    • Why: The tangy and crisp pickled onions complement the rich and nutty profile of Gouda, while also adding a zesty kick to the sharpness of Cheddar.
  6. Fig Chutney:
    • Cheese Pairing: Blue Cheese, Goat Cheese
    • Why: The rich, earthy flavor of fig chutney pairs well with the bold and salty notes of blue cheese. It also enhances the earthy and tart qualities of goat cheese.
  7. Farmhouse Pickle:
    • Cheese Pairing: Cheddar, Gruyère
    • Why: The savory and tangy farmhouse pickle adds a delightful contrast to the sharpness of Cheddar and complements the nutty flavor of Gruyère.

Learn more:

Wine and Cheese Pairings for Beginners

Pairing wine and cheese: 6 ways to do it better

Monica Shaw developed her fondness for cheese and crackers while growing up in the Midwest near Chicago. She's the author of Eat Sleep Wild while supporting other writers through her online portfolio site at Writer's Residence.

Main image credit: baibaz at shutterstock.com

 

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