Top pairings | Which foods pair best with tawny port?

Pairings | Serrano ham

Which foods pair best with tawny port?

We rarely think of tawny port as a flexible pairing for food. We serve it with stilton, obviously and with hard cheeses like cheddar, with nuts and dried fruits and over Christmas with fruit cake and mince pies but that’s usually as far as it goes.

True, its sweetness suggests desserts and cakes rather than savoury dishes but like other strong dessert wines it can do sterling service at the start of a meal, particularly if it’s - as is increasingly fashionable - lightly chilled. And even with sweet things you should ensure - as is the case with other dessert wines - that your dessert is not far sweeter than your port.

On the spot
A Portuguese favourite with tawny port are the rich eggy pastries that you find in the pastelerias (patisseries) and creamy desserts such as crème caramel. Figs and (elvas) plums are also considered good matches. (According to Christian Seely of Quinta do Noval tawny is superb with fig tart) My own star match, improbable as it might sound, is bread pudding, a brilliant combination I came across on a visit to Lisbon a few years ago.

Sheep's cheeses also work well especially what is by common consent one of Portugal’s finest, the rich creamy Queijo Serra - highly prized by cheese connoisseurs

Why not try:
10 year old tawnies with:

  • sherry-style with salted roast almonds
  • chicken or duck liver parfait or other meaty pâtés and terrines
  • presunto (Portuguese air dried ham) or Spanish jamon iberico
  • pecan, almond or walnut tart or cakes
  • apple, pear or banana tatin
  • a compote of dried fruits
  • crème brûlée
  • cheesecake (without red fruits)
  • ginger-flavoured cakes and puddings

See also my post on caramel-flavoured desserts and tawny port

20 year old tawnies with:

  • foie gras - a rich, nutty alternative to Sauternes, it will pick up on a sweet accompaniment such as balsamic vinegar or prunes
  • roast lobster (according to Calem)
  • feathered game such as pheasant and partridge
  • hard sheep's milk cheeses such as Ossau Iraty and Manchego, mature Gouda, parmesan
  • dark, bitter chocolate and chocolate truffles (Valrhona’s Caraibe and Choua are recommended by the Chocolate Society)
  • biscotti
  • panforte di Siena
  • roasted chestnuts (a great suggestion from Jose Carneiro of Wiese & Krohn)

In the kitchen
Tawny port is a useful ingredient for any cook to have to hand, especially for deglazing pans. It works particularly well with chicken livers, lambs liver and kidneys and will also add richness to slow-braised meat sauces.You can also use it as a base for a sabayon or zabaglione

A version of this article was first published in Decanter magazine

Image ©anna_shepulova at Adobe Stock.

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