If there’s a cheese deserving of a course all on its own, it just might be Stilton. In the UK, an old custom advises slicing the top off a wheel and upending a bottle of port into the paste, where it slowly drains through the fissures for two or three weeks. Yet even with a less dramatic presentation, Stilton is worthy of attention. Made entirely from cow’s milk sourced from three English counties, the tall cylinders stand apart for their loose crumb and creamy white paste striated with blue-green lines of Penicillium roqueforti. Those crumbs melt into a rich, buttery texture on the tongue and carry a wallop of flavor: smoky, nutty, and savory, with a bright acid tang.
But what to drink with such a commanding cheese? Stilton’s powerful flavor might suggest a big, dry red, but don’t do it: The sharp bite and fragile texture that differentiate Stilton styles from moister blues (such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola) will accent the astringency of the wine’s tannins. Instead, here are five better ways to play it.
A traditional pairing for Stilton, port wines are the sole exception to the no-big-reds rule. The challenges posed by tannins and high alcohol are offset by the wine’s intense grapey sweetness. Look for an LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) bottle, which is ready to drink upon purchase (as opposed to Vintage Port, which is meant to be cellared).
Smith Woodhouse 2003 Porto LBV Unfiltered
Fonseca 2011 Porto LBV
Get around the issues of tongue-drying tannins and spicy alcohol by opting for light, brisk reds. Grapes like gamay and país have naturally low levels of tannins as well as plenty of fruit flavor to play off the tang of the crumbly blue.
Chehalem 2016 Ridgecrest Vineyards Gamay Noir
A Los Viñateros Bravos 2015 Itata Volcánico País
Think of foods that taste good with blues: dried apricots, figs, dates, and nuts. All those flavors appear in the golden, sweet Tokaji wines of Hungary. The most luscious are labeled “Aszú,” with a number from 2 to 6 that denotes their sweetness (6 being the richest), but late-harvest wines can offer a similar range of flavors at a more affordable price.
Patricius 2013 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos
Tokaji Classic 2007 Tokaji Late Harvest Classic Cuvée
Food and wine writer Francis Percival looks for caramel-sweet flavors— barley wine, Islay whiskey—when pairing booze with Stilton. For wine, he suggests a nutty Oloroso sherry: “A very old, oxidative sherry is particularly good, as the richness of the cheese balances some of the shocking visceral dryness of the wine,” he says.
Bodegas Tradición Oloroso VORS 30 Years
Bodegas Grant Oloroso La Garrocha