A Yahoo headline greets me this morning: “Study says cheese and red wine could boost brain health.” That’s good news. Two things I like, and I’m all in favor of brain health. The ten-year study, published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease, involved 1787 people who participated in a Fluid Intelligence Test, “which provides a snapshot of a person’s ability to think quickly.”
Quickly? Typically I think: Quick, have another glass of wine. But red wine and cheese . . . together? Not in my mouth, thanks. I like red wine too much to risk sullying it with cheese; I like cheese too much to risk ruining it with red wine.
When and where did this wine and cheese pairing become popular?
Perhaps we reason as follows: I like milk, I like cookies, therefore I like milk and cookies together. I like beer, I like pizza, therefore I like beer and pizza together. Sort of like syllogism. I like cheese, I like wine, therefore I like wine and cheese together.
When I was in college I fancied the idea of traveling around Europe, entering a shop where I did not speak the language, and buying a bottle of wine, a chunk of hard bread, and some local stinky cheese. That was all a hitch-hiking drifter needed. That and a knife. You and your travel companion then found a hillside you could later refer to as a meadow, you reclined in the grass, and you had an experience. One of you, to make it really real, would probably have a guitar.
Before I finished college, I did in fact have an experience like that, in Wales, in the town of Abergavenny. I spoke the language well enough to lay in supplies in a shoppe, poorly enough to mispronounce the name of the town in at the counter in said shoppe. (Abergavenny, accent on the ber.) At the edge of town there was a hill. We bought a bottle of Yugoslavian red, a chunk of hard bread, and some stinky cheese. There could have been a guitar in the picture. Fortunately I had left it back at the rooming house back in Stratford.
Once we were comfortably situated on the hillside, we discovered that in addition to a knife, a corkscrew would also be required. We hiked back down to the shoppe in Abergavenny (accent on the ber), then back to the hillside, where I proceeded to destroy the mushy cork trying to extract it from the wine bottle. We had to shove what was left of it into the bottle. Undeterred, we ate and drank, filtering bits of cork with our teeth. The bread was good. The wine and cheese were unremarkable. Together they were heinous. Still, I remember thinking, Isn’t this great!
Since then I have been to many parties, picked up a piece of Swiss or Gouda or a smear of Brie on a cracker, and washed it down with a drink of Burgundy or Chablis, being sociable, feeling rather sophisticated, but also thinking, Yick.
I know there are people out there who know what wine harmonizes with what cheese. Those people are probably in France. I hope to get to them eventually in this lifetime. But for now, I’ve made up my mind. In such matters, the important thing is to know what you like. And what you don’t like.
That’s my idea of fluid intelligence.