Does eating cheese with wine alter its taste and characteristics? The answer is a resounding yes, and often the change is for the better. Researchers from the ChemoSens platform were able to demonstrate this phenomenon during an experiment designed to assess a tool to analyse gustatory and hedonic sensations.

Wich wine goes best with which cheese? It’s a question that never fails to come up when planning for big family meals or get-togethers with friends. Choosing the pairings for a well-garnished platter can prove to be a bit of a conundrum. You may have been told that a blue cheese should be served with a sweet wine, a Sancerre marries perfectly with goat’s cheese, and a red Burgundy will tame a bold Époisses, but these recommendations have no scientific basis. In fact, they often simply stem from tradition or the geographical proximity between two products, such as vin jaune and Comté.

But what’s really going on here? Or, to be more precise, does eating cheese with wine change the perception and appreciation of the wine?

Researchers from the ChemoSens platform at the Centre for Taste, Food and Nutrition Sciences decided to take a closer look at the question. They had a particular target in their sights: assessing the effectiveness of the DTS tool (for temporal dominance of sensations) at measuring and analysing gustatory and hedonic sensations experienced when consuming certain foods together.

The DTS method was developed internally at INRA using TimeSens® software. It varies from test protocols in that it allows tasters to provide feedback using simple descriptions from the moment the food enters their mouth until they no longer experience any sensation.

Four wines and four cheeses

The experiment was designed as follows: researchers choose 31 testers, telling them they would be participating in a study on wine (and only wine). After making sure that all could describe taste sensations according to ten descriptions (astringent, bitter, floral, spicy, sweet, etc.), they asked the testers to take three sips of wine (served in black glasses) of four different varieties: a sweet white (Pacherenc), a dry white (Sancerre), and two reds (Burgundy and Madiran). The type and colour of the wines were concealed from testers to prevent any influence on the results.

As soon as they had taken their first sip, the testers launched the DTS test on the screen in front of them and clicked on the description that best matched the first sensation they felt, such as “sweet”. The list was immediately refreshed so the tester could select another description or choose the same once again if the sensation continued. They carried on until they experienced no further sensations. At that point, they were to press “stop” and indicate their overall impression. So where does the cheese come in?

The testers were then told by researchers to eat a single type of cheese to “clear their palates” between each sip for the four selected wines. For each new tasting, a different cheese was presented: Époisses, Comté, Roquefort and Crottin de Chavignol. Did eating the cheese change testers’ perception of the wine they were drinking?

Wine with cheese: a beneficial alliance
The results analysis provides two interesting insights. First, eating the different types of cheese had no negative impact on testers’ sensations and increased their appreciation of the wine they were drinking. Even better, all of the cheeses improved the perception of red fruit aromas and reduced the duration of astringency of the red wines, while they heightened the taste of the Sancerre.

Of course, to confirm this analysis, a much larger study will have to be carried out. But INRA’s goal was met as the experiment validated the effectiveness of the DTS tool to measure changes in sensory and hedonic sensations when consuming foods together. It is certainly food for thought for producers and the entire agrifood industry.

Scientific contact:
Pascal Schlich, Anne-Laure Loiseau, Michel Visalli. ChemoSens platform, Centre for Taste, Food and Nutrition Sciences (GSGA)