Make your cheese sparkle by choosing the right bubbly

Season's pairings

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click to enlarge Hoja Santa is a beautiful chèvre wrapped in a velvety Mexican hoja santa leaf. - Kira Jefferson
Kira Jefferson
Hoja Santa is a beautiful chèvre wrapped in a velvety Mexican hoja santa leaf.

'Tis the season when toasting with crystal flutes filled with sparkling wines proves a favorite holiday treat. To further enhance the experience, certain cheeses will help you deck the halls and ring in the New Year when paired perfectly with your bubbly of choice. It's all a matter of sticking with a few different style pairings to make your holidays joyous.

Style? Yes. Cheese can be categorized into eight different styles: fresh, semi-soft, soft-ripened, surface-ripened, semi-hard, hard, blue and washed-rind. Sparkling wines (which have their own categories, too) pair best with creamy, salty and blue cheeses; so think triple and double crèmes from the soft-ripened family, or sweet, luxurious blues with nuances of toast and yeast to match your sparklers.

One easy-to-find double-crème that proves an angelic companion to both blanc de blanc and vintage brut is Saint André, a lavish and decadent French cheese perfect for special occasions. The edible, downy soft rind adds a complexity to the rich, buttery tang of the tongue-pleasing paste as it coats your mouth like Nutella spread. The earthy flavors of Champagne accentuate the sweet, buttery nuances of most soft-ripened cheeses while the bubbles refresh your palate, lifting the milky cheese from your taste buds like a prickly ginger ale.

For a unique pairing, try Hoja Santa (from the fresh category) created by Paula Lambert of the Mozzarella Company in Texas. A beautiful little chèvre wrapped in a velvety Mexican hoja santa leaf that imparts lovely notes of sassafras, wood and mint, Hoja Santa is light and clean in the mouth. These characteristics work beautifully with a sparkling brut rosé. The furious bubbles carry spicy cherry, rhubarb, orange zest and cranberry flavors over your tongue, scrubbing the tart coating of the goat cheese off your palate and cleaning your mouth to create another perfectly balanced bite.

Rustic classics like Gruyère and Parmesan from the hard category provide the salt content and protein crystals for a fun pairing with an old vintage brut. The concentrated flavors and hard textures of this style of cheese pop nicely with bubbly. The carbonation helps diffuse the salt and at the same time the toasty wine enhances the caramel-like richness of the cheese.

When pairing Champagne with tangy blues, blanc de noir simply rocks. This sparkling pinot noir-based wine provides a refreshing break from salty, persistent blues. Flora Nelle is a new blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon that has browned butter, sweet cream and tropical components that are stirred up by the frantic bubbles of a blanc de noir and melded into a scrumptious treat. Sweeter blues such as Gorgonzola work best with an effervescent dessert wine. Although not exactly a sparkling wine, the sweet profile and soft effervescence work creamy blues' fruity undercurrents while mellowing the salt.

Build your holiday cheese plates around the season's staple wine and your gatherings will shine with festive merriment while your guests revel in your thoughtful pairings.

Kira Jefferson is the resident "cheese guru" at SideBern's in South Tampa.

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