Now, whilst it is not absolutely necessary to partner cheese with wine, it can't be denied that they make very happy bedfellows. Of course, it's not always practical to do so, tempting as it might be to whip out a nice Pinot Noir to go with the cheese butties you're consuming at your desk, but like some ever-so-predictable Pavlovian dog, I seem genetically pre-programmed to crave one when I have the other.
I was excited, then, to go along to the Cheese and Wine tasting session hosted by Manchester Wine School at Jury's Inn just before Christmas, in the hope of learning some new matches and maintaining a knowledgeable expression whilst simultaneously drinking as much as possible. I've met Lisa from Manchester Wine School before, through the excellent masterclasses she runs at the annual Three Wine Men Festival, but this was the first of her own events I've actually been to. She makes for a genial host, managing to be both knowledgeable and entirely normal, happy to chat about the wines that she likes and the best places to buy them; she'd also chosen some perfect wine and cheese matches. In fact, the hardest part of the evening was arriving slightly early and having to resist the plate of cheese that was already laid out so enticingly at each place. She started with a general discussion on how to taste wine, much of which I've heard before at other similar events, but she did genuinely tell me lots of things I didn't already know - she is brilliant on the different wine regions and how to choose good-value alternatives to the best-known ones (and has already emailed me some suggestions). She is also completely independent as she does not sell any wines herself - essentially, she shops for things she likes and then we drink it.
We tried six pairings during the two hour session:
1. Les Floriandes Touraine Sauvignon Blanc (from M & S) with Gorwydd Caerphilly (all cheese provided by Hickson and Blacks in Chorlton). This wine was my least favourite of the night - I find Sauvignon Blanc can be a little tasteless, and this one didn't bowl me over. The cheese, though, was lovely - I wouldn't normally buy Caerphilly but this one was creamy rather than crumbly and lacked the slight dryness that sometimes comes with this kind of cheese.
2. Mystery Hill Chardonnay (Ocado) with Aarenwasser. I'm very partial to Chardonnay, and feel it gets rather a bad deal sometimes at the hands of the wine snobs - I would certainly buy this soft peachy number if I could afford to shop at Ocado (although to be fair, the wine is a pretty reasonable £9.99). Another good cheese choice - a semi-soft Swiss cheese with a sweet nuttiness - and I'd surreptitiously eaten half of my piece before Lisa had finished talking.
3. Luis Felipe Edwards Viognier Reserva (Majestic) with Schlossberger. One of my favourite matches of the night. I actively seek out Viognier, and this aromatic, fruity version from Chile was no disappointment (and great value at £8.99). The cheese, another from Switzerland although this time a hard one, was a revelation - I shall definitely be purchasing this one, partly for the pleasure of eating it and partly for the pleasure of repeating the word "Schlossberger" many times over.
4. Callia Malbec (Majestic) with Oakwood Smoked. On to the reds with a nice fruity Argentine Malbec, partnered by Oakwood smoked Cheddar from Dorset. I'm not normally a fan of smoked cheese but the slight smokiness of the wine made eating this an absolute pleasure.
5. MontPierre Reserve Fitou (Sainsburys) with Cantal AOC. I do actually already buy this slightly flinty, good-value (£7.50) wine but had never had Cantal before - a hard French cheese a little like an earthy Cheddar. Another good match.
6. Sister's Run Barossa Shiraz (Tesco) with Cropwell Bishop Stilton. A good, hefty Australian Shiraz to finish - and as it was paired with the wondrous Cropwell Bishop this was unsurprisingly many people's favourite combination of the night.
The two hours passed very quickly - this was an extremely convivial evening with two long communal tables populated with nice people genially sharing out any of the leftovers in each bottle of wine and trying to eat their cheese in a polite manner. The night was good value at £30 a head (wine quantities were generous, and although I could have managed a little more cheese, I always can and am therefore not necessarily a reliable yardstick) and I would certainly go to more of Manchester Wine School's events - Lisa offers a mind-boggling array of options including eight week courses, corporate events and WSET qualifications (full details here on her website). After all, what could be better than spending a day drinking wine and quite legitimately label it educational? Lifelong learning has never been so much fun.