So what’s the deal with food pairings?
I do believe there’s someone out there for everybody. However, I don’t believe we are limited to only one chance at bliss. Good thing! Same goes for food and drink pairing. Yes, there are the classic food pairings we all know so well – Champagne and oysters, beer and pizza, milk and cookies.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach wine and spirits classes in many settings, including as a Chef-Instructor at the French Culinary Institute. So I probably spend more time thinking about flavor pairing than most people. However I do know that pairings, particularly wine food pairing, is one of the most frequently approached subjects when I teach.
Here’s the thing: When you look closely, you’ll find that the same flavor components that make those flavor combinations like milk and cookies work so well are universal to all our favorite foods and drinks…you just need to know a little more about how they work together.
Classic food pairing
Let’s take a closer look at each of the examples of classic food pairings…
Pairing Champagne with oysters works because the acidity in the bubbly and the brininess of the oysters balance each other. And if you’re lucky maybe even enhance other fruit and floral aromas hiding in the background.
Beer and pizza rely on beer’s tendency to be earthy, acidic and low in alcohol – and don’t forget those scrubbing bubbles! The cleansing effect of beer can be compelling not just with pizza but with all sorts of rich foods. In addition, earth flavors, like the ones found in beer, are flexible with many foods; more so than many of the jammy fruity flavors of many wines. This is especially good if you like lots of different toppings on your pizza.
But there are more reasons to love beer pairing. The acidity is a great foil for saltiness and the tang of tomato sauce. And the fact that most beers are relatively low in alcohol means you can get as spicy as you like! And those scrubbing bubbles I mentioned earlier? They work magic with the fatty meats and cheeses we love so much on a good pizza and most casual finger foods.
Even milk and cookies have a little flavor science behind their charm. Milk’s natural sweetness balances with the sweet cookies and refreshes the palate. Again, the effect of the beverage makes your mouth ready for the next delicious bite.
In our endless search for pleasure, finding the perfect match (flavors or otherwise) means finding something that leaves you wanting more. When your palate is refreshed and excited you are compelled to take another bite, another sip, linger – bliss!
Basic flavor principles for making your own food matches
Here are some of the basic flavor principles that these and other memorable matches are based on:
- Acidity gives flavor a backbone and makes your mouth water (and prepare for the next bite)
- Salt is a flavor enhancer and can bring out fruity or subtle sweet flavors that you may not have noticed at first
- Salt and acidity balance each other out and complement each other as well
- Salt and sweet love each other (think salted caramels, chocolate covered pretzels, etc.)
- Two sweet flavors will cancel each other out and accentuate any acidity. This can be refreshing when the flavors are in balance, when they aren’t in balance it’s like brushing your teeth then drinking orange juice
- Sweetness soothes the burn of spicy foods (alcohol, on the other hand, makes the spiciness burn hotter)
- Earthy flavors go with more… they are the beiges and neutrals of the food world – everything looks/tastes good with them
Now go match food!
Whatever your taste, there is a perfect match for you. Think about what you like to eat–flavor combinations that you enjoy. Break them down to a few basic flavors and see if any of them fit with the concepts listed above. Then, go forth and explore the fun world of food and drink with confidence in what you know you like, and a sense of adventure for new taste opportunities. Do what makes you happy – that’s bliss.
If you would like to experience one of my classes, come visit me on Wander, Eat and Tell.
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