food pairing

A Perfect Match? Unlocking Food Pairing Secrets

Chef and Wine Educator Annette TomeiEat & Tell with Chef Annette Tomei

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 the world of food and drink. Yes, there are the classic pairings we all know so well – Champagne and oysters, beer and pizza, milk and cookies. But, when you look closely, you’ll find that the same flavor components that make those combinations 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.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the examples…

Champagne and oysters love each other 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! 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. 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! (Without fear of getting burned.) And those scrubbing bubbles? They work magic with the fatty meats and cheeses we love so much on a good pizza… palates are cleansed and ready for the next slice.

food pairing--milk and cookiesEven 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, making it 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!

Here are some of the basic flavor principles that these and other perfect 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 (not sexy)

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

A few food and drink combinations that have brought me a little taste of bliss recently…

Lucien Albrecht Rosé sparking wine with crispy French fries dipped in bone marrow béarnaise sauce (L’Ecole, NYC)

Port-Stout “Boilermaker” – a cocktail of Old Rasputin stout and Taylor’s 20-year Tawny port with a chocolate soufflé tart

Pumpkin ale with Israeli couscous tossed with cubes of butternut squash sautéed in brown butter, Brussels sprout leaves, toasted pine nuts, and pomegranate “jewels” (my home, BK)

Leek and raisin curry topped with slice of duck breast, brioche croutons and cucumber-cilantro-lime salad with a chaser of banana flavored Maker’s Mark (a Cooking Issues creation at FCI, NYC)

2009 Dönnhoff Riesling (Nahe, Ger), an ever-so-slightly off-dry Riesling: tingly-crisp, Asian pear-like, with subtle layers of exotic fruit and mineral aromas. It went with pretty much everything we ate at lunch that day – escargot with Asian pear; cavatelli with sundried tomatoes and olives; perfectly cooked pork chop with cider jus and polenta; seared scallops with butternut squash puree, Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate; rabbit with chorizo and bacon; and a not-too-sweet pumpkin soufflé – yes, a huge lunch! (L’Ecole, NYC with Chrysta from Kiss My Bundt)

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.


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