Healthy Indulgences: Can Cheese and Wine Be Good For You?

Could wine and cheese, two of my very favorite things, be good for my health? Really? Sign me up! And so I found myself sipping sparkling wine while spearing yet another hunk of crusty French bread with a sharp wooden stick, and enthusiastically dragging it through a hot, creamy wine-laced gruyere fondue at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center. If this was just the meet-and-greet cocktail time, I thought, the class itself, “Cheese and Wine 201: To Your Health!,” was sure to be a winner. And it was—and not just because of the cheese or wine.

Once the fondue burned down and the Morbier was gone, our group of sixteen was brought from the reception area to a beautiful dining room with place settings for each of us, including 3 glasses of wine (two white, one red) and a plate of seven artfully arranged cheeses. Our teacher for the evening was the passionate cheese advocate and James Beard award-winning author of Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and Mastering Cheese, Max McCalman, whose deadpan humor put me immediately at ease. I know enough about wine to know the pinot noirs are good from Oregon and that I prefer un-oaked Chardonnay but I’m more likely to drop the glass if I tried to swirl it in search of a bouquet and the last time I smelled something “earthy” in my fridge, I tossed it in the trash. As for cheese, I’ve never met one I didn’t like. Never. And the stinkier the better. So, I wasn’t sure that I’d manage to leave without making a fool of myself or that I’d be a very good participant in the class but McCalman made it easy by peppering his presentation on the health benefits of this “near-perfect, near-complete food” with simple instructions for tasting the best of each cheese and wine and offering a straightforward way to rate each: would you do it again?

I would absolutely do Edwin’s Munster with the 2009 Domaine des Vercheres Mâcon-Villages (a chardonnay from France) again and again with the Roquefort, Carles and the 2004 Conde De Valdemar Rioja Reserva (a tempranillo and Mazuelo blend from Spain) running a close second. It was delightful to have the time and opportunity to slow down and savor the food and drink instead of snarfing down a veggie burger and glass of water in front of the tv after getting back from the gym late and ravenous as I do most nights. I could taste the differences between the pairings and I realized I did have preferences—even if I would be hard pressed to express them beyond “I liked that one better.”

I also enjoyed being in a class again, learning with others from an enthusiastic expert. I spend a lot of time reading, and I love the printed page, but there’s nothing like a real-time experience that engages all of my senses. I think I’m much less likely to forget about the appetite-controlling opioid peptides found in cheese because I heard about it from McCalman’s thoughtful presentation than I would if I had just read about it. And while some studies have shown cheese can help reduce weight and abdominal fat, a little bit of cheese goes a long way, so no, I don’t anticipate The Cheese Diet crossing my desk anytime soon, but for someone who loves cheese like I do, it’s nice to know I shouldn’t feel guilty about it enjoying it in moderation.

Walking home that evening, I felt incredibly satisfied. I’d ate well, drank well, spent some quality time with my partner, lingered over a meal enough to appreciate it, and learned a few new things. There are dozens of events, lectures, talks, workshops, openings and happenings in New York every night, and I am invigorated to go out there and take more advantage of them. The cheese and wine may be good for my health but the experience of expanding my horizons is great for it. “All About Fondue!” anyone?

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