Grapes are probably the most common fruit that graces a cheese plate. They fill up space beautifully, they're easy to pluck off and eat, and we've all seen countless still life paintings pairing grapes and cheese together. But have you ever eaten a grape and followed it immediately with a bite of cheese? Especially with soft cheeses, the combined flavor is often less than delicious, and as I experienced the other night, can be downright awful.
I came home hungry and happened to have a creamy, oozing, rather stinky washed rind cheese in my fridge. I sliced some baguette, washed a bunch of purple grapes, and eagerly began eating. With each bite, however, the cheese tasted worse than the first. The cheese was so bitter, I wasn't enjoying it at all. I blamed it on the rind, and tried eating just the creamy cheese. Still bitter. Finally, I wrapped the cheese up and put it back in the fridge, annoyed that I had blown $10.00 on a bad piece of cheese. I ate the rest of the grapes and forgot about it.
A few nights later, hungry again, I decided to give the cheese another try. I didn't have any grapes left, so I just ate the cheese. It tasted great. Creamy, stinky, but not at all bitter. It dawned on me that it was the grapes that had caused the cheese to taste bitter.
Tannins are usually associated with wine, but can be found in the skins of regular table grapes too. The astringent, bitter quality of grape skins can actually affect the flavor of the cheese you are eating. Tannins are also the reason that tea is not often a beverage paired with cheese. Wine is typically paired with cheese, however, highly tannic wines usually don't pair well. More on this later....but the lesson for today is: Grapes are good, but not always with cheese.