Ask an Expert: Madeira & Gouda Cheese

Ask an Expert: Madeira & Gouda Cheese

In our "Ask an Expert" series, Jaelea Holt of acclaimed wine bar, Tria Cafe in Philadelphia, walks us through the history and flavor profile of the commonly known Gouda cheese and an unlikely wine companion, Madeira


Gouda and Madeira Sercial; it seems like a strange pairing, but it is one of my personal favorites. Most of us know and love gouda cheese, with it's nutty, butterscotchy deliciousness, and crunchy crystals (I'll talk more about those later). Much lesser known to many is Madeira, primarily known as a dessert wine that is rich, decadent, and, like gouda, has notes of caramel, butterscotch, and nuts, kinda like a boozy Snickers bar. But first, I'd like to share with you, the beauty, complexity, and diversity that is Madeira.


Photo by  Rohit Tandon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

So, what exactly is Madeira wine?  Before we answer that, we must first understand Madeira (the place) and it's pivotal history in the early European voyages to the New World.

Claimed by Portugal in 1419, Madeira served as an important refuelling station on voyages to and from the New World. Located roughly 621 miles of the coast of Portugal, Madeira is an archipelago consisting of five islands, the largest of which, being also called Madeira. When people refer to the island of Madeira they are most certainly talking about the main island and not the smaller surrounding ones. It's climate is subtropical and its interior terrain extremely mountainous, making viticulture only possible along the northern and southern coasts near the capital city of Funchal. Vineyards are mainly located on steep terraced slopes that sit on volcanic soil making machine harvesting all but impossible. Rainfall is quite high, especially in the higher altitudes so fungal diseases are a constant threat. Out of these less than ideal growing conditions however, comes one of the world's greatest wines, Madeira.

Madeira, is a fortified wine that, besides Cristiano Ronaldo, is the island's most well known export. There are four "noble" grapes that are traditionally used to make Madeira; Sercial and Verdelho for dry Madeiras, Boal (aka Bual) for an off dry style, and Malvasia (aka Malmsey) for the sweetest style. Regardless of style, the wines are made similarly to most other fortified wines in that a neutral grape spirit is added to stop fermentation depending on the winemaker's desired level of sweetness. Fortifying the wine increase its durability for the long journeys across the Atlantic ocean, but what really makes Madeira unique from most other wines is how it is aged.

During the, Age of Exploration, Madeira wine was frequently being sold and transported to destinations in the Caribbean and beyond. On this voyage through the tropics, the wine would have been heated and cooled multiple times thus cooking or "maderizing" the wine giving way to deep and caramelized flavors. Wines that made the round trip back to Madeira from the tropics were labeled as “Vinho da Roda”. Modern Madeira no longer has to make the transAtlantic journey in order to develop its unique caramelized flavors. Instead, producers rely mainly on temperature controlled rooms to heat their wine, although some top producers leave their barrels in the hot island sun to age for decades.

Today we're focusing on Madeira Sercial, the driest style of the beautiful dessert wine. It should be served chilled, and offers a beautiful palate of bright cherry, acid, and witch hazel (think clean and herbaceous), layered with hazelnuts, and soft caramel, with a tiny afterthought of salinity. Yes please.


Oh Gouda. Oh lovely, beautiful Gouda. Gouda and Madeira have a secret thing in common. They both get cooked, in a sense. Gouda is a cooked pressed cheese, meaning that the curds are cooked, which brings out all of those lovely flavors of butterscotch, nuts, and chocolate. Afterwards, they are then pressed into a mold to create the cheese wheel. Once you start to age your Gouda, you get your tyrosine crystals. These crunchy bits are usually found in aged cheeses, and form over time due to chemical and protein breakdowns.


So why are Madeira Sercial and aged Gouda so lovely together? The light fruit notes of the Madeira play nicely with the toothsome flavors of an aged Gouda. The acid, salinity, and clean qualities cut through its dense texture. Basically, this pairing creates a wonderland of salted caramel, chocolate covered cherries in your mouth. Who doesn't want that?


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