In Vino Veritas Part XLVI: Tomatoes and Cheese

Spring is in the air. And it’s also in the soil! One of my perennial loves is taking the time each year to plant some vegetables and herbs in my backyard. It’s a longstanding hobby, and many hotel properties nowadays also have their own gardens to adequately satisfy the farm-to-table trend, although theirs are probably much larger.

In any case, with planting season upon us here in North America, I would highly recommend you dig a few holes for my favorite – tomatoes. They’re delicious, have a wide variety of different cultivars and, like cheese, olives and bread, pair exquisitely with wine.

I was inspired to discuss this coupling after many recent nights out at Italian restaurants where a big platter of tomatoes with fresh and aged cheeses were handed out as appetizer. Such communal plates instantly energized the table, heightening the dining experience and hastened our alcohol consumption. Overall, this means better meal satisfaction and increased sales per turn – a win-win for any restaurant.

Together, tomatoes and cheese represent a traditional yet simple and colorful complement to a glass of wine. They also give you a chance to show off your local pride. Even though cheese is considered the premier food companion to wine – and rightfully so given its array of artisanal flavors – tomatoes are likewise excellent because of their versatility.

Consumed raw, you have the classic reds coming in many different shapes, shades and sizes, but you also have the heirlooms in pink, orange, green (also consider tomatillos), pale yellow, gold (hence the Italian name for tomato, ‘pomodoro’) and even purple-indigo varietals. Add to that cooked versions such as oven-roasted, grilled, smoked, fried and sun-dried. Then you have the sauces and tapenades which go far beyond simple red marinara with numerous European sauces in addition to all the different New World salsas.

Remember that we eat with our eyes as much as we do our mouths (and nostrils), so tapping into the full tomato spectrum will make for an especially pleasing treat. Plus, variety adds some fun to the plate insofar as mixing and matching. Giving people the chance to try different combinations of cheeses, tomatoes, tomato sauces, jams, honeys, olives, artisanal bread slices, crackers and so on adds an extra layer of interactivity to the dining experience. In essence, you are giving people the ingredients and it’s up to them to discover what fits their palates best. All washed down with a hearty bottle of white or red wine, of course!

And this is the broad lesson when it comes to food and wine pairings of any sort. They should be designed to be ‘complementary’ which means that the grouping should be greater than sum of its parts. Wine is hardy just a sophisticated source of ethanol intoxication. By diligently pairing a particular drop with the specific flavors, you amplify the whole meal. And guests are relying on your servers and sommeliers to steer them appropriately.

Everyone knows that wine and cheese mesh well together. Add a little surprise by throwing tomatoes into the mix and enhance the overall complement for improved dining satisfaction and, ultimately, sales.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by HotelsMag on May 20, 2016).

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