Wine and cheese, cheese and wine—these are two fucking fantastic things. Yet they are also two things that frequently cause feelings of idiocy, due to others' snobbiness and one's own ignorance. To facilitate fearless wine-drinking and cheese-eating, we invited local wine and cheese experts to Questionland (thestranger.com/questionland), where they answered readers' questions about everything from finding the most delicious cheese in the world to which cheap wines don't taste like crap. Our panelists included Julia Wayne of Edible Seattle, Sheri LaVigne of the Calf & Kid, and Doug Nufer of European Vine Selections. Here are selections from their drunk, cheesy wisdom—find a ton more, including answers just as helpful as these from Questionland civilians, online.
What's the best method for stove-top grilled cheese sandwiches? —Ingo Pixel
Sheri LaVigne: Cast-iron skillet, butter the bread instead of melting butter in the pan, both essential... The other thing to always do is shred your cheese. Larger slices or hunks of cheese take longer to melt, and you'll often wind up with burnt bread. This also opens up the kinds of cheeses you can use—I love a combo of some aged Gouda and a sharp cheddar. Definitely ask your cheesemonger what will melt well, as some cheeses do better than others in that respect. Keep the heat low and make sure the skillet is fully warmed up before grilling. Enjoy!
What's your favorite cheap wine? —Super Jesse
Julia Wayne: I am a rosé girl myself. And since it's summer-ish time in Seattle, it's a great wine to bring to a barbecue... One of my favorites is an M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône. You can pick it up at Whole Foods for about $8. It's light- to medium- bodied and is very refreshing and drinkable. Another cool thing about it is that the label has braille on it as a tribute to Maurice Monier de La Sizeranne, the late and original owner of Chapoutier's Hermitage vineyard, as well as the inventor of abbreviated braille... Other great inexpensive wines include Le Ferme Julien rosé, which I buy at Trader Joe's for around $7, and the Trentino Lagrein, which is an easy red wine I buy at Ballard Market for about $12.
When in doubt, go foreign. Chances are, your friends may have heard of a cheapo domestic wine, like Charles Shaw, but may not have heard of the European version of it.
Doug Nufer: In general, I find many Spanish garnacha and Portuguese red blends for $6 to $8. From France, Abel Clement has a grenache red for $6 that's as good as some over-$10 Côtes-du-Rhône wines, and they also have a white and rosé at that price.
Box wines are probably the best deal, if you find a decent one. La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux comes in a 3L box that sells for $20. You can buy the same juice in a 750 ml bottle for $9 or $10. Also, these box wines with bladders that shrink as you drink can last for days without going bad.
I like cheese, fresh and aged, but cheese counters are overwhelming! —Grandma Hypockets
Sheri LaVigne: My first and last recommendation is always the same: sample, sample, sample. The best way to find new cheese that you love, and to expand your palate, is to taste as many as you can. I often have people coming to my counter wide-eyed and obviously overwhelmed, and it's my job to help them find a few selections that sit well with them. No matter where you buy your cheese, you should find someone who knows something about the selection and tell them, "I normally like such-and-such, but want to branch out, what can you suggest?" Any competent cheesemonger should be able to point you in the direction of a handful of delicious cheeses that will be along the lines of what you like, hopefully just different enough to open your eyes and taste buds to something new.
Case in point: Today, a couple came by my shop looking for something "Jack-like" for chiles rellenos. I don't carry any Monterey Jack–style cheeses per se, but I do have a great selection of excellent melting cheeses that I recommend for cooking. I gave this couple four to choose from, and they went with a mild fontina, a classic and an excellent choice for holding up against the hot, mouth- watering kick of grilled chilies. Now please excuse me while I drool on myself.
What is the connection between liberalism and wine+cheese? Bonus points for explaining how Volvos fit into the equation. —Granny Smith
Doug Nufer: The French... To throw conservatives a bone, I'd say the match of Stilton cheese and vintage port can't be beat. Once I ran a port tasting, and people showed up from Bellingham, and then they drove home in their Volvo. There. I didn't card them to see if they were liberals or neoliberals.