Why Serve Port With Cheese?

Cheese: the perfect last course of a special meal and the best nibble at any other time! What is it about cheese that invited port to join it in the first place and why the port snobbery?

Port Facts

Port is fortified wine, named after its place of origin, Oporto, in Portugal. The Methuen Treaties of 1703 brought Portugal into the Grand Alliance in the war of the Spanish Succession. In return for allowing English cloth free access to Portuguese markets, Portuguese wines had to be cheaper than French, to ensure a constant supply of quality wine.

Other countries may not call their fortified wines port (Instituto do Vinho do Porto). Vineyards in the Douro Valley are where the grapes for port are grown.

The ambient temperature in which to serve port is 55-65F. Tawny port may be served at a cooler temperature and white port is usually served chilled.

There are about nine different styles of port, so, how do we choose which ones to serve with which cheese when our favourite dinner guests are with us? Which, if any, do we dilute with lemonade and serve with crisps to our mad Auntie Lil when she’s getting too frisky for comfort? (Any port in a storm, perhaps).


Vintage ports are considered to be the finest. The first vintage ports were ‘declared’ in 1734 and the term is still used today for the port produced in years when grape production is considered to be exceptional.

Crusted ports are unfiltered; so they need careful decanting to get rid of the sediment before serving.

LBV stands for Late Bottled Vintage and is filtered and bottled.

White port is relatively new (1934) and the dry type is popular as an aperitif.

Port-Serving Tradition

British Naval tradition has it that port should be passed ‘from port to port’ at the end of dinner. The best-known port-passing ceremony, particularly in the armed forces, is as follows:

  • The port is placed in front of the head of the table or host (usually highest ranking officer).
  • The head of table or host serves the guest to his right.
  • The head of table then passes the port to the guest on his left.

Each guest then pours their own port and passes it to their left until it is returned to the host.

This is an accepted way to serve port at each table during formal dinners. (It has also been suggested that passing the port in this direction avoids incurring the wrath of the devil; he apparently lurks over our left shoulders…)

It is thought to show a considerable lack of social standing if anyone asks for the port to be passed! Such a request would be met with: “Do you know the Duke of Devonshire”? A negative response to this ‘poor form trap’ would prove, without doubt, the person’s social inadequacy. Oh, the shame…

Which Cheese?

Stilton is the most popular choice of cheese to serve with port. We need only look at the plethora of ‘port and stilton gift boxes’ in the build up to Christmas to see this!

Port is a heavy, sweet, fortified wine. Stilton is salty, creamy and acidic. The flavours and textures complement each other and both have been available to us for hundreds of years. Simple as that!

Most good blue cheeses have the strength to challenge the dominant flavour of port; so neither is overpowering. If you fancy trying something other than Stilton, but prefer to buy British cheeses, serve your port with Blue Cheshire, Shropshire Blue, or Irish Cashel. If you have a local cheese specialist shop-ask them to recommend something a little different for you to try.

Port and Cheese Rebels

A quiet revolution has begun. Some rebellious rascals are serving chilled white port with cream cheese! Whatever next? It’s great to explore with flavours; that’s how our experts are still creating new cheeses after all these years. Be your own expert, experiment with different cheeses and then try them with what you think could be their perfect viticultural partners!

Sounds like a good evening to me. Oh, yes, Auntie Lil…pour her a younger, cheaper, ruby port with lemonade, otherwise it seems a waste.

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