Searching for cheese options to serve with a nice merlot or pinot noir? There’s an app for that.
A group of computer scientists and molecular biologists at the University of Toronto recently created a new app and website that is based on scientific technology to map relationships within data sets.
At wineandcheesemap.com, you can search by the type of cheese or wine, or even by country, to find numerous pairing recommendations, up to 1,000 for those feeling particularly ambitious. The site includes more than 250 cheeses and about 100 wines.
This creation is based off of Cytoscape, an open source software platform for visualizing complex networks that integrates data.
The idea took shape over time. Professor Gary Bader at the University of Toronto, one of the app’s developers, became interested in learning more about cheese and began researching the subject.
“I found great books, including “Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best” by Max McCalman and David Gibbons, which had a lot of great information,” he says. “It listed 300 cheeses, which wines pair best and cheeses that taste good together.”
As both a scientist and cancer researcher, Bader regularly works on the analysis of networks at the university.
“Cytoscapes take a lot of data for use in medical research,” he says. “With this technology, we’re able to accomplish many things, such as finding genes in autism or cancer in children.”
He saw connections in the book that could be made with this technology and began testing the system with cheese and wine pairings.
“We made visual connections that are the basis for this app; that’s really how it came to be,” he says.
For fun, he used a demo of the cheese and wine pairing possibilities on the university’s website as a way to show how Cytoscape technology works. It was soon discovered by the Washington Post, BBC and other international media.
“Even though the site was established as a fun demo, it became a tool to search the network of cheeses,” says Bader. “We’re calling it an app, but it’s really a website that serves a single purpose.”
The site works on smartphones with a web browser or on computers or tablets. And the best part is, it’s free.
Logging in, users see a stratospheric-looking photo that shows yellow and orange circles with cheese and wine names and line connections between them. The size of the cheese circles are proportionate to the Connoisseur’s Guide’s quality score, which is out of 100. The bigger the circle, the higher the cheese’s quality.
Click on ‘Stilton’ and the map shifts, with this cheese circle relocated in the center surrounded by compatible wine and cheese types, such as Gorgonzola and California Zinfandel. The visual is akin to a sun surrounded by adjacent planets.
In the left-hand corner, a separate box provides additional details on the cheese, including its texture; the type of milk it’s produced from, such as pasteurized cow’s milk; and country of origin. A ‘more information’ link within this box brings users to a search engine listing various websites that can be accessed.
“It’s useful in a few ways,” says Bader. “If I’m at a store and want to explore new cheeses, I can look at the map and see which types are similar that I haven’t tried before and find those that taste different. I can also decide I like a cheese and find other similar varieties to try as well as look for the best wine and cheese pairing possibilities.”
Since the site has gone live, Bader has received suggestions from others on how to expand on the information.
“Once the map became popular, I had the author of a book on Champagne e-mail me; he wanted to add this to the cheese pairings,” says Bader. “Other suggestions were to add port or beer pairings.”
He says the map may eventually be updated and nothing is off the table, but the goal will continue to be getting people thinking of different ways to explore data with cheese and wine. Yep, there’s now an app for that.