With its captivating flavors, textures, and aromas, cheese is one of the most exciting foods we eat. Pairing that cheese with drinks and other foods like fruit, nuts, charcuterie, preserves, and honey can take those intriguing sensory qualities to new heights.
But finding the “correct” cheese pairing can sometimes feel fraught. Choose the wrong bottle or the wrong accompaniment, so the conventional wisdom goes, and you’ve turned what should have been a delicious moment into an unpleasant experience.
Well, we’re here to let you in on a little secret: there’s no right way to pair cheese! Sensory experiences are extremely subjective, and the whole point of eating cheese is to engage in something pleasurable and enjoyable. The correct cheese pairing is one you enjoy.
You just need a few simple tips to start choosing delicious cheese pairings. Here are our guidelines for matching cheeses with other food and drink.
One way to categorize cheese families by flavor is on a spectrum from least intense to most intense. Fresh, light-tasting cheeses like chevre are at one end of that spectrum, while pungent, tongue-popping blue cheeses are at the other. Bloomy rinds, washed rinds, natural rind cheeses, Alpines, cheddars, and Goudas would fall somewhere in the middle, roughly in that order (and depending on age—older wheels tend to be more intense than younger ones).
Think about the flavor of the cheese you want to pair with. Where does it fall on that intensity scale? Seek out pairings with a similar intensity. This will ensure that the cheese won’t drown out the accompaniment and vice versa.
For example, a light, refreshing kolsch or pilsner beer is less intense, while a deep, dark porter is much more intense in flavor. In terms of accompaniments, foods like French breakfast radishes, Asian pears, and honey are less intense, while tomato jam, dried figs, and dark chocolate are much more intense. The former three would be great pairings with chevre, while the latter three are classic to serve with strong blue cheeses.
Play with complementary and contrasting flavors and textures.
Let’s keep thinking about that salty blue cheese. While a full-bodied, dry red wine can go well with blue, sweet pairings—the opposite of that salty cheese—tend to work really well, too. That’s why we reach for things like dried fruits, dark chocolate, port wine, and pumpkin beer to pair with blue cheese.
Of course, this rule goes the other way, too. You can amp up the nutty qualities of an aged Alpine-style cheese like Comte by pairing it with something that has similar flavors, like toasted hazelnuts or even sweet, crunchy nut brittle. To boost the fruitiness of a cheese, reach for berries, grapes, apples, or even pineapple to bring out those notes.
Don’t forget that this guideline works for texture, too. For a next-level pairing that really highlights how the texture of an accompaniment can show off a cheese in its best light, try a gooey, rich cheese wrapped in spruce bark like Jasper Hill’s Harbison or Spruce Reserve from Firefly Farms. Grab your favorite potato chips, pop the top, and dip ‘em in to experience silky liquid cheese and crispy crunch together.
Look for accompaniments from a similar region.
Geography can be a useful tool to guide us to great pairings. Just like wine, artisan and specialty cheeses are an expression of terroir—the unique taste of place that comes from factors like soil, climate, breed, feed, and aging environment.
This is why soft-ripened goat cheeses from France’s Loire Valley are traditionally paired with Sauternes—the wine is grown in that region, too. Spanish wines and Spanish cheeses, Italian wines and Italian cheeses, and so on.
This principle extends to American artisan cheeses, too. Source from a regional cheesemaker and a local brewer or a local winery. Hit up the cheese stand at your local farmers’ market, then grab some seasonal fruit from a neighboring table to enjoy along with it.
Consult our cheese pairing guides for inspiration.
If you’re still feeling adrift, there’s no shame in consulting the experts for ideas. We’ve got a deep archive of cheese pairing guides for you to peruse.
Check out our tips for pairing cheese with drinks like beer, wine (red, white, rosé, and sparkling), amaro, gin, whiskey, and tea. For accompaniments, we’ve dug into pairing our favorite wedges with chocolate, sweets, honey, and jam. We’ve even broken down our favorite cheeses by season—spring, summer, fall, and winter—with pairing suggestions to boot.
What are your favorite foods and drinks to pair with cheese? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!
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