I have long professed that sparkling wines go with just about any food. We call this “food friendly” for good reason. And cheese is one item I seem to pair with my sparkling happy hour before dinner.
You know my favorites, brie, camembert, gouda, Cotswold, and Havarti. But it really does not matter which cheese you prefer. The cheese can be paired with other food, AND with a sparkling wine almost 100% of the time.
For some cheese wisdom, I looked to Thrillist and Cat Thompson, who had some great insight into cheese pairings.
Cheese is already good on its own, but what if there was a way to make it better? Enter cheese pairing—the process of partnering different cheeses with jams, nuts, fruit, meats, or anything else you can think of that might improve the experience of eating cheese or coax out new, unimaginable flavors.
“The best-case scenario is when a flavor combination of a pairing far exceeds the flavors of the individual elements,” Greselda Powell, head cheesemonger at New York City’s Murray’s Cheese, explains. “Think of it as one plus one equals ten! Not only is the flavor of the pairing totally different than the components but it also has a taste that is both amazing and unexpected.” Powell provides an example, saying that the combination of Red Rock cheese with kimchi was reminiscent of a Coney Island Nathan’s hot dog. Don’t you just love the term, cheesemonger??
Here is a simple guide:
Guiding Principles to Cheese Pairing
What grows together goes together
“Pair items from the same geographic region since they share the same terroir. Chances are that they will pair well together,” Powell says. A couple examples of this that Powell provides includes aged Manchego with jamona serrano from Spain, or parmigiano reggiano with prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy. You can consider the fruits, nuts, and even beverages from the region you’re sourcing your cheese from.
“The key concept is ‘contrast’,” Powell explains. “Not just contrast in flavor but also texture. Varying flavors and textures provide for a more interesting pairing experience because one is engaging multiple senses.” For this, think about soft cheeses paired with crunchy crackers, chips, nuts, and cornichons—or hard cheeses with spreadable jams and quince.
Like with like
This concept seems a bit confusing next to opposites attract, but it’s about finding a unifying flavor note. “Pair a cheese with an accompaniment that shares the same flavor notes. For example: Idiazabal is a Spanish, aged sheep’s milk cheese with smokey and nutty flavor notes. Pair this with a smokey meat like bacon or a smokey salami.” When pairing flavor notes, Powell says to be cognizant of pairing strong flavors with delicate ones—as you don’t want to overwhelm any single component.
Brie pairing: Similarly to blue, there are a lot of brie and brie-style cheeses to choose from that vary in texture and flavor—but for the most part, popular American brie flavors lean towards buttery. “A buttery flavor profile allows for a versatility of pairings,” Powell says. “One can pair a buttery brie with the traditional fruits jams and honeys. However, I like to go a bit unconventional—I think about pairing items that taste good with butter, such as roasted vegetables.” I put my brie on a rice cracker from Trader Joes.
And for gouda: One of Powell’s favorite types of gouda is called Roomano, a hard cow’s milk gouda that has sweet, nutty, and butterscotch notes. “The texture is hard with a bit of crystallization from the aging,” Powell explains. “One of my all-time favorite pairings is Roomano with chocolate covered almonds. It reminds me of a Butterfinger candy bar.” Since I am not a big chocolate fan, I like my gouda with fresh fruit or a baguette.
Please refer to her article in Thrillist for other pairings.
Bottom line, do not be afraid to try combinations of your own. If you like spicy, try the hot pepper spread. And if you like sweet, try your favorite jam or jelly. I also like the salted, cured meats (like George Costanza).
My preference is to keep it simple. You will, no doubt, find pairings that are unique and offbeat. And always with my favorite sparkling wine!!