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By: Molly Bourg

                You want to serve cheese and drinks for a little get together you’re hosting, but when you get to the cheese shop everything seems so overwhelming! What cheese goes with what wine? Goodness gracious, you didn’t even consider jams and preserves! Do you need to get a meat or would that be too much?

                Lucky for you, most cheese boards are a “cheese your own adventure.” If you enjoy it and put it on a platter, chances are other folks will too. But if you need a little guidance to overcome that decision paralysis, we’ve got a few tried and true strategies for cheese pairings. You don’t have to follow all of these at once, pick whichever one speaks to you!

Tip #1: Be careful with heavily oaked beverages.

                Oak barrels impart buttery, rounded notes to any beverage aging inside. You might think that this would match the buttery notes in cheese, but what often occurs is an uncanny valley on the palate. Similar to wearing two slightly different shades of the same color, in theory it should go, but when you put them side by side they clash.

                That’s not to say you can’t use oaked beverages, but it can take a couple tries to get it right. If you consider yourself a pairing novice, start with stainless steel and work your way up.

Tip #2: Stay in Season

Pairing seasonal flavors is an easy way to theme a cheese board and gives you the chance to feature local produce! As an agricultural product, cheese follows the rhythms of the earth, with different styles highlighting the changes of seasonal milk.  

  • Spring: Spring is lambing and kidding season! Sheep and goat milk cheese are at a peak in production and quality. Try pairing ash-ripened goat cheeses with spring veggies like cucumber, arugula, and sweet peas. Or marinate sheep’s milk feta with abundant herbs like mint, lavender, and thyme.
  • Summer: Fresh cheese is king! Fresh cheeses were originally designed to be made and eaten on the same day, taking advantage of plentiful summer milk (and avoiding chances of spoilage in the heat). Pasta filata cheeses like fresh mozzarella and burrata sing with summer produce like creole tomatoes, watermelon, grilled peaches and roasted peppers.
  • Autumn: Incorporate the autumnal landscape with spruce bark-wrapped beauties like Harbison or Rush Creek Reserve. These cheeses are woodsy, savory, and rich and pair perfectly with buttered mushrooms, dried cranberries, and apple butter.
  • Winter: Winter was the time of year when our ancestors would finally crack into the preserved foods they’d been storing away all summer. Robust hard cheeses like cheddars and alpine styles were the backbone of the winter diet, and often paired with other sturdy shelf staples like cured sausages, nuts, pickled and fermented vegetables, and honey.

Tip #3: Terroir AKA “What grows together goes together.”

Terroir, also known as the flavor of the earth, examines how a food or wine’s native climate affects the overall flavor. Everything from soil composition, to weather patterns, to the regional microbiome affects the final product. If two foods are from the same region, they’ve experienced similar environmental conditions and are more likely to pair well.

This is by far the easiest strategy for food pairing. Have a wine from the Jura region of France? Try it with the French mountain cheese: Comté. Looking for something to go with a Portuguese torta-style cheese? Try it with a classic Vinho Verde.

For a more advanced version, you don’t have to do an exact geographical match. Instead, look for similar climate conditions. Both Gruyere and Oolong tea have centuries of history in the mountains of their respective countries (Switzerland and China). The pairing is unusual but delightful!

Tip #4: Twin Flavors

                The second easiest way to pair cheese is to play up existing flavors. Identify the key aromatics and find matching accompaniments. Examples of matched pairs are listed below.

  • Fresh Cheeses: Young, sweet, milky and light. Pair with delicate white tea or a young crisp white wine.
  • Goat Cheese: Tart, tropical and citrus forward. Pair with citrus based cocktails like a mojito or high acid wines like Txakolina or Pinot Grigio.
  • Cheddar: Acidic “sharpness” and toasty brown butter notes. Pair with apple cider to highlight the brightness or a Irish Red Ale to lean into the toastiness.
  • Washed Rinds: Funky, brothy, and robust. Pair with sour beers, saisons, and pét-nat wines . Or really dial up the funk with kraut or kimchi.

Tip #5: Opposites Attract

                Contrasting pairs help to balance each other out. We know and love them: sweet and salty, butter round with tart brightness, savory and fruity.  Examples include:

  • Blue Cheese: Blue cheeses are notoriously salty and “barnyardy”. Sweet dessert wines like Madeira or Port help to curd the worst of the blue spice.
  • Triple Crème: Buttery, decadent, dense. While delicious, triple cremes can sometimes coat the inside of the mouth, dulling the tastebuds. Dry sparkling wines help to break up the fat on the palate, cleansing it for the next bite.