If we say, “Red wine,” you say, “Blue cheese,” right? This suggestion features in nearly every beginner’s guide to pairing cheese and wine. And truly, they work beautifully together—but we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t seek to broaden your horizons. Take a medium-bodied merlot, for example, and strike a course for Scandinavia to score some butterscotch-y North Holland Gouda PDO from FrieslandCampina. Or accompany a dark, berry-forward pinot noir with Gourmino’s Le Gruyère AOP, a strikingly floral and herbaceous member of the Gruyère family. If a bold cabernet sauvignon is in your bag, it’ll meet its match in Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co., their Alpine-inspired and complex champion. To liven the palate and spice things up a bit, pair a tart tempranillo with Spain’s salty-yet-smooth (and Super Gold medal-winning) Ibérico García Baquero. How’s that for breaking the red-and-blue mold?
Serving cheese with bubbles is a study in contrasts. Effervescent drinks like champagne and cava have a palate-cleansing quality that plays well with more intense cheeses, be they piquant or pungent, but the key here is to strike a balance between big personalities. We nominate none other than Santo Stefano’s Parmigiano Reggiano PDO in the salty category (though BelGioioso’s Parmesan can hold its own in a competition), or the very fine Professor’s Brie from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co./Wegmans, if you’re looking for something softer. For the intrepid turophile, we’d suggest matching bubbly up with funky Redhead from Yellow Door Creamery, a friendly spin on a washed-rind Reblochon.
Pairing white wine and cheese might seem like an easy puzzle to solve, but the layers of nuance in white varietals can send you down a rabbit hole of indecision. Our pro tip: Find similarities in the texture of both the cheese and wine. First off, Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise Reserve is a perfect match for a silky chardonnay, with notes of brown butter and savory intensity from its 18-month aging regimen. For a sweeter vibe, an off-dry riesling really sings when set up with grassy Hudson Valley Camembert from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Meanwhile, ash-lined and toothsome fan favorite Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove finds a peppy cheerleader in young sauvignon blanc.
When it comes to enjoying cheese with beer, the inclination maybe to grab whatever’s convenient. But the influx of microbreweries in the past decade has ushered beer into its grown-up phase, so to speak, and the complex cans out there deserve equally evolved cheese pairings. Lagers love a cheddar; Murray’s Stockinghall delivers with its fudgy crumble and savory bouquet of flavors, reminiscent of a fully loaded baked potato. If you’re craving something a little brighter, pair a citrus-forward witbier with Vermont Creamery’s addictive Cranberry, Orange & Cinnamon Fresh Goat Cheese. Sticky, hoppy IPAs match well with a sweet-leaning wedge, like Central Coast Creamery’s floral and sheepy Ewenique. And at the darkest end of the beer rainbow, with a profile often compared to chocolate cake, stouts are best served with a rich, velvety blue like Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery.
As the temperature drops and the leaves turn, you may find yourself reaching for a mug of cider or a shot of Calvados brandy. Flory’s Truckle from Milton Creamery is the perfect cheese to enjoy with anything apple—be it pie, mead, ice wine, or cider (hard or non-alcoholic). For a clothbound cheddar, Flory’s is surprisingly like a Gouda, featuring notes of salted caramel and baking spices. Its autumnal qualities are best enhanced by an off-dry cider, and vice versa.
Much has been written on the seemingly endless range of whiskey varieties from around the world, each fanbase more fiercely passionate than the last. For our purposes, we’ll keep our recommendations to the types of bottles most likely present in American markets. Sweet and sultry bourbon matches well with nutty Basque Esquirrou, in a pairing reminiscent of pecan pie. Rye can be tempered by a creamy, vegetal wheel of Mt Tam from Cowgirl Creamery, which takes the edge off this spicier sip. If you like your whiskey to taste practically barbequed (a.k.a.smoky), savor it with an oaky wedge of Mull of Kintyre Smoked Cheddar; more peat-forward sips are fabulous with Mature Whole Blue Stilton from Cropwell Bishop Creamery.
As with whiskey, we could fill pages with our recommendations for cheese and agave-derived spirits. But we’ll start with the major types of tequila and leave you to experiment further with mezcal and sotol (or check out our 2020 Great 28 pairings issue for guidance). Silver, or blanco tequila, has a clean and slightly sweet profile, by virtue of being the youngest variety; equally fresh-faced Laura Chenel Original Medallion goat cheese provides the ideal foil. Barrel-aged reposado, much like a juicy red wine, goes down easy when served with fudgy Mad River Blue from Von Trapp Farmstead. And similar to a peaty scotch, caramel-colored añejo needs a rich companion; we think buttery Grinning Gecko Brie from New Zealand is the answer.
These bittersweet cool kids of the liquor cabinet traditionally hail from Italy, though they’ve made inroads with craft makers worldwide. The astringent nature of most amari—think Campari, Fernet, or Averna—comes from bittering agents like quinine and gentian root and is soothed with varying levels of sweetness. Mixologists have been toying with amaro-based cocktails for a while now, but most bottles are complex enough on their own. They do, however, benefit greatly from the right savory cheese pairing; something herbaceous and creamy like Challerhocker softens the bitter bite.
After all this talk of imbibing with cheese, you might think we forgot to consider the morning after. But if booze is the life of the party, coffee is the corpse reviver. We’ve got just the cheese to nibble with your first morning sips of joe: award-winning Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese. Beehive takes their flagship cheddar, Promontory, and rubs the rind with ground espresso and lavender. This star treatment results in an aromatic, wholesome, slightly crunchy crowd pleaser that’s as welcome at the breakfast table as it is at happy hour.