☰ menu   

Honey Harmony: Balance Your Beverage and Cheese Pairings

Explore the nuanced flavors from this sweet addition.

Honey on cheese
Photo Credit: Peredniankina

The land of milk and honey gets all the glory, but in our opinion, the land of cheese and honey sounds much more appealing. This dreamy duo is well known—slabs of honeycomb often glisten on the edges of serving boards, ready to be smushed and smeared onto a crostini slathered in ricotta—so it’s no surprise that the same magic unfolds when you pair cheese with drinks that are made from or with honey.

“The acidity in most cheeses is begging for a sweet counterpart to balance it out. Honey is that,” says Sam Nelis, beverage director at Barr Hill, a spirit producer in Vermont that crafts a honey-based gin and a butterscotch-y, honey-based vodka. He also notes that certain drinks incorporating honey can highlight its different botanical elements, depending on the process by which it’s made and any additional ingredients used—the same logic that applies to a cheese pairing.

The marriage of honey and cheese is thought to date back to the Roman Empire, where recipes from epicure Marcus Apicius show evidence of the accompaniment adding depth to cottage cheese and bringing moisture to an early cheesecake called Libum, which was soaked in the sweet stuff. The concept of adding honey to drinks began with mead (a fermented mix of water, honey, and yeast): one of the world’s oldest tipples.

Evidence of this “nectar of the gods” first appeared in China circa 6500 B.C., where traces of the fermentation process were found in pottery pieces from the region. Despite its similarities to beer and wine, it’s categorized as neither and predates both boozes.

Honey drinks have evolved to include more than just mead (though, the elixir is having a modern renaissance). Sips made with the liquid gold range from sweet to subtle to heady, with ubiquity in the cocktail realm. To couple some of the most popular honey-based libations with their matches made in dairy heaven, we tapped Marisa Cataldo—Manager of Operations, Customer Experience, and Events at Curds and Co. in Brookline, Massachusetts—for her expertise. “When I am thinking of pairings, I first look at the cheese and assess if it needs a similar or complementary pairing,” she says of her process. “When it comes to drinks, I more often look for similar flavor profiles. I like to use drinks to help boost the flavor I want to pull out of the cheese that I am pairing it with. But I also lean on complementary flavors if there are strong flavors in the cheese and/or drink.

Check out these cheese pairings for four iconic honey-based drinks that range from classic cocktails to morning delights—a testament to how well honey plays with nearly every wedge and wheel.

Ovelha Amanteigado + Bee’s Knees

A pudding-like round of Ovelha Amanteigado is the perfect counterpart to a zingy Bee’s Knees cocktail. Made in Beira Alta, Portugal, from thistle rennet and raw sheep’s milk, this custardy cheese has a sharp undertone that dances when combined with the lemon in the Prohibition-era libation. The cheese’s sweet and floral finish brings out the honey’s botanical notes, as well as those in the gin. For an extra dose of depth, use Barr Hill Gin—and their honey while you’re at it; it boasts over 100 wildflower botanicals in each batch.

St. Stephen + Hot Honey Manhattan

This triple cream, the flagship cheese from Four Fat Fowl, possesses a silky center enveloped in a rind that cuts through its richness with nutty and earthy notes. Handcrafted with luscious Jersey cow’s milk and cream, it’s an ideal match for a spunky, spicy Hot Honey Manhattan. Cataldo loves how this buttery cheese brings out the sweetness of the honey in the cocktail and quells its spice—not to mention, balances the drink’s alcohol load.

Aarewasser + Golden Milk Latte

“Aarewasser is the perfect combo of sweet and umami,” says Cataldo. “A golden milk latte is the drink equivalent to those flavors working together in harmony.” This Swiss-style cheese, made by British producer Jumi Cheese, is crafted with raw cow’s milk, which yields grassy, zesty undertones that tandems with the earthy turmeric and floral honey in the warm, golden drink.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar + Mead

Though a wedge of Jasper Hill Farm’s Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is a classic that’s likely already on your board, you might not have sampled its perfect companion outside of a Renaissance fair. Modern small-batch meads (which have come a long way in recent years) are typically crisp as a field of wildflowers, with a dimensional candied honey flavor that can range in potency depending on the brew. “Cabot Clothbound has a lovely nutty and sharp quality—a sweet mead will help balance that,” says Cataldo.


Leave a Reply