How to Make the Ultimate Tinned Fish & Cheese Board | culture: the word on cheese
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How to Make the Ultimate Tinned Fish & Cheese Board

Photographed by Nina Gallant, Styled by Madison Trapkin

The popular tinned fish wave continues to swell. Last summer, we saw a growing social media trend of “hot girl food” with canned anchovies, sardines, mussels, and scallops gracing our feeds. (Apparently, “hot girl food” can be anything from chicken nuggets to cake, so take that phrase with a grain of salt.) Some attribute the trend to an aspirational lifestyle—think: caviar bumps and champagne.

Michelle Vieira adopted early. “I think the trend really ramped up during the pandemic because it’s a relatively inexpensive way to get some protein and try something new that’s shelf stable and lasts for years unopened,” she explains. “My fianceé and I got into it because in 2022 she discovered she had type 1 diabetes and we found that tinned fish hit her blood sugar less hard than traditional charcuterie. Plus, it was a fun way for both of us to try something new and a fun challenge for pairing cheese.”

Vieira graduated with an art degree from Ohio State University and quickly found her way to cheese via a stint at Katzinger’s Delicatessen in Columbus, Ohio. She was hooked. She worked her way up at Whole Foods Market, eventually becoming a buyer in 2018. She became a CCP (Certified Cheese Professional) in 2019 and competed in the Cheesemonger Invitational in 2020 and 2023. In 2021, Vieira became the cheese and deli director at Carfagna’s Market in Columbus and has led the team since. “I built the cheese program from the ground up, and I am carrying on the legacy of the deli that this Italian market is known and beloved for in our local community. My counter is a culmination of a lot of effort and trial and error; I’m pretty proud of it,” she says.

We asked Vieira to curate a cheese board with tinned fish. “Like anything you pair with cheese, tinned fish has a ton of character and different styles, and different producers work differently with different cheeses,” she notes. “Often, I tend to question: is the cheese the star, or is the fish the star? Some are more neutral—such as a sardine in high quality olive oil—but there are also ones such as curry mackerel, where you have to be a little more intentional in how you pick your cheese pairing.”

Below are her top picks for a board worth diving into.

1. Capriole Goat Cheese Julianna
Origin: Greenville, Indiana Milk: Pasteurized Goat
+ Güeyu Mar Grilled Sardine Tails in Marinade

The most expensive fish in the lineup (around $20 to $25 a tin), these Spanish sardines are a meaty, charred, smoky splurge. Pro tip: shake the can before opening to emulsify the olive oil. Pair with Capriole Goat Cheese’s herbaceous Juliana, a soft goat stunner coated in edible wildflowers. I’m a sap for this pairing because it reminds me of my sneakily assembled celebratory cheese board after proposing to my fiancée in Cincinnati. Not knowing what was in store for the evening, my date helped me select cheese and accompaniments beforehand (we picked up Juliana and happened to find the Güeyu Mar in person for the first time ever!). It’s a pretty magical pairing, so pair it with someone you adore.

2. Parmigiano Reggiano
Origin: Italy Milk: Raw Cow
+ Ocean’s Wild Mackerel Korma Curry

Ocean’s is a great, inexpensive “introductory tin.” They’re a B Corp company in Canada, and you can often find their tinned fish in the food section at Homegoods. The mackerel filets are sizeable and meaty, with a coconut-backed curry flavor. Parmigiano Reggiano is a favorite because of its sheer versatility. The cheese’s tropical, pineapple notes complement the curry swimmingly.

3. Manchego
Origin: Spain | Milk: Raw Sheep
+ Tiny Fish Co. Chorizo Spiced Mussels

Oregon’s Tiny Fish Co. is a relatively new company that focuses on sourcing abundant, local species and seasonal fishing, which are both sustainable ways to combat overfishing. These mussels are chorizo-spiced, so they carry a nice, slightly smoky heat. A classic no-brainer Spanish pairing for this guy is Manchego. Its toasty, nutty flavor perfectly balances that lovely heat.

4. Meredity Dairy Marinated Goat and Sheep Cheese
Origin: Australia | Milk: Pasteurized Goat and Sheep
+ Porthos Sardines in Hot Vegetable Oil

Porthos Sardines offer a meaty, not- too-fishy texture, quality oil, and complementary flavors. Because the vegetable oil they’re packed in is more neutral than olive oil, the sardines absorb the heat of piri piri pepper perfectly. Pair with Meredith Dairy’s marinated cheese for a light, refreshing bite that allows the fish to shine.

5. Ciresa Tallegio
Origin: Italy | Milk: Pasteurized Cow
+ Galician Scallops in Vieira Sauce

Vieira (my Portuguese namesake) is a tomato garlic sauce often accompanying scallops. Pudgy Taleggio pairs perfectly with these firm, meaty bivalves. My favorite brand is Ciresa (which I carry exclusively at my counter) because it’s yeastier than others, with just the right amount of not-too- animal funk. This pair + a crusty baguette = perfection. Bonus points for adding a slathering of good, salted culture butter into the mix.

Mallory Scyphers

Mallory Scyphers is culture's Executive Content Director and has been with the company since 2019. She lives on Mobile Bay with her husband, two young daughters, one old Shetland Sheepdog, one rambunctious golden retriever, and one calico cat. Her favorite cheeses are alpine styles and mineral-y blues.

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