I’ve been told it’s nice to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with your cheese plate. But for those who have yet to reach the drinking age or just dislike the taste of an alcoholic beverage, it can feel like the cheese world is a little exclusive. Is it possible to throw a sophisticated cheese tasting without providing an alcoholic accompaniment? Luckily, cheese itself is not exclusive and actually pairs very well with many non-alcoholic beverages. So go ahead and pop the sparkling cider, because it’s time to celebrate!
Cider + Cheese
Cider and cheese are natural partners. Although a white wine is the common companion during a cheese tasting, cider makes a decent rival. With its refreshing, bubbly taste, cider acts as a great palate cleanser in between bites. This is especially true for thick, rich cheeses. A carbonate beverage like cider helps cut through the fattiness and high salt content of a rich cheese, which balances out the flavor. Most ciders are fruity and slightly sweet, which means that they complement opposing notes, like those found in an earthy cheese.
My personal recommendation would be pairing a blue cheese with a sweet sparkling cider. The contrasting flavors would come alive together. Decadent cheeses like camembert and brie would also pair well with a crisp cider. If you don’t want to play around with opposing taste notes, it’s never a bad idea to try chèvre and cider together. Both are sweet, light, and pleasant. Sounds like a pretty good substitute for wine, huh?
Tea + Cheese
This may be surprising, but it turns out that wine and tea are quite similar: Both grapes and tea leaves contain tannins, which gives a tart, astringent flavoring. (Tannins are also responsible for the rich coloring of wine and tea.) Only certain teas will contain enough tannins to provide the complex flavor necessary for a cheese pairing—specifically black tea and oolong tea.
Pairing a black tea with a light goat cheese, especially incorporating honey in the mix, will no doubt please those taste buds. The powerful, rich flavor from the black tea intensifies the mild goat cheese.
If you prefer a mild tea, a low-tannin green tea would work fairly well. The clean, refreshing aroma of a green tea would pair well with a sharp cheese like manchego. Manchego is nutty and can sometimes be a bit gamey, so it begs to be mellowed by green tea.
Coffee + Cheese
Honestly, the thought of combining my two favorite things in life—cheese and coffee—is almost too overwhelming. The two were certainly meant to be together though, as both are complex, varied, and full of boundless potential.
Let’s start with an espresso, the small but mighty player in the coffee world. Espresso has rich, chocolate notes that would be highlighted by a creamy goat cheese. Espresso is also a good partner for an outlier in the cheese world: Gjetost. Gjetost is literally caramelized cheese, with a texture that is thick and reminiscent of fudge or peanut butter. I realize how odd that sounds, but this sweet cheese would feel right at home with a dark espresso.
For something more exotic, try purchasing a nutty Brazilian coffee blend. The flavor notes in this coffee pair well with an aged gouda, which is slightly sweet. The aged cheese also contains crunchy lactate crystals that actually work well with a smooth cup of coffee.
Juice + Cheese
Juice doesn’t sound sophisticated any way you spin it, I get that. But if you embrace this concept, you could make some killer mocktails that will fool anyone who believe cheese can only be paired with alcoholic beverages.
Take a classic like apple juice. The sweet, crisp flavor of apple juice goes well with the creamy and rich camembert or brie. If you want to spruce up the pairing, try adding a carbonated cider or sparkling pear juice in the mix. The light bouquet of juice fruits will help cut the thickness of these gooey cheeses.
A sharper cheese, like manchego, could also pair well with a grape juice. In the same fashion, it can’t hurt to add a carbonated beverage to the juice for some bubbles. A manchego has grassy, herbal notes, mixed with a nutty flavor. There’s no doubt that would be complemented by the tart, sweet flavor of a grape juice.
It might take a while for wine and cheese fans to warm up to the idea of non-alcoholic pairings, but if you’re looking to try something different or add more variety to your pairings, non-alcoholic beverages are a great place to start. Plus, you can share the fun of a cheese tasting with kids!
Would you try any of these drink pairings? Pour one for yourself with a cheese and snap a photo with the #culturecheesepairing and you could win a free issue!
Feature Photo Credit: “Concept of male and female hands, love and coffee” by Maksim Shmeljov | Shutterstock