Editor’s note: This post was updated on June 2, 2021.
When it comes to pairing cheeses with beverages, cocktails aren’t usually the first (or second) choice that comes to mind, which is a shame in my opinion. A well-made cocktail is every bit as complex and food-friendly as wine or beer. With the craft cocktail culture thriving, it’s easier than ever to create pairings that are sure to please.
Here are five cheese and cocktail pairings to try while it’s still summer.
1. Chèvre with a Gin & Tonic
Few cocktails embrace warm days quite like a gin & tonic. Add a splash of tonic water and a citrus wedge and soak in the sun. Gin’s bright personality is a perfect partner for goat cheese, especially fresh versions. The lactic tang of a young chèvre keeps the pairing breezy.
Blue Ledge Farm’s Crottina from Vermont has a hint of saltiness that’s just enough to smooth out the cocktail’s dryness a bit. Or try Chevrot, a dense and cakey cheese from the Loire Valley in France. Younger versions have a subtle herb flavor, perfect for coaxing out the botanicals in the gin.
To really emphasize the soft herbaceousness of gin, choose a chèvre coated in fresh herbs. Vermont Creamery makes a delicious version coated in Herbes de Provence. (To make your own, simply press fresh herbs like tarragon or savory into your favorite fresh goat cheese and let it sit for a couple hours. The aromas alone are worth the effort.) Make sure to use a Plymouth-style gin, which tends to be a little bit sweeter and earthier than its London Dry-style counterparts. Don’t skimp on the tonic water, either, and use the good stuff.
Brillat-Savarin from France
2. Triple Cream with a Banana Daiquiri
Not all rum drinks have to drown in pineapple or guava juice. The butt of many alcoholic jokes, banana daiquiris are actually elegant and refreshing cocktails. To be clear, I am not talking about frozen daiquiris—those kitschy drinks are way too sweet and completely overpower a cheese.
Go with the classic Cuban concoction. The simple combination of aged rum, citrus juice, and sweetener can be served over ice, or shaken and poured straight up into a cocktail glass. Aged rums have more sweetness and body than their unaged counterparts. Their flavors are far more intriguing, often showing vanilla, spices, and even smoke.
The balance of sweet and sour can be sublime for cutting through a buttery, rich, and salty triple cream cheese. Think Brillat-Savarin from France or Nettle Meadow Farm’s opulent Kunik. With fat contents hovering around 75 percent, these cheeses are all about pleasure, but the daiquiri lends a little balance.
Add crème de banane to give this cocktail a touch of sweet earthiness that will frame the delicate notes of mushroom often found in the rind of these cheeses, especially versions with a little age.
3. Manchego with Margaritas
Years ago I lived in Mexico for a spell, mostly to eat amazing street food and drink a lot. While there, an elderly gentleman showed me his way to make a margarita and I’ve never looked back. It’s hands-down the tastiest, most refreshing summer sipper I know. That night he served it with … Manchego.
This pairing is all about contrast. The cocktail’s tartness and the soft vegetal tones from the tequila are offset by the cheese’s saltiness. Manchego also has a subtle bite and lingering finish, which keeps it from disappearing in the drink’s fresh acidity.
If you want to try El Señor’s Margarita, here’s how it’s made. The secret to this recipe is in the ratios of the three ingredients. It’s 2 parts tequila, 1 part agave nectar, and the fresh juice of ½ a lime. Combine, shake, and serve over ice. That’s it. No orange curaçao or triple sec. Salt the rim if you like. I even top it with a splash of sparkling water to add a little effervescence.
4. Pyrenees Brebis with a Vodka Martini
When it comes to this classic cocktail, simplicity is best. The hallmark of a well-made martini is a clean, uncomplicated flavor. Dating back to the 19th century, the martini recipe originally called for gin and vermouth. But around the 1950’s, vodka became an option to replace gin.
Pyrenees Brebis cheeses have a gloriously milky-sweet flavor with hints of brown butter and nuts. That richness of flavor and fuller-bodied mouthfeel provide a great canvas for the nuances of a well-crafted martini. Vermouth is complex and layered, with notes of herbs and spices that will let the earthy tones of the cheese shine. I’m partial to Abbaye de Belloc, but there are many excellent options available.
5. Gouda-Style with a Nor’Easter
Pairing cheese and cocktails doesn’t have to be a dainty affair. There are combinations with plenty of heft and weight, great for an after-dinner dessert alternative or a stand-alone treat.
Gouda-style cheeses are oh-so-satisfying: they often have delicious flavors of butterscotch and honey with hints of nuts and vanilla, a hefty, dense texture, and lingering finish. Bourbon has a marvelously rich flavor that pairs seamlessly with cheeses that have those caramelized flavors, especially when the bourbon is barrel-aged. Both the booze and the cheese share warm flavors of vanilla and subtle tones of spice.
The Nor’Easter is a cocktail that only adds to the caramelly party. Bourbon brings the oomph, lime juice provides the zing, maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness, and a splash of ginger beer rounds out the quartet. The result is a complex, warming cocktail loaded with sweet and spicy flavors perfectly suited for a deeply flavorful cheese like Wilde Weide, a raw-milk boerenkaas (farmhouse) cheese from the Netherlands. Even cheddar makes a great partner for this cocktail. Give Jasper Hill Farm’s inimitable Cabot Clothbound Cheddar a try. You won’t be disappointed.