Angling for Flavor: Smoked Fish + Cheese | culture: the word on cheese
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Angling for Flavor: Smoked Fish + Cheese

A beautiful slab of smoked sable lays glistening on matte white surface.

If the combination of seafood and cheese seems a little, well, fishy, then consider the salty, subtly sweet, acidic, and luxuriously fatty flavors of smoked, cured, and marinated seafood. These same qualities are found in many cheeses. That’s what got us thinking about pairing the two, so we decided to ask the opinion of some experts—Louis Risoli, maître d’ and fromager of Boston’s venerable L’Espalier restaurant, and Brandon Weeks, fromager/owner of PDX Cheeseworks in Portland, Oregon (and a culture contributor). Risoli used the L’Espalier line cooks as his unofficial tasting panel, serving them a post-shift smorgasbord of smoked fish and cheese that—along with really cold beer—was a big hit. We think you’ll agree.

A fillet of smoked sablefish

Smoked Sablefish

Because this fish is quite smoky, Risoli suggests a full-flavored goat cheese, like Spain’s Monte Enebro, which smooths out the rough edges. Rich, “eggy” cheeses also balance the salty pungency of this fish. Think Époisses, or Risoli’s pick, Ploughgate Creamery’s Willoughby, a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Vermont.

A fillet of honey smoked salmon.

Honey Smoked Salmon

Weeks craves a wedge of Cypress Grove Chevre’s Truffle Tremor, with this sweet-salty, rich fillet. “The earthiness of the cheese amplifies the pleasure tenfold,” he says. Risoli offers another option. “A tomme-style cheese has the texture and balanced flavors to enhance the silky fattiness of the salmon,” he says. “Buttery cheeses like Champlain Valley Organic Triple Cream also go well, as does a tart young chèvre.” Risoli’s favorite match: “Toggenburger Nidelchas—a supple, Swiss washed-rind cheese.” Classic smoked salmon, Risoli adds, “was by far the most versatile fish, marrying well with a variety of cheeses.”

A trio of smoked mussels

Smoked Mussels

Aged Gouda is an ideal partner for these plump, tender, and salty morsels. Whether the cheese tastes like caramel or is sharp and salty, Gouda allows the smoky flavors of the mollusks to shine. Try Beemster Classic Gouda, which has a slightly creamy, subtly crystallized texture.

A fillet of Smoked Sea Bass

Smoked Sea Bass

For this briny, smoky fillet, a washed-rind goat cheese with a moist, rich texture is just right. Weeks cites Twig Farm Washed Rind Wheel (blended with Jersey milk, in season) as one of the “headiest, most well-balanced domestic examples out there.” Add slices of whole-grain pumpernickel to complete the experience.

An orderly row of marinated smoked anchovies.

Marinated Smoked Anchovies

Weeks suggests aged sheep’s milk cheese as a natural choice for pairing with savory little anchovies. “[The cheese’s] density and nuttiness are the backbone of this pairing,” he explains. “I really like Spenwood, a rugged, unpasteurized English sheep’s cheese.”

Photo Credits: Greg Nesbit

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