I showed up to Super Bowl Sunday hungry for competition. So what if football bored me, and I thought the “TB” on the scoreboard stood for “Tom Brady”? I rolled in to my family’s TV room with packages of Pepperidge Farm and goodies from my favorite cheese counter, ready to put savory at odds with sweet in my fight to prove that cheese does, in fact, pair with cookies.
I once worked in a restaurant where I subsisted off of Land O’ Lakes cheddar slices on oat crackers that no one else liked because they were “too sweet.” However, those crackers’ subtle sweetness deepened the butterscotch notes in the lactic, salty cheese, ultimately mimicking the flavor of browned butter in oatmeal cookies.
Logic points to cheese’s utility when it comes to cookies. What is a cookie, after all, without its buttery beginnings or dunked into a glass of milk? And consider the genius of ice cream sandwiches. Perhaps we need to broaden the dairy products we associate with cookies.
My workplace pairings crept into my own kitchen. Cheese became a means of lending much-needed elevation to store-bought cookies. Like flavors and textures presented obvious compliments, such as a smear of brie on shortbread (butter on butter!) or gingerbread men topped with gorgonzola dolce (spice bombs!). I started paying closer attention to the cheeses, too. Keebler Coconut deLites, for example, bring out the toasted hazelnut and caramel flavors in Alpine cheese. And the tanginess in goat cheese soars alongside fruity cookies. Leaders in the cheese industry have hinted at the power of these pairings, too. Both Point Reyes Creamery and Murray’s Cheese nearly broke the Internet when they put their cheeses on Girl Scout Cookies.
By the time the Super Bowl rolled around, I had a game-day excuse and a small team of cheese lovers to test my theory. My family glanced cautiously at the cornucopia of cheese wedges beside off-brand Fig Newtons, Tahoe cookies, and more. I assembled select morsels of cheese upon bite-sized cookie pieces, and my boyfriend bravely accepted the first sample. His eyes grew wide. “Mmm!” he exclaimed through the shortbread and cheese, then held out his hand for another.
He doled out the wafers, gingery biscuits, and other sweets smeared with complementing cheeses; and I watched my family’s expressions change from doubt, to surprise, then approval with each bite. My dad stationed himself beside the cheeseboard, eager to be the guinea pig for each new pairing. Soon, everyone was shouting out the better pairing for goat cheese or gouda as the Super Bowl turned to white noise in the background.
Imaginative cheese plate guides and specialty food shop blogs will reference gourmet snacking through cheese and sweet biscuits, but don’t overlook the store-bought cookies hiding in your pantry and cheese wedges in your fridge for sweet and savory pairings on the fly. The combinations below range from classic cookies to international treats, depending on your palate and grocery store’s selection. Feel free to choose your own adventure, too—at the end of the day, it’s only milk and cookies.
1. FIG NEWTONS + BRABANDER
Cheese boards frequently include fruit spreads, so it makes sense that the humble Fig Newton channels undeniable cheese potential. Cheese gives the fig-filled sandwich a sweet-savory dimension reminiscent of a fruit-filled cheese plate. The tangy freshness in goat cheese, particularly, brightens this lunch-box staple with a sweet and sour punch. While chèvre and other fresh goat cheeses achieve this pairing’s flavor, soft cheese on a soft cookie quickly turns gooey. A firmer choice, like Brabander, however, adds plenty of textural contrast to the doughy Newton.
2. OATMEAL COOKIES + SEASCAPE CHEDDAR
Mom’s oatmeal cookies, a grilled cheese sandwich—comfort food flavors drive this pairing’s success. Many of us grew up with oatmeal and cheddar in some form or other, and they nudge on nostalgia when put together on a cheese plate. At a deeper level, the cheddar’s lactic richness softens the oatmeal’s earthy taste—almost like a splash of cream in your morning oatmeal. The cookie returns the favor with its brown sugar turning Seascape Cheddar’s blend of goat and cows’ milk from tangy to sweet.
3. BISCOFF + GORGONZOLA DOLCE
The crispy, cinnamon-y cookies we know from Delta flights already invoke feelings of Continental sophistication, which a smear of European-style cheese elevates to globetrotter status. The cookie’s minimalist design and crunchiness favor the build and consistency of a cracker, but its sugar and baking spices make it a more exciting vehicle. Cue Gorgonzola Dolce, whose fruity flavor and allspice notes make it feel dessert worthy. Not only does this cheese match harmoniously with Biscoff cookies, it also lends a touch of creamy decadence to an otherwise dry-sweet snack.
4. STROOPWAFELS + BEEMSTER
“What grows together goes together,” drives cheese pairing basics. While “grows” seems like a reach when talking about cookies, Holland’s national cheese and iconic, waffle-cookie sandwiches fuse into caramelized, buttery brilliance when put side by side. The butterscotch and browned butter tones in aged gouda match the caramel-stuffed wafers’ sweet and salty combination. Even their textures are meant for each other, with the crisp and chewy Stroopwafel mimicking Beemster’s crunchy calcium lactate crystals. No need to go to Holland to try this pairing—just keep an eye out for stroopwafels in the grocery store’s international foods section. If you can’t find Beemster, other aged goudas also work.
5. GINGERSNAPS +BRILLAT SAVARIN
For all its buttery mildness, brie is not an easy cheese to pair with cookies. The luscious decadence overpowers many cookies’ sweet, spiced, and textural nuances, embodying the phrase, “too much of a good thing.” Gingersnaps, however, are a perfect foil to even Brillat Savarin’s richness. Their thin, crispy build and ginger spiciness cut through the uber-dippable interior, and the cream coats the biscuit with a glossy finish. This pairing would work with other brie-style cheeses, but stay away from those flavored with mushrooms or herbs (obviously).