Though you might think of seeds as a mere crunchable garnish—or just food for the birds—there are several convincing reasons to give these morsels more credit. “Seeds are our most durable and concentrated foods,” writes Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 1984), noting “seeds gave early humans both the nourishment and the inspiration to begin to shape the natural world to their own needs.”
Shaping the world? Is McGee just a seed hype man? Not so much; seeds make up a giant family. In addition to the oil-rich varieties that immediately come to mind—including sesame, sunflower, and poppy—grains, legumes, and many nuts also fall under the seed umbrella. Some of the earliest writing and arithmetic systems were created to account for the specks, while agriculture itself came to exist only once humans learned how to harvest seeds.
Each is a tiny-but-mighty powerhouse, containing all the ingredients needed to create a new generation of plant within its unassuming structure: nutrients, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and even proteins. Those amicable qualities are rendering seeds more popular than ever among health-conscious home cooks, while uniquely crunchy textures, nutty, buttery flavors, and oil-rich physiques result in cheese pairing possibilities aplenty.
Long used in Asia and the Middle East to flavor and decorate foods, sesame seeds yield rich, nutty flavors that linger on the palate thanks to a super-high oil content of about 50 percent. Coming in a range of shades from white to brown to black, their versatility—they do well raw, toasted, cooked, or blended into a paste (think tahini)—makes them a fun choice for many a cheese.
Janee’ Muha, sales manager at preserves company Quince & Apple, suggests pairing bitter black sesame seeds with a bloomy rind and yuzu marmalade. “The citrus breaks up the creaminess and the black sesame works with the vegetal qualities in the cheese,” she says.
Sesame seeds can jazz up crackers, too. Brad Dubé, founder of distribution company Food Matters Again, loves the way the seeds add a “pop” and nutty dimension to the sweet-salty combo of graham crackers and blue cheese.
Marin French Cheese Camembert + black sesame seeds
Société Laitière de Laqueuille Bleu des Causses PDO + Castleton Sesame Graham Crackers
A staple in Mexican cooking, pepitas—the deep green seeds found in pumpkins and many other squash—are eminently snackable. Packed with about 35 percent protein, the crunchy seeds also contain high levels of magnesium and immune-boosting zinc. Whether roasted or raw, they liven up the texture and nutritional value of breads, crackers, cookies, granolas, and salads.
Erin Clancy, sales representative at Mystic Cheese, suggests spreading the company’s soft-ripened robiola-style Melinda Mae onto bread studded with pepitas. With its strong yeasty and buttery flavors, the cheese is a natural with the seeds: “It tastes like decadent butter spread,” she says. For a lighter option, shaved aged goat cheese and roasted pepitas make for a crunchy, nutty salad topper.
Mystic Cheese Melinda Mae + pepita bread
Sartori Extra-Aged Goat Cheese + roasted pepitas
A native plant of North America, the sunflower produces seeds used widely for oil production and an easy-to-eat-a-whole-bag snack. High in vitamin E, selenium, and other antioxidants, sunflower seeds can be as good for you as are they are fun to eat. When ground smooth, they make a rich nut-free substitute for peanut butter and create a bold pairing with semi-aged, soft-ripened goat cheeses. Or simply roast them whole and sprinkle onto ribbons of savory aged buffalo’s milk cheese, which allows their buttery flavors to meld with a finishing hint of earthiness.
Sèvre et Belle Bucherondin + sunflower seed butter
La Maremmana Grossetano + roasted sunflower seeds
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