From kosher pastrami to New England boiled dinner to Texas barbecue, brisket permeates cultures and crosses state lines. The cut comes from the chest of the cow; since the animal lacks collarbones, it’s loaded with tough connective tissue. This makes it ideal for low-and-slow preparations, which gelatinize the collagen and tenderize the meat.
Brisket is usually sold as two different cuts: the flat cut, which is leaner, larger, and easier to slice, and the point cut, which is tapered and has plenty of fat marbling (hello, flavor). The flat cut has historically been more popular, likely thanks to its uniform thickness and thus its ease of cooking, but the fatty point cut is becoming trendier these days; chefs and home cooks alike are embracing a bit of extra marbling on their meat as the low-fat fads of yore die out.
Cheese and beef is a tried-and-true partnership (see: cheeseburgers, cheesesteaks, and so on), and brisket is no different. The big, beefy flavor is a welcome match for any wedge with a little oomph, but common brisket preparations—like spice-heavy corned beef and smoky pastrami—can throw a wrench into things. Fear not. We’ll guide you.
The Lone Star State is famous for its barbecue—specifically, its smoked beef brisket. And residents take it seriously. “Texas barbecue joints are judged by their sliced brisket,” says Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly magazine. He suggests pairing the flavor-packed meat with a young, creamy cheddar since “the meat doesn’t need any extra salt,” or topping a sliced brisket sandwich with slightly spicy queso for a Tex-Mex twist (find a recipe here).
Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar + Texas brisket
Queso + Texas brisket
Despite its name, corned beef contains no corn. Instead, it refers to the large grains of curing salt used to preserve the meat. When purchasing corned beef, seek out the “gray” variety rather than the “red,” as it’s free of nitrates. Corned beef is closely associated with Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States, so consider pairing it with an allium-tinged cheese to mimic the flavors of colcannon, a common side dish served on the holiday. Or, glean inspiration from an iconic corned beef sandwich—the Reuben—and match slices with Emmentaler, the original “Swiss Cheese.”
Long Clawson Dairy Cotswold + corned beef
Emmentaler AOP + corned beef
Like corned beef and Texas barbecue? Then you’re going to love pastrami. In this preparation the brisket is brined and seasoned, partially dried, and then smoked and steamed, creating a super-tender, immensely flavorful product ready to be stacked high on sandwiches. Mimic the savoriness of pastrami with a sharp, smoked cheese, or choose a creamy, meltable wedge to create a pastrami cheeseburger, a regional specialty in Utah (read more about this amazing creation).
Grafton Village Cheese Maple Smoked Cheddar + pastrami
Roth Cheese Butterkäse + pastrami
Find it on the menu at Nixta in St Louis, Missouri
“Brisket with queso panela and mole. For a unique take on mole, we decided on a mix of smoked brisket and grilled queso panela. The textures are almost identical once we cook them on the comal, and the char on the cheese enhances the smokiness of the brisket. They’re great vehicles to make the mole shine.” — Ben Poremba, chef/owner
Photography by Evi Abeler