It’s happening: Pairing cannabis and cheese is a thing. And it’s not like that time you consumed a suspiciously viridescent cookie before reclining and eating an entire box of Cheez-Its—it’s classy. In the ever-growing number of states with legalized recreational marijuana, you can stroll into a glossy dispensary, select from a veritable smorgasbord of infused confections, and receive inspired pairing advice from a cannabis advisor like Christina Fleming.
Fleming, who sometimes refers to herself as a “bong-monger,” worked in the cheese industry for 13 years before having a revelation: “I realized as much as I love cheese, I love cannabis just a little bit more.” Now based in Denver, she works in a dispensary, putting her mongering skills to use. “The customer service aspect is almost identical,” she says. “We talk about how the product is on the nose, on the palate, the different applications of it.”
No surprise there. Both cheese and cannabis result from a mix of agricultural ingenuity and culinary creativity. They also exude many of the same fragrant oils, called terpenes; in cheese, they’re the piney, citrusy echoes of fresh pasture. “Sometimes when I crack open wheels of Alpine cheeses, customers look around and sniff the air skeptically, like, is that…weed?” says cheesemonger Lilith Spencer. “When I go to a dispensary, I usually end up picking a strain [that] reminds me of cheese.”
Naturally, mongers and budtenders alike await the day when marijuana-laced wheels grace shop shelves. But so long as American dairy remains federally regulated, “medicated cheeses” are out of the question. For now, cannabis and curds will have to team up on the cheese plate—and that in itself is pretty dope.
Today’s dispensary shelves attest to the humble bud’s incredible genetic variation. The flowers of the female cannabis plant, these nuggets result from eons of breeding two predominant species: sativa and indica. The former is known for its energizing THC content and citrusy terpenes, while the latter has a more mellow, earthy reputation—but with cultivation historically unregulated, the distinction isn’t so clear-cut; most strains are some sort of cross named by the grower. Since each comes with its own flowery descriptors, you can shop for buds like you shop for wine.
That’s how Jordan Edwards, a monger at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine in Chicago, approaches it. The lemony terpenes in the buds of the Sour Banana strain, for example, remind him of off-dry white wines from the Alsace—a natural pairing with Alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The cannabis brings the cheese’s “amazing pineapple and glazed ham vibe to the frontline,” Edwards says. (Ready to experiment? Check out more of his favorite cheese and cannabis pairings.)
According to Matt Gill, co-founder of edible accompaniment purveyor THCheese, some strains yield a bit more humulene, a funkier, woodsier terpene that can be found on the surface of washed-rind cheeses. Fittingly, Edwards pairs one of his favorite strains, a hybrid of high-humulene varieties Sour Diesel and OG Kush, with Wrångebäck, a hard, meaty cheese washed in brine during aging.
The techy cannabis aficionados developing distillates and extracts in labs do not uphold the lazy stoner stereotype. “This is the weed of the future,” Edwards says. For example, “shatter” is made by injecting pressurized butane into cannabis flowers, condensing psychoactive compounds into a potent, glassy solid. With no plant matter and fewer terpenes, shatter boasts a more low-key aroma. Pair it with subtler, creamier cheeses; Edwards serves a shatter made from the Cheese strain (yes, there’s cannabis called Cheese) with a “perfectly seshable” bloomy rind for a “balanced arch of flavor that ends on a mush-roomy, buttery finish.”
The cannabis industry is developing a range of new-fangled consumption devices, too. The most ubiquitous, the hash oil vape pen, now comes in versions with extra terpenes added in for a dose of aromatherapy. Fleming suggests the lavender-y Lucid Moon Relax alongside a goat cheese infused with herbs or honey. If you can’t find the pen, ask your budtender for a cannabis strain high in linalool, a terpene with a similar scent.
Jasper Hill Farm Little Hosmer + Cheese shatter
Capriole Goat Cheese Julianna + lavender-infused vape pen
Thanks to technological advances, companies are getting better at hiding the taste of cannabis, but many baked goods are still made with flavor-heavy cannabutter. Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to taste gross. Fleming loves the peanut butter cookie from Colorado-based Sweet Grass Kitchen (the perfect vessel for a sliver of gjetost and some apple slices). Sweet Grass uses a few tricks to mellow out the cannabis taste: slow simmering, adding only small dashes of the super-potent butter, and using the whole flower instead of just the trimmings. “You can successfully use cannabis as a seasoning,” adds Gill, who mixes fresh leaves of the plant with other herbs in dishes. Toss some into your favorite pesto recipe, then serve it alongside buffalo mozzarella in a caprese or atop bruschetta.
TIP: What’s the benefit of buying from a dispensary? Knowing the amount of psychoactive compound you’re consuming. Christina Fleming suggests starting with no more than five to 10 milligrams if it’s your first time. “It’s really easy to over-enjoy,” she warns, noting that it can take between 30 minutes and two hours to kick in. “You can always eat more later, but not less. Once you know your tolerance, live it up, have fun, and most importantly: Be safe!”
Photography by Morrison1977/iStockphoto.com