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The Great 28 Pairings: Cheese + Celery

celery salad

The Great 28 is featured in our Cheese+ 2017 issue. Check out 27 other pairings here.

In a recent episode of the TV satire Portlandia, Steve Buscemi played a beleaguered produce salesman trying to make celery as trendy as bacon and Brussels sprouts. “Doing the best I can here,” he says defensively. “Ever heard of a thing called bloody marys? Just a basic stick of celery is good!”

Celery has a reputation as a diet food—the low-calorie stalks pack a satisfying and refreshing crunch. And while nutritionists have long celebrated celery’s antioxidants and beneficial enzymes—plus potassium and folate and vitamins such as A, C, and K—chefs and bartenders are just now doing what Buscemi couldn’t: building a bandwagon for the herbaceous, saline veggie. These days myriad celery preparations, from bitters and purees to meringues and ice creams, are popping up on high-end menus—and finding a friend in cheese.

Blanched Celery

To soften celery’s slightly astringent edge without sacrificing crispness, get blanching. Add trimmed pieces of celery to salted simmering water for 45 seconds, then plunge into ice water and drain. Prepared this way, the stalks make a solid foundation for memorable apps—find it alongside whipped Great Hill Blue sprinkled with Old Bay at Peck’s Arcade in Troy, N.Y. Or for textural contrast top the stalks with Affidélice. This Chablis-brushed wheel is indulgently soft, with pungent, mushroomy flavors that bloom beside the vegetal celery.

Recommended Pairings:

Great Hill Blue + blanched celery

Fromagerie Berthaut Affidélice au Chablis + blanched celery

Celery Salad

There’s a reason blue cheese dip and celery are classic accompaniments for buffalo wings—they’re the creamy-crunchy yin to the chicken’s spicy yang. For a healthier twist on this game-day snack, crumble a punchy blue atop a mixed green salad with spicy buffalo-style dressing, torn celery leaves, and french-fried onions. Or up the wow factor with a deep-fried cheese “crouton,” suggests Adam Higgs, former owner of Acadia Bistro in Portland, Ore. Make a golf ball–size round from a blue, dredge it in flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs, and freeze for a few hours before frying. The celery’s snappy texture is a welcome contrast to the crouton’s warm, melty consistency.

Recommended Pairings:

Roquefort PDO + celery salad

Rogue Creamery Oregonzola + celery salad

Celery Bitters

While celery bitters may sound like an overly precious trend, they’ve actually been around since the 19th century. Today, tipplers reach for the citrusy veggie extracts to brighten cocktails of all kinds. Garnish a celery-embittered bloody mary with a skewer of cheddar cubes—the tart-but-creamy nibbles are a pleasing counterpoint to the acidic sipper. Or do like the Dapper Goose in Buffalo, N.Y., and match the bar-restaurant’s grassy, peppery Broken Garden Tools drink—celery tincture with gin, parsley, lemon, Moroccan spices, and black pepper—with tangy, slightly tannic Tomette di Capra alle Vinacce.

Recommended Pairings:

Grafton Village Cheese 3 Year Aged Cheddar + bloody mary with celery bitters

La Casera Tomette di Capra alle Vinacce + gin cocktail with celery bitters

Lynn Freehill-Maye

Lynn Freehill-Maye is a food and travel writer based in upstate New York. She's written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, Modern Farmer, and more. She's married to a former cheesemonger and believes all burgers should be topped with blue.