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The Great 28 Pairings: Cheese + Coconut

coconut flakes

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

Nobody was surprised to find “coconut everything” on Whole Foods Market’s 2017 food trends list. After all, in the past decade coconut water has grown from a niche item sought by a few electrolyte-thirsty consumers to a retail MVP available in several flavors and peddled by dozens of brands.

The beverage’s popularity has surged along with pantry staples such as coconut oil, coconut sugar, and, more recently, coconut flour—which is gluten-free and has thus spawned a slew of packaged foods, including chips, tortillas, and energy snacks. Coconut has become a key player in the alt-dairy industry as well: Its snow-white flesh is transformed into coconut milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese.

The craze stems in part from its exotic evocations of faraway desert islands. The fuzzy spheres—botanically classified as drupes, not nuts—come from the coconut palm, which thrives in humid tropical regions. Domesticated coconuts with a higher meat-to-shell ratio than wild are cultivated primarily in Indonesia, the Philippines, and India.

Calorie-dense coconut oil was long vilified because it’s high in saturated fat—until researchers learned that saturated fat from minimally processed plant sources affects the human body differently than the saturated fat from animals. Now considered a superfood, toothsome, pulpy coconut meat is rich in manganese and fiber and also a good source of copper and iron. As for complementary cheese pairings, coconut’s nutty, refreshing notes play up the natural sweetness in curds of all stripes.

Coconut Chips

When seeking out coconut chips—dehydrated or toasted slivers of raw coconut meat—look for brands without added sugar. (It’s overkill, as the snacks are naturally sweet.) The chips go hand in hand with a creamy aged goat’s milk blue with mild funk; the coconut’s roasty notes mingle well with the earthy cheese. Or opt for squeaky cow’s milk curds—mild and creamy, they boost the flavors in the tropical, nutty crisps, creating a portable snack.

Recommended Pairings

Avalanche Cheese Company Midnight Blue + coconut chips

Haystack Mountain Cheese Curds + coconut chips

Coconut Jam

Coconut jam—srikaya in Indonesian—is to Southeast Asia what lemon curd is to the UK: a decadent, slow-cooked fruit spread that enlivens everything it touches. Intensely sweet and custardy, it calls out for firmer cheeses with nutty umami notes to check cloying tendencies—the citrus hints in Pleasant Ridge Reserve are a brightening bonus. Even better are wedges boasting a crumbly texture and tyrosine crystals for textural interplay. A dab of coconut jam on a shard of Reypenaer Gouda had one taster raving, “It’s like coconut-butterscotch candy with a salted finish—seriously addictive!”

Recommended Pairings

Uplands Cheese Company Pleasant Ridge Reserve + coconut jam

Reypenaer V.S.O.P. 2-Year-Old Gouda + coconut jam

Coconut Beer

Coconut’s tropical flavors can now be found in beer—usually in darker, cocoa-dosed brews such as porter and stout. The powerful chocolate-coconut and caramelized malt flavors in these suds scrub the palate clean between bites of fudgy Stilton, which “has a pineapple flavor to it,” says Elisa Orcajada, market manager at Meat & Cheese Farmshop in Aspen, Colo. “The beer cuts through the cheese’s creaminess, and Stilton’s funk balances the sweet, chocolate flavors quite unexpectedly,” she says. Or try salty cheddar styles. Lincolnshire Poacher, for one, brings a subtle vanilla-tinged, island-fruit sweetness to the bar—aloha! 

Recommended Pairings

Stilton PDO + coconut beer

Lincolnshire Poacher + coconut beer

Amanda Rae Busch

Formerly senior editor of Berkshire Living magazine and a culture contributor since 2008, Amanda Rae Busch now lives in Aspen, Colorado, where she is a contributing editor to Aspen Sojourner, food columnist at the Aspen Times Weekly, and a frequent contributor to Aspen Luxury Life, Edible Aspen, Aspen Peak, Denver's 5280 Magazine blog, and more. Though she covers all food, Colorado artisanal cheese is her favorite topic. Follow her: @amandaraewashere