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The Great 28 Pairings: Cheese + Hot Sauce

hot sauce

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

Sauces made from every variety of pepper imaginable are, well, hot. This condiment category has grown 150 percent since 2000 in the United States, according to Forbes, eclipsing the growth of barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, and mayo combined. As demand has exploded in the past few years, the spicy stuff is turning up in myriad products and dishes such as pasta, chocolate sauce, and smoothies. The scorch-tolerant, adventure-seeking millennial palate, along with immigrants from Asian and Latin countries, is helping drive the trend, says flavor expert Lisa Stern, vice president of sales at Chicago-based spice blend manufacturer LifeSpice. “You’re also having a migration of chefs coming into the country,” she adds, “so it starts [with them] and trickles down.”

All-hot-sauce stores are even sprouting—in Brooklyn, where else? Noah Chaimberg opened Heatonist in Williamsburg in 2015 after two years of running pop-up shops showed him there was an appetite for a brick-and-mortar spot. Chaimberg insists it’s not a fad: The sauce’s haunting taste comes from capsaicin—the chemical compound in hot peppers responsible for the feeling of rising body temperature—which can be almost addictive. “Once you’re in, you’re in,” Chaimberg says. “The physiological response to hot sauce isn’t something that can be replicated with other foods.” Similar things have been said about cheese—so why not marry the two?


Harissa, a North African hot sauce, is revered for its gentle heat, slight sweetness, and subtle smokiness. Israeli natives Leetal and Ron Arazi now produce several variations under the label New York Shuk. Harissa is often associated with couscous and meaty dishes, but it’s also a beautiful match for cheese, says Leetal. She recommends brushing harissa on a pita “pizza” with kalamata olives, thinly sliced red onion, and a cracked egg in the center. The toasted nut flavors in Fontina or the dense, buttery mouthfeel of Tetilla melted over the top offset the smoky sweetness of the chilies nicely, Leetal adds.

Recommended Pairings

Fontina PDO + New York Shuk Signature Harissa

Queso Tetilla PDO + New York Shuk Harissa with Preserved Lemon



Photo Credit: LunaseeStudios/Shutterstock.com

A gooey grilled sandwich is an ideal delivery service for hot sauce—especially one made with young gouda, an acclaimed melter. For a wedge that can stand up to one of the country’s most popular hot sauces, sriracha, try Yancey’s Fancy Smoked Gouda With Bacon—its meatiness meets the sauce’s distinctive garlicky sweet taste head-on. Or sip a sriracha-dosed ale alongside an aged gouda for a roasty-toasty match with a fiery finish.

Recommended Pairings

Yancey’s Fancy Smoked Gouda with Bacon + sriracha

Beemster Aged + Rogue Sriracha Hot Stout Beer

Chocolate Hot Sauce

Regular chocolate syrup will suddenly seem so vanilla when you pour dark, rich Dawson’s Chocolate Chili Sauce over ice cream—or cheese. Try it with rich Époisses de Bourgogne for a mind-blowing mouthful of heady aromas and contrasting textures—it’s spicy, smoky, and meaty all at once. Or try Chaimberg’s favorite preparation: Fill a crepe with mascarpone, drizzle with the sauce, and revel in the dish’s creamy texture and spicy chocolate flavors. Best. Brunch. Ever.

Époisses de Bourgogne PDO + Dawson’s Chocolate Chili Sauce

Schuman Cheese Cello Thick and Smooth Mascarpone + Dawson’s Chocolate Chili Sauce

Feature Photo Credit: JOAT/Shutterstock.com

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.