Salt, seasoning, and time join forces to create kimchi, a millennia-old, beloved banchan (traditional Korean side dish). Similar to the way that a springy, soft-ripened cheese develops into a gooey masterpiece over a few weeks, kimchi evolves with age. Young versions are crunchy and spice-forward, while older renditions are mellower and increasingly effervescent. Wait two years, and the vegetable fibers break down into a spoonable delicacy.
On first bite, fermentation’s tang strikes. That bright, sour sensation cleanses the palate and heightens the enjoyment of rich meals, according to Kheedim Oh, founder of Mama O’s Premium Kimchi in New York. Try it between bites of spaghetti Bolognese: “The acidity [of kimchi] refreshes the palate—when you try the rich meat sauce again, you appreciate it so much more,” Oh says. It’s this flavor-balancing quality that makes the zippy condiment a splendid match for curds.
Napa Cabbage Kimchi
Kimchi comprises more than 100 varieties, but the word usually conjures the ubiquitous Napa cabbage smothered with garlic, ginger, gochugaru (chile pepper flakes), fish sauce, and/or shrimp paste. Introduced to Korea by Portuguese traders just 400 years ago, smoldering gochugaru gets its flavor from capsaicin, a chemical compound that also helps cabbage weather extended fermentation.
Bombastic Vermont-made Sobremesa kimchi punches the sinuses, while its sourness lingers on the tongue. Consumed between nibbles of British Jersey cow’s milk Ogleshield, the zingy cabbage clears the way for the raclette-style cheese’s earthy personality to shine. Fiery-food seekers will adore Mama O’s hottest variety of kimchi with a hearty blue. “The blue cheese and Super Spicy Kimchi together—it’s buffalo chicken wings!” Oh says.
Picón Bejes-Tresviso PDO + Mama O’s Premium Super Spicy Kimchi
Daikon Radish Kimchi
While cabbage’s crunch fades after a few months of fermentation, radish stays snappy longer (plus the veggies release refreshing juices on the palate, tempering added spices). When paired with peppery Swiss cheese Cinderella, the subtle sweetness in Sinto Gourmet Spicy Red Korean ‘Mu’ Radish Kimchi comes to the fore. Arirang Kimchi Baby Radish Kimchi makes use of all parts of the carrot-shaped varietal, resulting in two textures: long, crunchy radish slices (root vegetable lovers, rejoice!) and wilted bitter greens. Its taste mosaic plays off mimolette’s sweet undertones to create a unique salted caramel combo.
Käserei Oberwil Cinderella + Sinto Gourmet Spicy Red Korean ‘Mu’ Radish Kimchi
Before the Portuguese introduced gochugaru to Korea, there was white kimchi: Classic cabbage kimchi without the heat. This chile-free variety highlights crisp cabbage and sparkles from fermentation. WooJae Chung, owner of New York–based Kimchi Kooks, judiciously adds ingredients like ginger and fish sauce to his White Kimchi to complement—without overpowering—the cabbage’s natural flavor. “It takes a good conductor to harmonize an orchestra, to bring together disparate qualities to produce a complex yet simple tune,” he says. The resulting kimchi is mellow yet intricate; pair it with cheeses that yield similarly subtle complexity without an overwhelming tang. Try Goot Essa Felsa Yehr, a milky, sheepy Amish-made wedge. Mama O’s Premium White Kimchi is aged about a month and a half, giving it a deep bite of fermentation that stands up to the slightly pungent kick of Lazy Lady’s organic washed-rind Bernie.
Goot Essa Felsa Yehr + Kimchi Kooks Original White Kimchi
Feature Photo Credit: Jiang Hongyan/Shutterstock.com