The Brits know it as black treacle and the Japanese say it’s black honey, but here in the States, we call it molasses. Adored for the oomph it lends our gingerbread, baked beans, and tiki drinks (once it’s distilled into rum), the robust syrup is actually a byproduct of sugar refining, the leftover liquid that results when sugarcane crystallizes into granules.
A benign-looking grandma smiles back at us each time we reach for it on a supermarket shelf, but despite what she would lead us to believe, molasses has a sordid history. For well over 300 years, the syrup—produced by African slaves in the West Indies, shipped to America, and converted into rum for the British—kept the transatlantic slave trade humming along. The treacle then moved on to figure in the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, when a 50-foot-high steel tank burst, sending a massive tidal wave of over two million gallons of the viscous, brown stuff gushing through the streets of Boston.
Its checkered past notwithstanding, molasses’s flavor and texture pack a serious punch that keeps us coming back for more. Yet whether it’s light, dark, or blackstrap, “straight molasses is too strong for cheese, says monger Sara Adduci of Feast! in Charlottesville, Va. “All its iron and other minerals make it quite overwhelming.” But cast it in a supporting role, and that’s a different story. So don’t be afraid, cheese lovers: Dig out that sticky jar from the back of your pantry and let the storied “black honey” sweeten the deal.
Molasses imparts a robust warmth that allows gingersnaps to stand up to rich and creamy cheeses. “They’re my favorite for triple creams and blue cheeses of all kinds—it’s like a dessert,” Adduci says. Mellow, lemony Kunik, a mixed-milk triple cream, offers a lovely counterpoint to the cookie’s spicy snap; its paste melds the pair into a luxurious bite.
The cookie’s zesty kick also plays well with a tangy, salty blue like Tulip Tree Creamery Chicory—add a dab of plum preserves for a bright pop. “The flavors are all bold enough that nothing is overpowered by the blue cheese,” says Tulip Tree’s creative director, Katy Williams.
Tulip Tree Creamery Chicory Blue + gingersnaps
Nettle Meadow Farm Kunik + gingersnaps
You already love bacon with molasses-infused brown sugar—why not take that big, bold flavor one step further? Bacon and cheddar are two peas in a pod, and the same goes for bacon and blue. Match earthy, sharp Dunbarton Blue, a blue-veined cheddar from Wisconsin, with the spicy, full-bodied bacon for a heady mouthful that combines the best of all worlds. Lavender- and fennel pollen-infused Purple Haze adds nuanced flavor and depth to the old bacon-wrapped date classic, while its light, fluffy texture offers a reprieve from the richness of both the fruit and candied pork.
Spicy on the verge of savory, the dark treacle tempers the candy’s sweetness enough to help it complement cheese rather than overwhelm it. For your next afternoon snack, try Manchego with a molasses-ginger caramel—the cheese’s notes of caramel and nuts, echoed by the candy, highlight the ginger spice and bittersweet molasses. Sara Adduci recommends an aged goat gouda like Black Betty with dark chocolate-enrobed molasses honeycrisps. The “twangy and heavenly rich” crystalline paste foils the crunchy, robust honey center and rounds out the bittersweet dark chocolate—a delightful study in flavor and texture.
Manchego PDO + La Vache Microcreamery Molasses-Ginger Caramel
Fromagerie L’Amuse Black Betty + See’s Candies Dark Molasses Chips
ON THE MENU: Odd Duck, Austin
“Kale salad with molasses, chèvre, and coffee vinaigrette. This salad was built around the bitterness of the coffee, sweetness of the molasses, and richness of the cheese. These flavors contrast really nicely with the spice and acidity of ancho peppers and sherry vinegar in the dressing.” — Mark Buley, chef/partner
Photography by Michelle Patrick/shutterstock.com