Each mushroom we pick—whether at the store or in the wild—is like a flower that’s grown atop a microscopic system of hidden tentacles. These fungi have no use for photosynthesis, the survival strategy used by the plants we eat. Instead, they rely on other organisms, living or dead, to gain the sugars and starches needed to live. The earthy, meaty qualities we seek in mushrooms hint at that lifestyle of decomposition and subterranean dwelling.
To appreciate cheese is to embrace a similar life cycle of decay. Mushrooms are cousins of mold, an essential aspect in certain cheeses; both practice the art of creation by decomposing organic matter. Perhaps this is why “mushroomy” is a familiar word in our cheese-tasting lexicon. Shared roots make mushrooms and cheese an appetizing team.
A careful sauté can impart a lovely brown sheen to mushrooms and draw out the fungi’s most savory notes. Take hen of the woods; as the name implies, it tastes like a robust roast chicken when browned. Sauté a cluster of its petals to a crisp and drizzle with a lightweight blue cheese sauce for a dish with distinctive kick. Sarah Meyer, co-manager of The Cheese Lady in Grand Rapids, Mich., suggests using blue-veined, mixed-milk Cantar de Covadonga.
When it comes to a mixed mushroom sauté, Meyer sprinkles the cooked ’shrooms over a slice of French semi-soft Bucherolle. “The [center] has a tangy, lactic flavor and a firmness that eases out toward the gooey rind. The tartness stands up to the meaty, earthy mushrooms,” she says.
Reny Picot Cantar de Covadonga + sautéed hen of the woods mushrooms
Life in Provence Bucherolle + sautéed mixed mushrooms
The convenient and affordable grocery store staple portobello—plus cremini, its younger sibling—has a firm bite that holds up to grilling. Stack creminis and similarly sized hunks of deep, salty halloumi on a skewer; the brined cheese’s high melting point will keep it on your stick and allow both to beautifully char. If you’re inclined toward a duo destined for a bun, try a portobello cap with bold-yet-buttery The Blue Jay—a quintuple cream blue peppered with crushed juniper berries.
Atalanta Halloumi Cheese + grilled cremini mushrooms
Deer Creek Cheese The Blue Jay + grilled portobello mushrooms
This beloved spread builds on the flavors developed from roasting, broiling, or sautéing mushrooms in oil and aromatics. The contents of the pan—including any scraped-up browned bits—are puréed, often with toasted nuts, into a spreadable condiment. Meyer serves the mixture with Flory’s Truckle, a flaky cheddar that tastes of freshly cut grass and caramel. The pairing yields “distinguished textures,” she says—the fluffy, whipped consistency of the pâté juxtaposed with the firmness and crystallization of the cheese. For a similar play on texture, the monger suggests crumbly Quicke’s Oak Smoked Cheddar; the summery pairing hints at campfire aromas of smoldering coals and forest floor.
Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle + mushroom pâté
Quicke’s Oak Smoked Clothbound Cheddar + mushroom pâté
TIP: CAUTION! It takes a skilled forager with a keen eye to differentiate between edible friends and poisonous foes. Be sure to venture out with an experienced mushroom hunter as you learn to master the art.
The Great 28 is featured in our annual Cheese Pairings issue.
Photography by chang/iStockphoto.com