In 1877, the first trademark for a breakfast cereal was registered at the United States patent office: “A figure of a man in ‘Quaker garb.’” Many of us grew up with him—white wig, matching blue hat and coat, rosy red cheeks. As the face of Quaker Oats, he represents a humble cereal grain’s journey into the American cupboard. Today, oats account for a fifth of all whole grains consumed by US adults, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Our love for the rolled flakes, however, didn’t always burn so strong. Although the tradition of oat porridge existed for centuries in Great Britain and Scotland, the cereal’s unprocessed groats were considered better suited for livestock in America. It wasn’t until the Quaker Oats Company developed a process to remove the inedible husk, steam, and roll the remaining kernels—and launched a national advertising campaign around the Quaker-garbed man—that old-fashioned oats, as we know them, began their climb to breakfast and cookie stardom.
The powerhouse grain is ready to shine in the cheese world, too. Fiber-rich and low in fat and cholesterol, oats make for a highly versatile, accessible, and—clocking in at about 13 cents per serving—inexpensive building block for curds. So break out that red and blue cylinder and get to pairing.
“Oatmeal is a great neutral base and adapts easily to almost any flavor,” explains Sam Stephens, founder of New York City–based OatMeals, the world’s first all-oatmeal café. Opt for steel-cut oats for their “hearty texture and mouthfeel,” says Stephens, and don’t be afraid to experiment. She channels a classic croque madame by brightening the toasty grain with sweet, nutty Gruyère, ham, and a runny egg. For a sweet take, skip the usual yogurt and substitute thick fromage blanc. Oats provide a creamy backdrop to the zesty tang of cheese—add dried fruits, preserves, and nuts to make the bowl sing.
This cracker-meets-cookie is a Scottish tradition, but here at culture, we spring for New England–made versions from Effie’s Homemade. The buttery biscuit’s light sweetness counters the sharp bite of Grafton 2-Year Aged Cheddar for a “perfectly balanced nibble,” says Effie’s customer relationship manager Mallory Cushman Amory. Or spread a bit of rich, creamy Cambozola on the company’s dark, earthy malted Cocoacakes. “A slightly bitter start with a creamy and lightly sweetened finish,” explains Amory, makes for the “picture of chocolate and cheese decadence.”
Malt-forward and creamy, these brews develop a rich, silky profile from the addition of oats. Janet Fletcher, author of Cheese & Beer (Andrews McMeel, 2013) and blogger at Planet Cheese, explains that due to their “aromas of toast and coffee,” these brews “harmonize well with cheeses that have buttery or nutty scents.” Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese Company has a coffee-rubbed exterior that “echoes the espresso aroma” in Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, says Fletcher. Beaufort, an Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese, has a caramel sweet-ness that matches luxurious, cocoa-forward Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin.
Photography by Karpenkov Denis/shutterstock.com