Even before Shakespeare introduced “a rose by any other name” into every high school’s curriculum, the aptly dubbed “Queen of Flowers” had a storied past. Cleopatra covered the floor of her palace room with petals before Mark Antony came to visit. Roman emperors hung rosebuds on ceilings to remind party guests to keep mum about what was said at the table. Centuries later, dueling English factions took the blossom to battle as their prickly emblems in the War of the Roses, which ended in the adoption of a double rose emblem to signify reconciliation.
Passion, secrecy, war, or peace: Whatever they evoke, roses remain beloved for their mesmerizing beauty—and flavor. In India, cool and creamy rose kulfi is sold by street vendors and ice cream parlors alike. In the Middle East, rosewater-soaked baklavas, pink-hued Turkish delights, and petal-garnished halva lure many a passerby toward café windows. Stateside, roses are blooming in more and more kitchens, as our culinary repertoires take a more global turn.
Rose petals—or rosehips, the plant’s fruit—can be used decoratively or transformed into preserves, syrups, and teas. The edible flower’s delicate tastes and heady aromas are reminiscent of strawberries and apples, and they’re no less deserving of space on our cheese plates. So, read on; a feast for the senses awaits.
“I love using rose with cheese because the latter’s earthy nature grounds the sweeter flavor of the former,” says Miche Bacher, chef and author of Cooking with Flowers (Quirk Books, 2013). But don’t start noshing your bouquet quite yet—she recommends finding organic roses grown without pesticides and fungicides. Garnished with petals, citrusy fresh goat’s milk cheeses are elevated to new heights. A mellow-flavored honey, gently warmed with a handful of petals, also works well drizzled over an aged wheel like Vermont Creamery Coupole—the rind’s yeasty flavors add a savory dimension, while the inherent floral qualities in all three components are brought pleasantly to the fore.
Steeped dried rosehips make for a refreshing herbal tisane with a “fairly delicate but tangy, citrus quality,” says writer and tea specialist Rachel Safko. Easily overshadowed by stronger flavors, the brew should be paired with mild, creamy cheeses that round out the fruit’s tang and match its “distinct luxurious quality,” Safko adds. For a subtle combo, she recommends the buttery-yet-subdued French bloomy rind Fromager d’Affinois. Similarly luxe and creamy, Brebirousse has a “nutty, slightly peppery quality that takes the pairing in a tangier, more robust direction,” Safko says.
Fromagerie Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois + rosehip tea
Fromi Brebirousse d’Argental + rosehip tea
A rose preserve brings out the floral notes already present in many cheeses—especially those made with grass-fed milk—without overpowering them. Try a rose petal jelly with a mild, slightly nutty cheese like Alp Blossom, which is itself studded with dried flower petals from the Alps, for a “classic ‘like-with-like’ pairing,” says Safko. For a bit more nuance, nibble on raw cow’s milk Schnebelhorn with Quince & Apple’s Raspberry Rose preserve. “The added cream…cuts through the tartness of the raspberries and really opens up the rose on the back, while keeping the sweetness intact,” muses Quince & Apple sales manager Janee’ Muha.
Sennerei Huban Alp Blossom + Lemon Bird Preserves Rose Jelly
Käserei Bütschwil Schnebelhorn + Quince & Apple Raspberry Rose
Photography by Evi Abeler