Seasoned, salted, or simply toasted, nuts are a classic addition to any cheese plate—but why stop there? A smear of rich, flavorful nut butter paired with cheese makes one deliciously decadent bite.
But not all wedges or wheels play nice with the spreads. “I would recommend avoiding blues or anything too funky,” advises Julia Hallman, cheesemonger and buyer at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Mass. Instead, choose varieties that feature lactic tang (fresh chèvre), pronounced sharpness (classic cheddar), or nuanced nuttiness (young manchego). These cheeses bring out the best qualities in nut butter: sweet, creamy, and even savory notes.
Hallman considers texture, too. Work it to your advantage—pair a chunkier almond butter with a crystallized aged gouda for complementary consistencies, she says.
For added textural contrast, serve cheese and nut butter with apple or pear slices. The fruit also imparts a subtle acidity that keeps the combination from becoming too heavy—think of a delicate melody weaving through a dense two-part harmony. An update on the traditional PB&J formula deserves a standing ovation: bright fruit, rich cheese, and earthy nuts in perfect symphonic balance.
Fans of the most common nut butter around, rejoice: Your favorite nostalgic treat is all grown up. While some brands fall on the sweet side of the taste spectrum, many others eschew added sugar, focusing instead on pure peanut flavor. “A slice of cheddar with a pronounced bite helps to break through the rich mouthfeel of peanut butter,” explains Will Sissle, a cheesemonger at the new Whole Foods Market in Boston’s South End. “Kind of [like] how some people add a slice of cheddar on top of apple pie.”
Sartori SarVecchio Parmesan
Smucker’s Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
Ford Farm Seaside Cheddar
Koeze Cream-Nut Peanut Butter
Beehive Cheese Co. Promontory
Peanut Butter Boy Super Smooth
Meaty, savory cashew butter is a break from the norm. A dry, velvety texture and bold umami notes make it a fantastic match with complex, earthy cheeses.
Jif Crunchy Cashew Butter
Appenzeller Käserei Tufertsch
MaraNatha Roasted Cashew Butter
Woodstock Farms Cashew Butter
Sweeter, milkier, and more delicate than other nuts, Marcona almonds have long been paired with nutty cheeses like manchego, drawing out toasty flavors of caramel, butterscotch, and even coconut. Certain almond butters can also impart a subtle floral perfume, which pairs nicely with lightly fruity or herbal cheese varieties.
Once Again Creamy Almond Butter
Barney Butter Smooth
Maisie Jane’s Crunchy Almond Butter
Perhaps the most decadent of all, walnut butter has a slightly tannic quality that helps to temper its intense, buttery softness. Paired with rustic or tangy goat’s milk cheese, it’s a combination much greater than the sum of its parts.
Cypress Grove Chevre Lamb Chopper
Artisana Organic Walnut Butter
Vermont Creamery Fresh Goat Cheese
Fastachi Walnut Butter
Westfield Farm Capri
Jack’s Almond Walnut Butter
Chocolate Nut Butters
For a pairing that’s all about sweetness, look to nut butters laced with cocoa. Tried-and-true hazelnut-chocolate spreads such as Nutella and other chocolatenut combos stand up against even the boldest iterations of aged gouda and Edam. Together they conjure bourbon-spiked bread pudding, salted caramel, or sticky pecan pie.
Beemster Extra Aged
Justin’s Chocolate Almond Butter
Rawmio Hazelnut Crunch
Spiced Nut Butters
Ready to take your pairing prowess to the next level? A variety of nut butters featuring the piquant notes of ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves make a playful bite alongside especially fruity and creamy cheeses.
Drunken Goat DOP
Peanut Butter & Co. Cinnamon Raisin Swirl
Caseificio Dell’Alta Langa La Tur
Big Spoon Roasters Chai Spice Nut Butter
La Casera Robiola di Capra in Foglie di Fico
Jem Raw Cinnamon Red Maca Almond Butter
This article originally appeared in our 2015 Cheese+ ultimate Pairings issue. If you’d like to see all 26 amazing cheese pairings, purchase a copy today!