The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” is sometimes used to describe the goal of cheese pairings. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the phrase Aristotle penned. What the great philosopher wrote in his Metaphysics, nearly 2,400 years ago, was “the whole is something besides the parts.” But since we’re concerned with cheese, not systems energy, we’re going to take the incorrect translation and run with it.
What is a perfect cheese pairing? At the Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI), it’s defined as a combination where the flavors come together in harmony, and which elevates without obscuring the cheese. With this in mind, we asked five cheesemongers to share their go-to or especially memorable pairings.
“One of my favorite pairings has to be toasted brioche with butter and cinnamon sugar, topped with Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese and Door County dried cherries. It’s just the perfect balance of sweetness, saltiness, and earthiness. Perfect for breakfast or dessert. You can even add some dark chocolate or have it with a nice whiskey old fashioned.”
—Jacqueline Rouleau | Village Cheese Shop | Milwaukee, Wis.
“I enjoy a peppadew pepper stuffed with Saint Agur blue cheese. The sweet and spiciness of the peppadew with the creaminess and rich, full flavor of Saint Agur goes so well together. I pair that with a nice cup of Zabar’s blend coffee sweetened with brown sugar—delicious.”
—Marie Colas | Zabar’s | New York, N.Y.
“Taleggio and Dulce de Tomate (tomato jam) is a killer pairing. We love washed-rind cheese, and Taleggio is a staple at Cork and Rind. Sweet accompaniments work well with this slightly funky cheese including fruit or honey. We found the sweet and savory flavors of Dulce de Tomate not only balance the funk, but also amplify the umami flavors we crave in Taleggio. Toast up locally sourced sourdough, spread some of the tomato jam, and top with a healthy slice of Taleggio. Serve with Barbera or dry Lambrusco. (Note: Dulce de Tomate is easily made at home but there are some decent store-bought options, including Mitica’s Portuguese-style version.)”
—Michael Kinney | Cork and Rind | St. Charles, Mo.
“A couple memorable pairings come to mind for me. One is a go-to: Jasper Hill Harbison with French fries. One of my favorite memories with this one was going to a drive-in diner by myself with a wheel of Harbison as my passenger, ordering French fries, and devouring the wheel with the fries in my car. It was at the height of the pandemic fear in 2020 right when restaurants were starting to open back up and I was going through my first real bad heartbreak at the time, so it felt like such an indulgent treat.
The other really memorable pairing for me was my perfect bite for the 2020 Cheesemonger Invitational (CMI) in San Francisco. I was assigned Jasper Hill’s Eligo, their cow/goat pudgy washed rind. Because of its super savory flavor, I went with a real mind-bender by creating sushi rolls with the cheese. I cubed the cheese, rolled the cubes in a crushed-up mixture of nori, Japanese rice stick snacks, and prawn crisps. I then rolled each coated cube in strips of nori (this was the part where I was really losing my mind wrapping 100 of these in an hour-and-a-half) and topped with a halved wasabi pea. The presentation was really fun, and the flavor was surprisingly delicious. Maybe it was the memory of being able to flex my creativity at CMI, maybe it really was the magic of the pairing itself, but that’s a pairing that definitely sticks out in my memory as well.”
—Michelle Vieira | Carfagna’s Market | Columbus, Ohio
“This year we decided to have deep fried pickles with our fondue. Crunchy, tangy, and salty. Dip it in melted cheese and, an explosion of amazing goodness! Caro dark Spanish chocolate with MitiCrema fresh sheep cheese and Amarena cherries. It’s a crazy delicious dessert! Try it sometime.”
—Vincent Maniaci | The Cheese Iron | Scarborough, Maine