Mead, tej, metheglin, hydromel, karri—whatever you call it, honey wine is one of mankind’s earliest alcoholic beverages. Those looking to get a buzz on in the ancient world did so via bees as early as the seventh century BCE, and today the substance is still known for its associations with Vikings and renaissance fairs. It’s also, unfortunately, known for being almost undrinkably sweet, medicinally thick, and generally not for everyone.
“Sugar hides off flavors,” says Gordon Hull, founder of Heidrun Meadery in Point Reyes Station, California. “So mead has possibly been made sweet in the past to be more palatable, as sweetness can mask flaws. The world of mead is evolving now that we’re able to control the wild yeasts in other ways.”
Hull is part of a new class of mead makers creating delicate, food-friendly honey wines. They’re exploring the drink’s roots in Africa and Asia, sourcing monofloral varietals from around the globe, and playing with new ways of fermenting mead, like méthode champenoise. The result? Crushable, balanced, and food-friendly meads begging to be paired with cheese. They’re deeply floral and flavorful enough to stand on their own next to strong wheels, yet delicate enough to play with milder ones, too.
“You’re working with this extraordinary substance of honey,” Hull says, “So the wine that comes from it ought to be beautiful. It ought to be refreshing and crisp, sort of the way you think of flowers in an open field.” Read on for a few of our favorite ways to enjoy these new meads with cheese.
Enlightenment Wines Meadery Memento Mori + JUMI Schlossberger Alt
Raphael Lyon and friends harvest pounds upon pounds of dandelion by hand every spring to craft this funky, malty, and vegetal riff on classic New England dandelion tonic. Pair its meadow-floor depth with a toasty and fudgy alpine like JUMI’s Schlossberger Alt.
Heidrun Meadery California Orange Blossom + Capriole Tea Rose
Made with the pure monofloral honey of bees who graze the orange trees of California’s San Joaquin Valley, this mead tastes like driving down I-5 during peak bloom. Crisp yet perfumed, with a nose of pure citrus blossom, it pairs best with natural-rind blues and fresh herby chèvres like Capriole’s Tea Rose.
Zydeco Meadery Hibiscus + Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill
Based on a Trinidadian recipe Zydeco owner Eric Depradine learned from his grandmother, this tart red mead draws inspiration from Caribbean and West African hibiscus drinks like sorrel and bissap. With a light body and a warming note of ginger, it slakes that very specific thirst created by rich, fatty, double creams like Green Hill.
Heidrun Meadery Tanzanian Miombo Wildflower + Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company Quinta
Beekeepers sedate bees by spraying woodsmoke into hives, and they need even more smoke for aggressive species of African bees—which is why this mead made with Tanzanian honey tastes like a cross between champagne and peaty scotch. Its mysterious earthy profile will keep you guessing—pair it with an equally inscrutable bark-wrapped cheese like Point Reyes’ Quinta.