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The Japanese Cheese Plate

Editor’s note: This story was updated on February 9, 2023.

Japanese cuisine has steadily seeped into US culture over the past few decades, from matcha lattes at Starbucks to sushi restaurants in nearly every town. While Jill Zenoff of Cowgirl Creamery—champion of the Winter 2019 Cheesemonger Invitational—is certainly a cheese buff, she’s “not exactly an expert” at pairing Japanese food and curds.

To her credit, though, Zenoff once spent a summer on Henry and Hiroko Brockman’s sustainable farm in central Illinois. The couple lived in Japan before relocating to the Midwest, so their experience with Japanese culture and cooking colored Zenoff’s picks for this plate. Green tea with Alpine cheese? Red Hawk with bone broth? Yes, please.

1. Shepherd’s Way Farms Big Woods Blue 

Origin: Nerstrand, Minnesota 
Milk: Pasteurized sheep’s milk 

+ Umebosh 

Pairing jam with blue cheese is a no-brainer—mix it up by trying pickled plums. “The high butterfat in Big Woods Blue really kicks up the incredible umami flavor,” says Zenoff. 

2. Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk

Origin: Point Reyes Station, California
Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk

+ Beef bone broth

At peak ripeness, Red Hawk is umami overload. Pair it with bone broth (or red miso broth for a vegetarian option), and a few bites will feel like a complete meal. Tame the richness with some pickled ginger.

3. Sennerei Huban Alp Blossom  

Origin: Doren, Austria 
Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk 

+ Hojicha tea  

A delicate and nutty green tea, Hojicha pairs well with this hard Alpine cheese—round out the flavors by adding sweet pear slices. Bonus: This bite is an excellent palate cleanser.

4. El Gazul Montes de Alcala Pimenton 

Origin: Alcalá de los Gazules, Spain 
Milk:Pasteurized goat’s milk 

Tsukemono (pickled Japanese vegetables)  

Fermented veggies hold their flavor better than their quick-pickled counterparts. Here, they’re paired with Montes de Alcala Pimenton to echo the bite. (Prefer something less spicy? Opt for Finca Pascualete Pascualino instead.) 

5. Laura Chenel Original Goat Cheese 

Origin: Sonoma, California 
Milk: Pasteurized goat’s milk 

+ Fresh Japanese herbs  

Chèvre is mild enough to provide a backdrop to fresh shisonegi, or nira. “You can even buy a large tub of chèvre, divide it into three bowls, and try different herb mixes,” suggests Zenoff. Spread on a wasabi cracker for extra kick. 

Photographed by Francine Zaslow.

Styled by Catrine Kelty.

Madeline Upson

A longtime lover of cheese and wine nights, Madeline finally got to use her love of cheese as former Editorial Assistant at Culture Magazine.

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