Like many of its fermented cousins, kombucha’s origin story is shrouded in the mystery and intrigue of longevity elixirs. Nearly 2,000 years ago in China, the fermented tea was dubbed “The Tea of Immortality” due to its energizing properties. Linked to the successes of Genghis Khan’s armies and the battle-ready Japanese Samurais who carried it in travel flasks and wine sheaths, a buzz over kombucha’s health benefits likely first traveled down the Silk Road to Europe and beyond.
In the United States, kombucha’s popularity is not only associated with probiotic and gut health trends; it’s also a tart and effervescent alternative to beer, cider, and wine. During fermentation, kombucha’s microbes produce a low amount of alcohol (usually less than two percent ABV), making it an ideal drink for a morning hangover, before a workout, or alongside a meal.
The key to that fermentation is a SCOBY (an acronym for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast”) which microbiologist and cheese expert Ben Wolfe has described as a “fibrous, slippery mat of yeast and bacteria.” As the SCOBY consumes sugar, the drink transitions from sweet tea to a fizzy, acidic, refreshing drink full of detoxifying B vitamins.
Once only stocked in specialty markets, kombucha is now found in taprooms, restaurants and breweries, and pretty much any grocery store. Though all kombucha styles share a tangy, fermented profile, diverse flavors—ranging from fruit to herbs, flowers, and spices—are now on the market, while levels of sweetness and acidity vary, too. No matter the type, though, kombucha is a lively yet funky, mouth–puckeringly bubbly drink that pairs surprisingly well with cheese.
A go-to cheese pairing for beginners is fresh fruit, from plump berries to juicy peaches—and many of the most palatable kombucha styles are those enhanced with fruit juice. Fermented green or black tea can be too vegetal, malty, or creamy on its own; adding fruit makes cheese pairing simple. Case in point: The complex, robust caramel notes and long finish of a clothbound cheddar are highlighted by a crisp kombucha with apple, while a passionfruit-pineapple flavor melds with the vibrant flavors of an Alpine cheese for a nutty-yet-tropical bite.
Subtly luxurious additions like prickly dandelion, bright mint, earthy sage, calming lavender, and warm rosemary make lighter, fresher cheeses sing. Botanicals tame the tanginess of both chèvre and kombucha, while complementing the herbaceous notes of the tea. Rosy aromatics end up tasting less perfumey and more like delicate grapefruit. When it comes to pairing, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Vanessa Chang suggests Revive Kombucha. “Their booches are pretty mellow, nowhere near as vinegary or sweet as others,” she says. “Revive’s Cucumber Mint Lemon with a goat’s milk cheese is just dynamite. I’ll usually have a fresh chèvre in a salad or slather it onto bread.”
For an extra mouthwatering bang, gravitate towards the intermediate, versatile kombuchas made with cleansing and spicy black and cayenne peppers, sweet and hot ginger root, biting turmeric, or even activated charcoal. Matching these assertive flavors with the dense, rich qualities of a fudgy blue cheese or a washed rind, semi-firm wedge is a welcome challenge with a big payoff.
Isigny Ste-Mère Petit Pont L’Evêque + Revive Kombucha Turmeric Ginger Citrus
Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue + Mortal Kombucha Black Magic