What defines a great cheese pairing? There are endless possibilities, but truly unique unions are often hard to come by. Yes, we’ve all had blue cheese with walnuts and brie with water crackers, but isn’t there anything beyond?
Last week I was fortunate to have three fantastic pairing experiences, each one distinct and incredibly well thought out. Here’s some inspiration for your next pairing venture:
Intense Cheeses & Mild Spreads
The week started with a celebration for my friends, Brad and Meredith, who had just returned stateside from traveling in Europe for ten months. They served a beautiful European (mostly) cheese plate at dinner, starting with Shropshire Blue, a hearty and intense English cow’s milk blue that’s made like Stilton but with a deep orange color. The second offering was Humming Bark, a small-format washed-rind farmstead cheese from County Wexford, Ireland. Another cow’s milk cheese, it’s matured in spruce bark until it reaches its bold-flavored, creamy peak. The last was a nod to my friends’ return to the States: an aged goat’s milk Coupole from Vermont Creamery. With its wrinkly tan rind and off-white interior, it imparts all the mineral flavors that I love from fresh goat cheeses, with a big (but not overripe) flavor. To balance out these strong, distinctive choices, Brad and Meredith didn’t go the conventional cracker route; instead, they brought out a graceful wildflower honey from France and a sweet, mild fruit mustard from Italy. These pairings were all about contrasting bold flavors with pleasant textures, and they complemented each other impeccably.
Mountain Cheese & Crispy Brittle
The second stellar match-up arrived a couple of days later at my friend Tia Keenan’s home in Queens, where we sat in her sunlit kitchen and played with her adorable two-year-old son, Sterio. Tia is a cheese chef and the author of a great new book on creative cheese plates. She had a bit of leftover cheese from doing press for her book, so she offered me a hefty slice of Rolf Beeler Gruyère paired with her homemade sunflower-seed brittle. I love the toasted-grain flavors that a well-aged and cared for Swiss mountain cheese develops. Tia’s brittle was slightly sweet – a natural sweetness rather than a sugary one – and the seeds added a delicate flavor and crunch. These two complemented each other to a T and proved that one stellar cheese and one original accompaniment can be all you need for a perfect “cheese plate.”
Perfection in Simplicity
A few days later I was dining at Günter Seeger NY, the new restaurant from Chef Günter Seeger, an old friend of mine from Atlanta. He is a top-tier cheese connoisseur and an ace when it comes to presentation, so I waited for the cheese course with baited breath. Our waiter arrived at our table with a large wooden board and presented two cheeses, both from Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet, VT. Chef Seeger had chosen the washed-rind cow’s milk Dorset and the Barden Blue, a balanced blue cheese that was flavorful without being pungent. His pairing: a modest, warm, dark-baked whole-grain-and-cracked-corn bread. In spite of its simplicity, the rustic bread was anything but ordinary; it brought out the layers of flavor within each cheese in completely unforeseen ways. The chef didn’t need to add anything else to the board; it was already perfection.