Hooked on Cheese: Holiday Cheese Pairings

With a little bit of creativity, holiday cheese tastings are fun and easy

The month of the holiday party is almost upon us! I got an early start this year on a recent trip to Chicago, where my dear friend Suzanne Wolcott, formerly of Marz Community Brewing Co., had decided to host a little pre-holiday cheese fête. Wolcott is both a Certified Cicerone and a Certified Cheese Professional, so I knew her pairings would be spectacular.

The day before the party, Wolcott & I visited Uplands Cheese, where owner and head cheesemaker Andy Hatch hand-selected a couple of Rush Creek Reserve forms and a nice wedge of his Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged for us. Rush Creek is a raw milk cheese wrapped in spruce bark – a super soft, creamy showstopper that is only available at this time of year. The rinds of the forms Hatch chose had hints of blue and white mold on the surface, which he attributed to the humid conditions created in their ripening rooms by this autumn’s record-breaking rainfall. As a result, the paste of this batch of cheeses has a uniquely rich flavor.

For the party, Wolcott decided to pair this distinctive batch of Rush Creek with the elegant berry notes and citrus zest of the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé: an outstanding start to the evening.

She then brought out some delightful Capriole Dairy goat cheeses; the star was the Julianna, an herb-and-flower-coated soft-ripened cheese, which is not only beautiful to look at but has a profound complexity of flavor. It was paired with Wisconsin’s iconic Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing Company, an American Cream Ale brought to the party by distinguished Chicago bartender Johanna Wawro. Spotted Cow’s fruity flavors and clean finish complimented the Julianna perfectly.

Next, we tasted Bellwether Farms’ San Andreas, a nutty, aged sheep’s milk cheese from Northern California, matched with another Sonoma County product: the Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel. These two were meant to be together – the animal notes in the cheese were the ideal counterpoint to wine’s lush quality.

Lastly, we drizzled some delicious local honey (brought by Wolcott’s close friend Sarah Osaka) over a substantial chunk of Colston Bassett Stilton. This British stalwart – known as the “King of Blues” – is the ideal blue to present at a holiday party; it’s so buttery, rich and savory that it will pair well with any stout or dessert wine and is a superb ending note for a warm, festive evening.



Follow Raymond's food escapades on FacebookInstagram and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.