As a great concert soloist can make a performance memorable, a fantastic cheese shines on its own. But accompany it with the symphony of flavors in a harvest sangria or brandy old-fashioned, and you have a delectable concerto. Craft cocktails (and mocktails) are made with various botanicals and often boast bold and piquant flavors that pair well with the nuances and complexity of cheeses. Don’t miss a beat and learn how to compose delicious duets.
It's All About That Base
A cocktail’s flavor primarily comes from the base spirit. In a gin and tonic, the base spirit is gin. In a whiskey sour, it’s whiskey. Taking note of the base spirit can inform what cheeses go best with a particular cocktail.
A spirit like gin is aromatic with herbal, floral and botanical flavor notes often described as citrusy or piney, accompanied by spicy hints of cardamom and coriander. Mingle its juniper notes with Deer Creek® The Blue Jay™, a quintuple crème, buttery blue cheese spiked with crushed juniper berries. Spirits like single-malt Scotch whisky have distinct flavors, depending on the region. Marry the most pronounced flavor notes of the spirit with complementary notes in the cheeses. For example, pair the caramel and honey flavors in Macallan® Whisky (highland region) with Sartori MontAmoré® Cheddar. They’ll enhance the pineapple and tropical fruit notes this unique cheese is known for.
Set the Tone
We often play music to match our mood. The same applies to matching intensity levels when pairing cheeses and cocktails. Create an easy-going medley combining delicate and approachable BelGioioso Fresh Mozzarella and BelGioioso Burrata with a white wine cocktail or light, sparkling citrus punch. Both beverages are crisp and refreshing, brightened with citric acid and fresh herb flavors that enhance the cheeses’ mild flavors while the acid balances their creaminess. Conversely, a cocktail like a brandy-old fashioned or Manhattan is generally higher in alcohol, and a bigger, bolder cheese with pockets of caramelized intensity like Hook’s 15-Year Sharp Cheddar is a worthy opponent that can stand up to its potency.
Hit the Right Note
Create sublime harmony by pairing cheeses and cocktails with similar flavor profiles. A cranberry-studded cheese like Renard’s Cranberry Cheddar and the hints of plum and berry notes in wine-soaked Sartori Merlot BellaVitano® are divine paired with a fruit-forward red sangria. Or consider your favorite tasty duos, like mint and pineapple. Savor the brown butter and candied pineapple flavor notes in Roth Canela Aged Cheese, a Wisconsin Original, with the mint and sweetness of a mojito. Or is a citrusy margarita singing a siren’s song? Instead of salting the rim, pair it with tart, salty Odyssey® Traditional Feta.
Tempo of Texture
Just like cheese—and music—cocktails have textures. They can be frothy, smooth, bubbly and more. The classic bubbly personality of a sparkling cocktail enlivens the open texture of mild, crowd-pleasing Arena SpringGreen™ Colby Longhorn and cuts through the richness of indulgent Schroeder Käse Triple Creme Brie topped with fresh berries. Similarly, the delightful bubbles and bittersweet flavors of an Aperol spritz provide a tasty acidic counterpoint to creamy and buttery sweet Widmer’s Mild Brick.
The Big Cheese: Jeannette Hurt
Award-winning author, food and beverage expert, and a guest speaker at the Art of Cheese Festival, Jeanette Hurt shares how to combine your favorite cheeses and libations with ease.
Do all cocktails pair with cheese?
Yes! Some cocktails may be more challenging to pair, but if you’re creative and understand both spirits and cheese, you can pair them.
What’s the most important rule when pairing cocktails with cheese?
Ask yourself if you’re going to go with a complementary pairing, such as creamy mascarpone cheese with a creamy cocktail like a pink squirrel, or go with a contrasting pairing as opposites attract, such as light mascarpone with a heavy Manhattan.
Also, think about the “bridge.” Often neglected when creating pairings, a bridge takes an element of the cheese or cocktail and uses it to integrate the two. For example, if you pair a grapefruit-based paloma, add a grapefruit gelée or reduction to the cheese pairing. Or add a spicy, chili-laced rim to the glass when serving paloma with a spicy, tequila-based cheese like Deer Creek® The Rattlesnake. Another example would be to top cheddar with orange marmalade when paired with a brandy old-fashioned, which contains muddled orange segments.
What are some of your favorite cheese and cocktail pairings?
A favorite seasonal pairing is a hot toddy with apple brandy and hard cider served with applewood-smoked cheddar and candied apple slices. Oh, that is heavenly! Also, a pumpkin spice old-fashioned or pumpkin margarita paired with pumpkin spice mascarpone—both combinations sing with fall flavors. I love pairing brandy old-fashioneds with a flavored or aged cheddar. Finally, I like to pair an espresso martini with Sartori Espresso BellaVitano®, especially when you grate the cheese to create a rim for the glass.