Food: Cheese and Bourbon Pairings

Since we are still recovering from our Easter weekend food coma, this week we are going for simple.  Let’s talk bourbon and cheese. One of our favorite foods for parties and get togethers is a cheese board.  While we usually pair the cheese with meats on a charcuterie board, but this week, it’s all about the cheese.  And the bourbon. Always bourbon.

Ok, so this really couldn’t get any easier.  No mixing or measuring, stirring or cooking required.  You get to sit back, relax and spend time with your guests instead of checking the stove every five minutes.  Just a great selection of bourbons and a delicious array of cheeses, and since cheese pairs wonderfully with bourbon, we are sure you will be delighted to taste a few more flavor profiles in your bourbon while enjoying your cheese.

Speaking of flavor profiles, the really neat thing about bourbon (see what I did there…) is that bourbon has so many flavor profiles that come from the grain, the barrel, the char and the yeast.  Each element brings several notes that sometimes only a trained palate can detect. Pairing different foods brings out some of those subtle flavors in the bourbon and suddenly, ah-ha!! Life is good!  The high fat content of the cheese really stands up to the proof of the bourbon and it’s pretty interesting to play around with different pairings. You’ll quickly develop a preference and even those who may shy away from bourbon  will appreciate the subtle flavors it can bring to the table.

Cheese and Bourbon Pairing

Ingredients:

Bourbon:  3 or 4 different types for tasting.  Try a wheated bourbon, a barrel proof, a high rye content and one well aged bourbon.  Don’t forget an extra 2 oz of bourbon – your choice

Cheese:  3 or 4 Types:  a soft cheese, a sharp aged cheddar, a harder aged cheese and a blue cheese

Wooden board/platter or anything that can handle being cut on and some cheese knives or small paring knives, one for each cheese.  We have a refinished barrel stave that we use for our cheese board.

Extras:  plain crackers and water to cleanse the palate; the water can also be used to add a couple drops to your bourbon and open those flavors; some roasted nuts, dried fruit, olives or even fresh grapes We like to bring it to the next level and add some small bowls of dried fruits (think apricots, cranberries), some roasted nuts and salty olives.

Method:

You know the drill.  Pour 2 oz of bourbon in a whiskey glass. As you assemble the cheese board, have a nibble or two of cheese and a sip in between.  What do you taste? What do you prefer? Do you taste fruit or smokiness? Caramel or coffee? You will impress your friends with this new-found knowledge.  

Cheese:  Plan to set your board up about 30 minutes before guests arrive.  This will allow the cheese to come to room temp for optimal flavor.  Bonus: no cutting necessary! Place each wedge on the board, allowing for guests to cut off as much as they like.  We usually count on 2-3 oz per cheese per guest if the cheese board is the main event, remember, we are keeping things simple!

Cheese Recommendations:

Soft cheese (brie or camembert) – Yes, the rind is perfectly fine to eat!  This most mild of the cheese selection tends to pair nicely with a lower proof or even a wheated bourbon.  You could even include a semi-soft Havarti cheese in this group. The creamy richness and fat content of these softer cheeses could stand up to a higher proof too.  You be the judge. What’s your preference?

Aged hard cheese - Select a Pecorino or Parmigiano–Reggiano or what many call the ultimate cheese for bourbon pairing, an aged Gouda.  Gouda imparts a smoky flavor which is no brainer for pairing with bigger oak and smoky bourbons. You can also try these cheeses with a higher rye profile bourbon too.  Go ahead, live dangerously.

Sharp aged cheddar – often a crowd favorite.   This pairs well with sweet fruity bourbon (a total contrast) and will also stand up well to a spicy rye bourbon.  If you have an aged bourbon to try, do it! The aged cheddar stands up well to several different bourbon “categories”.

Blue cheese – I will admit, I am not a fan, you either love blue cheese or you hate it.  Sorry, not sorry. Blue’s sharp, pungent tang would stand up well to a single barrel, higher proof with smoky notes but try it up against a sweeter bourbon and tell me your thoughts.  This cheese may try to override the sweeter bourbon but also the contrast in flavors can surprisingly mellow the cheese.

Taste is a very subjective thing.  There really is no right or wrong way to pair these.  Some will prefer to match the subtle flavor cheeses with subtle bourbons and robust cheese with robust bourbons; while others like to pair opposites, a saltier cheese with a sweeter bourbon.  Try each one and see what you prefer. The fun part is detecting some of the subtle flavor notes in the bourbon that you may not have tasted if sipping the bourbon on its own. What’s your favorite bourbon and cheese pairing?  We love trying new combinations, so please leave us a comment. Stay tuned for our charcuterie post in the coming weeks when we add some cured meats to the cheese board and really make things interesting.

Cheers!

Maureen Linehan

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