HOW TO PAIR COCKTAILS & CHEESE
Cheese and cocktails go very well together. The complex flavours in cheese contrast nicely with cocktails, which can be sweet, sour, thin or creamy, depending on what best suits the cheese. And the various base spirits bring out different aspects of the cheese.
Who doesn’t love a nice cocktail? Refreshing, strong, sour, sweet or bitter – and with plenty of complexity in flavour.
And there’s an extra bonus for cheese lovers – as cocktails and cheese are a perfect match. With the wide variety of cocktails, you have an accompaniment that can be tailored perfectly to match your cheese platter.
Like cheese, cocktails vary greatly, and not all cocktails suit all types of cheese. It is therefore a good idea to test different cheeses with the cocktails you want to serve. This will give you an overview and let you plan which cheeses to pair with each cocktail.
CONSIDER YOUR BASE SPIRITS
The most important element of any cocktail is the spirit that forms its base. Whether a cocktail is based on vodka, gin, rum or whisky, they each influence the taste of the cocktail in their own way, just like they each influence the taste of the cheese.
Different types of spirits go best with different types of cheeses, where they bring out certain flavours. For example:
Gin works well with a variety of cheeses
Gin is distilled with lots of herbs and berries, and a good gin has a fresh taste with many herbal and floral notes. And it is these floral notes that go so well with cheese – from mild white mould cheeses to stronger cheeses, like a lightly smoked cheese, an aged gouda or even a blue cheese. Goat’s milk cheeses are also good paired with gin.
Rum, whisky & cognac works well with sweeter cheeses
Rum is sweet and distilled with sugar, so rum (and good tequila, too) works well with sweeter cheeses – as well as with cheeses that are typically served with sweet condiments. This includes hard, aged cheeses, like Gouda, Emmental-style cheeses and even blue cheese.
Whisky and cognac also tend to have sweet and burned notes, which are perfectly suited to flavourful and slightly sweet cheeses. However, mild cheeses also pair nicely with both whisky and cognac.
Vodka doesn’t really have much flavour, and so it is often whatever the vodka is mixed with that determines the type of cheese to pair it with.
Taste your base spirit first before deciding what to pair it with. For instance, the various types of gin all taste very different – some are dry, while others are sweet and very floral. And this will influence both the taste of the cocktail and which cheeses it works with.
SWEET, SOUR OR BITTER – HEAVY OR LIGHT?
While the base spirit has a strong influence on your cocktail, another important factor is how you mix it. Sweet cocktails bring out certain qualities in cheese, while sour or bitter cocktails bring out others.
The consistency of your cocktail also has a strong influence on how the cheese is experienced, as cheeses vary greatly in consistency. Some are soft and creamy, others hard and crystallised, and some practically crumble in your mouth.
The same applies to cocktails, which can be thin, creamy or frothy, just as they can be refreshing or very intense.
You can successfully exploit these contrasts. A creamy cheese can be accompanied by a less creamy cocktail, while a firm and crumbling cheese goes well with a frothy drink, for instance one containing egg whites.
SOME EXAMPLES OF GREAT WAYS TO PAIR CHEESE AND COCKTAILS
The world of cocktails is as diverse as the world of cheeses. And there are thousands of combinations just waiting to be tested.
To help you get started, here a few suggestions for good pairings.
GIN & TONIC
This British-Indian classic comes in countless variations, with different types of gin and tonic. G&T generally goes well with soft and creamy cheeses, like brie and other white mould cheeses, where the gin brings out the floral notes in the cheeses and the bitterness of the tonic rinses the palate. However, blue cheeses also take on lovely floral notes when paired with G&T.
A gin version of the classic sour, where lemon juice adds acidity and egg whites add froth to the cocktail, making it perfect for serving with both a mild brie and aged gouda. The caramelised notes in gouda, in particular, contrast nicely with the acidity and floral taste of the gin.
With tomato juice, Tabasco and a celery stick, a Bloody Mary doesn’t really seem like a natural choice for serving with cheese. However, it actually goes quite well – especially with cheeses that are traditionally served with tomatoes, like dry, aged cheeses, or Italian cheeses, like parmesan or mozzarella. Add a little basil to your Bloody Mary and you’re practically in Italy. You might also try drizzling the cheese with a little olive oil, or even adding a few drops to your drink.
The preferred cocktail of Mad Men’s Don Draper. Strong and sweet with an old-fashioned masculinity, it combines aged notes from bourbon with orange notes from orange rind and Angostura bitters. An Old Fashioned actually makes an excellent accompaniment to a wide range of cheeses, where its sweetness and caramel notes go well with everything from mild white mould cheeses to firm, aged cheeses to blue cheese.
Another sweet bourbon cocktail with a bitter kick, this time from Vermouth. Like an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan is also a perfect match for a wide array of cheeses. It makes particularly good company for the somewhat sweeter, mature cheeses. But it also goes well with blue cheeses, as the sharp taste of the mould becomes somewhat muted, which suits some people’s tastes.