Pairing cheese and wine? Old news. (Delicious, delicious old news, of course.) Now it’s time to pair cheese with cocktails! I had the absolute delight of an opportunity recently to teach a class with Kerry Jerred, a cheese professional (which is a good candidate for nominating new dream jobs, now that I’ve finally moved on from wanting to be a marine biologist when I grow up…) from Forage To Fromage. Our focus? Perfect cheese pairings for our remarkable aperitif cocktails. I’ve rarely had a yummier time between the hours of 4-5 in the afternoon. The class was at our distillery, and I know many folks from out of town would have loved to join in, but simply couldn’t make the trip. So, because I love you, I have typed up everything we talked about in the pairing cheese and cocktails class!
Cheese and Aperitif Pairing Class
Taught by Forage to Fromage and Vikre Distillery
General notes for a pairing tasting: Serve cheese at room temperature. Start with a sip of the drink, then have a nibble of cheese, then another sip of the drink. Serve cocktails chilled, poured into a fluted glass.
Frenchie cocktail: Vikre’s Juniper gin with notes of juniper berry, lemon peel, rhubarb, and pink peppercorns, blended with elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and sparkling rosé wine. The wine is rosé because the strawberry and red currant notes of rosé go well with the rhubarb and peppercorn notes in the gin.
Carr Valley Mellage: Carr Valley is Wisconsin’s largest cheese producing area. This style of cheese is a mixed milk semi-soft. For all of the aperitif pairings, F2F chose cheeses that coat your palate because the wine, spirit, and fruit combinations in the aperitifs stand up to a mouth-coating creamy cheese. (Contrastingly, in their gin class, they paired harder cheeses with the gin.) The sweet milk in this cheese marries well with the juniper notes in Frenchie while the goat milk in it goes with the lemon in the cocktail. As a general rule, cheese from small ruminants (goat, sheep…) pair well with lemon. This chehese is not cave aged at all. It is a young cheese, and considered a cheddar.
This led to a discussion that helped us better understand how cheese styles are made distinct from one another. In addition to the cultures, one of the main sources of difference in flavor and texture comes from how small the curds are cut while they are still in the wey and before being packed. Softer cheeses have curds cut larger (eg. Gouda; mozzarella has huge curds), harder crumbly cheeses (like Parmeggiano or Grana Padano) have curds cut into tiny grains. Cheddar cheese comes from a process knows as cheddaring, which refers to flipping blocks of packed curd while they are still in the wey. In addition to curd size, cave aging influences the style and flavor, and cheeses with rinds get the rind from being inoculated with penicillin strains. Now you know! (I personally, am beyond excited to finally understand this about cheese.)
Vélo Spritz with the Marieke Foenegreek Gouda
Vélo Spritz: Vikre’s aperitivo classico – an infusion of rhubarb, coriander, and three different types of orange (bitter, sweet, and chinotto) – combined with orange juice, cinchona, and sparkling wine.
Marieke Foenegreek Gouda: Marieke is the name of the cheesemaker, a Dutch woman who moved to Wisconsin and missed the amazing gouda cheeses from home, so she decided to start making them herself. She actually received her green card to stay in the U.S. because Wisconsin declared she was such a valuable cheesemaker. This creamy, mild gouda contains fenugreek seeds. The gouda itself has a sweetness to it that almost tastes like maple syrup, and the aromatic seeds have nutty notes of celery and rye. The combination of flavors is a perfect contrast to the citrus in Vélo. All the Marieke cheeses are farmstead cheeses, i.e. they are made at the dairy farm where they raise their cows. Of all the amazing pairings, this was the group’s very favorite.
Briar Cocktail with Marieke Golden Gouda
Briar Cocktail: Vikre’s grape spirits, infused with bay leaves, lemon zest, vanilla, and oak, blended with fine wine to fortify it. Folded in with blackberry and apple juice.
Marieke Golden Gouda: This cheese combines gouda cultures with parmesan cultures, yielding a super creamy young cheese with bits of salt crystals, kind of like in an aged gouda or parmesan. This was probably my favorite cheese just for eating on its own. It is an absolutely perfect cheese and crackers cheese. The sharp cream and extra salt of this cheese push forward the fruitiness in Briar making it taste even more berry forward.
Pairing #4, a bonus pairing!
Briar Cocktail with Roelli Dunbarton Blue
Roelli Dunbarton Blue: if you like creamy, lightly funky cheeses, this blue is for you! So. Good. Roelli is another Wisconsin cheese maker, this one with a Swiss heritage. This cheese is a blue cheddar, so they use the cheddaring process and cultures to make an earthy, nutty cheese, then inoculate it with blue cheese penicillin cultures. When a cheese is inoculated, the cultures are put on the outside, then later on the cheese is stabbed to aerate it, and in those places where the needle goes and oxygen is let in, that’s where the lines of blue appear. The salt and nuttiness of this cheese balanced the fruit in Briar out (instead of bringing it forward. Think a salad with blue cheese and blackberries), making the fruitiness softer instead of brighter, and super sippable.