For our customers, one of the most challenging parts of entertaining is pairing up their cheeses with foods or beverages. It’s not because of the lack of choices to pair up the cheeses with, it’s more likely that they have too many choices.

When I first talk about pairing foods and beverages, I mention that it’s a lot like matchmaking. You know this really nice girl and this really nice guy, and they would be perfect for each other. So essentially you need to know what the cheese tastes like and what you want to pair it with tastes like, then you can decide if they work together.

Unfortunately, most of our customers are “blind dating” when it comes to cheese.

Pairing can be as easy as pairing up milk and honey or it can be confusing, like ketchup goes with French fried potatoes, but doesn’t work as well with a baked potato, even though they are both potatoes. Helping customers find good pairings is about finding out what they like. That means you need to understand more than just the cheese. A key to helping a customer is asking them what they like. It sounds simple, but it is a good start.

You can take 20 India Pale Ales (IPA), and they can be radically different in their amount of hops and intensity, which could make one work well and another be an awful choice with the same cheese.

The same is true with wine. You can have a wide choice of styles of Chardonnay. One could be perfect, while another could be too strong and overpower the cheese.

So, how do we help them make good choices for their beverage and food pairings at store level? 


Matching brands and beverages

I have always advocated that you have to pair with a specific brand and style of beverage. This puts the cheese and the beverage at a better advantage to pair better. Another issue is that you will not find everyone liking the cheese or beverage that you selected; everyone’s palate is different, along with their likes and dislikes. You can have the perfect cheese and IPA pairing, and they just don’t like that type of IPA.

If you are just pairing up a cheese with one other item, it creates a maximum focus on how they work with or against each other. In most pairings, or most often with a cheeseboard, there will be multiple items paired together. This will create a more general acceptance of how they work together.

Think about having a dinner at a restaurant and you pick only one beverage for your entire meal. It has to work with the appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. As a Court of Master Sommelier, I can recommend a beverage for each part of the meal, and many times picking one would work with most parts. But generally, not with all. We usually don’t judge the accuracy of our choice of pairing with foods or cheeseboards. as you get so many different experiences, unless of course, they are truly bad.

Making good choices based on the flavors of the cheese and what you want to happen to the cheese. Let’s look at Charcuterie pairing, sweet, hot, tangy and mild flavors can overpower or distract from the flavors of the cheeses. A tangy cured meat can make a cheese taste more buttery while a sweet cured meat can make the cheese taste more tangy.


Cheese and charcuterie: six pairings that deliver

These six cheese and charcuterie pairings were presented at the What’s in Store Live Workshop at IDDBA19 in Orlando. When you think of multiple items on a cheeseboard, you will get a different experience with the different pairings. Is it possible to have many different cheeses and only one choice of Salumi and that they will all work together perfectly? 

You know the answer. Each one will take a different direction. It’s the same as if you have multiple salumis and one cheese.

·          Fresh Goat Cheese & Columbus Genoa Salame

·          President Triple Crème Brie & Columbus Italian Dry Salame

·          Ellsworth Creamery Cheese Curds & Noel Sliced Chorizo

·          Parrano & Columbus Pancetta 

·          Garcia Baquero 12 Manchego & Noel 12 Mo Serrano

·          Point Reyes Original Blue & Columbus Prosciutto 


The search for the perfect match

For the What’s in Store Live Beer and Cheese “Paired Right” I picked one brewer for all of the beers. 

Many times, when working with a single brewer, you can find a classic line of styles that you can use for your pairings.

Cigar City Brewing, Wayne Warbles, and founder Joey Redner created several classic styles that reflect the true direction of the style of beer along with giving a nod to some Florida traditions.  They were also generous enough to donate 25 cases of beer for the pairing and the grand tasting event.

First, beer is just to enjoy!

I have found that it is important to start off with a welcome beer. That way, when they sit down they can enjoy a light beer without draining out their first pairing beer.  Also, it helps in getting ready for the pairing.  I used the Cigar City Brewing Tampa Style Lager for the welcome beer as it’s a light lager and reminds me of fresh baked bread.

I have been teaching beer and cheese pairing for almost 20 years, and I will admit it was a lot easier back in the day with a more limited choice of styles. 

Today there are so many variations of a style that they might not really represent a specific style anymore.  We have IPAs infused with hemp, tree branches, and fruit, so they can be wildly different. 

With all pairings it is best to start off with something that you like. If you enjoy a Full Sail Amber, then use it with your pairings. You know that no matter how it works, you are going to like the beer.

The two things that make beers great for pairing with cheese is that beer is liquid bread and you can choose your intensity of flavors.

Easy beers like lagers and pilsners bring the carbonation and light grain flavors to the cheese, while porters and stouts bring a maltiness that works well with buttery cheeses. 

One style of beer, like an amber ale, will work with many different styles of cheeses. Those nice grains, malt and carbonation work well with the buttery flavors in cheese.

·          Fresh Goat Cheese & Cigar City Brewing Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale

·          Tillamook Cape Mears 1 Year Cheddar & Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale

·          Karst Cave-Aged Cheese & Cigar City Brewing Good Gourd Have Mercy Double Barrel-aged Imperial Pumpkin Ale

·          Gorgonzola & Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai IPA



Cheese and chocolate: why not?

I remember talking about pairing up cheese with chocolates. The person I was talking to shook their head. “You can’t put sugar sweet with cheese!” Well, they are both milk-based products in a way, so why not? 

In reality, they work really well together, keeping in mind that some dark chocolates are bitter which works perfectly with many cheeses. 

When thinking about pairing up with chocolates it is best to let them contrast each other a little bit. For example, a rich, buttery triple crème cheese pairs well with a bitter chocolate. It brings up the bitterness of the chocolate and mellows out the rich buttery flavor of the brie.

·          Cowgirl Mt Tam & Cordillera 65% Sumapaz Bittersweet Chocolate

·          Point Reyes Toma & Cordillera Santander 70% Chucuri Bittersweet Chocolate

·          Rumiano Organic Medium Cheddar & Cordillera 70% Cocuy Bittersweet Chocolate

·          Fiscalini Lionza & Sierra Nevada White Chocolate

·          Point Reyes Original Blue & Cordillera 36% Purace Milk Chocolate


Cheese and bourbon: finding the right balance

Pairing up cheeses with spirits can be a problem if the alcohol overpowers the cheeses or vice versa.  In pairing with bourbons, there are some very subtle flavors, from smoky, malt, spices and molasses. All of these flavors generally work well with cheeses. 

The real problem besides the high level of alcohol is the cheeses overpowering the subtle flavors, so picking the cheese is more of a balance of intensity as well as its flavors.

One of my favorites in this pairing is the smoked gouda and Maker’s Mark. They’re both high intensity flavor profiles and I really like the boldness of the pairing. 

However, in the future, I would put it last as it has a lot intensity for the first pairing, but the balance of flavors was perfect.

·          Kroon Smoked Gouda & Maker’s Mark

·          1 Year aged Cheddar & Maker’s Mark 46

·          Sierra Nevada Jack Hatch Chili Pepper & Basil Haden 

·          18 Month Aged Gouda & Basil Haden Dark Rye

I don’t have an official count, but I would say after about 20 years of pairing up cheeses, I’ve paired up hundreds of cheeses. 

Along the way, of all of these pairings, one thing stands true: you can take one cheese and pair it with something different, and it will produce a different combination of flavors for both.  


Cheese pairings: four principles

The art of pairing is finding the right match for the cheese to make it taste better to you.

The best way to understand cheese is to taste it and define its flavor profile.

The best way to learn beer, wine, bourbon, chocolate, or charcuterie is to taste as many as you can to understand the differences.

It’s a lifetime quest, but it’s a fun one.