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High-quality port or red wine might be the standard option at most cheese evenings, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other exciting and delicious pairings for you and your customers to explore.
When it comes to pairing spirits, Fraser MacLellen, owner of Froth & Rind in London, believes that like cheeses themselves, drinks pairings are seasonal, suited to either warmer weather or cold winter nights.
Revealing his top spirit pairings to Speciality Food, he explained, “A summery pairing is gin and soft sheep cheese. We used a Scottish gin, not too heavy on juniper, with Pavé Cobble, a soft pyramid of sheep cheese and it worked a treat. The light flavours of juniper and other botanicals blended nicely with the light grassy, herbaceous notes of the cheese to give a really lovely summery taste. We’ve found that the gin also works nicely with some harder sheep milk cheese too.
“A recent discovery that I think would be well suited to colder nights is Shepherd’s Store cheese and single malt whisky. Shepherd’s Store is a hard Irish sheep milk cheese made in a European Style, so resembles a Gouda in shape but has a little Alpine twist to it.
“I recently had this with a 12-year-old single malt whisky and the cheese cut through the more aggressive flavours of the whisky, those smoky, peaty flavours (don’t get me wrong though, they are great flavours) and really brought out the sweetness in the whisky and accentuated the sherry flavours from the barrel ageing.”
Another combination he loves is Comté, golden rum and salted caramel. Discussing the process, he explained, “We used an 18th-month Comté, a British small-batch golden rum and locally made salted caramel. The Comté brings out the sweeter butterscotch, toffee flavours in the rum and then when combined with a little salted caramel, the salt brings out all kinds of flavours from the rum. The rum was botanical so it had cinnamon, hibiscus and other flavours infused, and the salt in the cheese and the caramel really brought those out.”
For Izaak Edge, manager of The Cheeseworks in Cheltenham, the quirkier the drinks pairing the better. Some of his top picks include vermouth and sherry – with strong ewes and goats milk cheeses like an aged Manchego or a Sujaira, iced Cider – with a relatively strong blue like Fourme d’Ambert, and green tea liquor – which is absolutely incredible with a Petit Munster.
Upselling alcohol pairings
Trying to upsell unusual alcoholic drinks pairings can be difficult, but Izaak recommends, “Either doing a broad offer over all of them when we first get them in, so people are more incentivized to try them out, or having little samples of them out on the counter, next to a cheese we’d recommend with it. We find that these both tend to work really well.”
Fraser added that pairings should also be part of the general conversation with customers. “When customers ask about a cheese, we take them through its flavours, where it’s made, the milk type, etc and any other interesting facts. This is good for upselling as it’ll more often than not lead to an additional sale.
“We find that a tasting box works well and is a great gift. For example, we’d have a box with rum, Comté, salted caramel plus some crackers and tonic to buy and that’s a little more attractive than just rum and cheese.”
Another barrier can be that it is difficult to do alcoholic cheese pairings during the day. One way of tackling this is by hosting tasting evenings. Fraser told Speciality Food, “We try to have tasting evenings where we take customers through some of the pairings we have. This can work quite well as you have the chance to take a lot of people through the tasting and discuss the flavours and how they work together.”
Brits have conquered coffee and cake, but is coffee and cheese the next big thing? Ellie Loxton, digital content creative at Two Chimps Coffee, certainly thinks so, and it is an innovative pairing that certainly isn’t limited to the evenings.
She explained, “Wine might be the usual cheese accompaniment, but good-quality coffee is just as delicious – and a great talking point! Coffee and cheese pair well together because the coffee flavours cut through the saltiness of the cheese. This creates a dynamic contrast which helps you taste the cheese in a new light!
“Coffee and cheese pairings work best when they are harmonious as this prevents one element from overwhelming the other. Offering your staff a brief overview of which combinations work well together will help them recommend the best coffee and cheese pairings to customers.
“They might recommend a toffee-ish dark roast coffee with mature, nutty cheddar. Just like a sommelier, but for cheese! Aged cheeses with strong flavours are great with the rich, often nutty intensity of darker roast coffees, while fruity light roasts pair well with mild, creamy cheeses like ricotta.”
When it comes to implementing these pairings, Ellie suggested, “Independent fine food retailers can delight customers with interesting new flavours by offering quality fresh coffee alongside the cheeseboard rather than afterwards, or offering coffee and cheese collectively on their menus.
“Think about how cream tea comes with tea and scones, or breakfast deals feature orange juice and toast for a set price. Why not bring an inventive new offering to your menu with a coffee and cheese pairing plate?”
Why should indies offer innovative pairings?
Cheese pairing may be a skilled art, but most of all, it’s about enjoying cheese. As Fraser puts it, “For a start, it’s great fun!”
He continued, “Customers really like a good pairing and as an indie, it’s good to find something different. There are some great classic pairings out there, but with a more difficult financial climate at the moment, you really need to offer something different to make you stand out from the crowd. It’s a great attraction for your business too as customers can come through the door knowing that something new and exciting is waiting for them to try.”
Izaak added, “I think cheesemongers should do this because it’s a really good way to expand people’s tastes and palettes and it gives more of a chance for a taste discovery and exploration.
“They should try out these pairings because you’d potentially really be able to stick out in people’s minds when they’re thinking of presents to get, shops to go to, whatever. We do loads of cheese tasting evenings at The Cheeseworks, and we always get a very large number of people who go to these, becoming regular customers afterwards.”