Holiday entertaining is a snap when you pair artisanal cheeses with your favorite fruits, cocktails and spirits.
When you’re entertaining this holiday season, remember: the best type of party food is the one that requires no cooking! Appetizers that take minimal prep work should always be part of your holiday entertaining repertoire. An artisanal cheese tray loaded with fresh and dried fruits and crackers is particularly festive. While you can always offer guests wine or beer to go with cheese, consider offering friends and family a cheese and cocktail pairing they can’t live without.
When you think about traditional matchmaking, sometimes similar types get along…but opposites attract just as often. The same kind of chemistry can happen with artisanal cheese pairings when you create balance. Sweet and salty is a classic contrasting pairing. When you have a cheese that has an earthy flavor, a complementary drink would be one that helps smooth out that funky cheese flavor in a good way.
Remember that there are no firm rules when it comes to pairings—just guidelines to help steer you in the right direction. You are the best judge when it comes to picking out gourmet foods and beverages that pair well together. Even a mismatched pairing can be educational!
With cocktails and hard liquor, start with ones that you already like. A good rule of thumb is to pick something that you would put in your personal liquor cabinet. It’s a similar rule to cooking only with a wine you would drink.
Fruit and Artisanal Cheese
Both red and green grapes and crunchy apples are usually the first fruits that come to mind when serving a party food cheese tray. There are so many other fruits that pair beautifully with cheese. Check out this list for more ideas:
Asiago + Cherries
Blue Cheese + Figs
Brie + Plums and Berries
Cheddar + Pears
Gouda + Peaches
Parmesan + Pineapple
Swiss + Dried Fruits
As an added bonus, many of the more acidic fruits (like pineapple) that are tricky to pair with wines go extremely well with spirits and cordials.
Holiday Entertaining Starts with a Great Drink
While not traditionally served with cheese, spirits make fantastic pairings. If you’re planning a spirits and cheese pairing, present it at the beginning of the meal. Follow it with a lighter course such as charcuterie and a bright tasting green salad.
Cheese is a single-source food that comes from milk. Some artisanal cheesemakers allow their animals to graze outside, and many cows have a varied diet dependent on the season, weather and region. The resulting milk holds amazing and different flavors that affect a cheese’s taste. This variety of flavors means that cheeses marry well with complex spirits. Pick out two or three tasting notes that you like in the spirit you will be drinking and find a selection of artisanal cheese to match.
Consider some of these options when you plan out your party food for a fun gathering:
Often fragrant and herbaceous with citrus notes, gin pairs nicely with goat cheeses. Try these or other mixed-milk cheeses for a unique combination with a gin and tonic.
There are a variety of whiskey flavors. Try pairing peaty and spicy whiskies with smoky, meaty-textured cheeses such as smoked cheddar, aged sheep cheeses, Gouda and a strong blue cheese. Balanced whiskies are a great match for rich and nutty cheeses. Grassy Cheddars offer a pleasant contrast to a smoky Scotch. Bold bourbon can handle a strong cheese, especially one with caramel and sweet notes so that the pairing is like a dessert.
The tannins found in rum bond well with fatty cheeses for a lovely combination. Cheese experts know that the caramel, toffee and warm spiced notes in a quality rum call for triple cream or washed-rind cheeses.
These flavored brandies offer a natural match for many cheeses; try a pear brandy with blue cheese.
One more tip is to think of an artisanal cheese plate as an orchestra. Serve three or four cheeses on a plate with each bringing out different notes of the spirit to deliver a well-rounded experience to your palate. For more ideas on pairing gourmet foods, like artisanal cheese, for holiday entertaining, check out this handy pairing guide.