Nuts and cheese pair perfectly at a wine tasting party. Learn how to pair nuts and cheeses—and wines—for the best combinations of flavors and textures.
You make your way through the cheese board, sipping merrily along as you munch. The wine is perfectly matched to each cheese, either coaxing out complementary notes or providing contrasting counterpoints that stimulate the palate. But as you savor the velvety smoothness or crumbly sharpness of each sample, you can’t help but feel that something’s missing. Maybe you could use a little crunch.
Nuts and cheese are natural allies in any setting, and particularly at a wine and cheese tasting. When pairing any two foods—as in the wine and cheese scenario above—you’re looking for one of two things: complement or contrast. Pairing nuts and cheese can accomplish both.
You’ve certainly seen or heard some cheeses described as “nutty” in flavor—or tasted it for yourself. That quality makes these cheeses a perfect complement to nuts…a pairing which can be made even more intense by toasting those nuts. Of course, sometimes there is such a thing as too much. For instance, if you’re eating very salty nuts with a salty cheese like feta, it can be a recipe for disaster. Make sure your complementary flavors aren’t combining to make something overpowering.
Sometimes it’s easier to complement through contrast. Sweet complements salty, as anyone who’s ever eaten chocolate-covered pretzels knows. There are any number of pleasing combinations involving sour (acidic), sweet, salty, bitter and umami—that mysterious savory flavor caused by glutamates that’s so prevalent in Asian cuisines as well as in cheese. Other flavor attributes come into play as well, like smoky or pungent. And don’t forget about contrasting textures; a crunchy accent can liven up an otherwise bland, creamy backdrop.
Wine and cheese pairing is a very popular topic, and much has been written about an earthy pinot noir complementing the mushroom notes of a Brie, or the acidity of a chenin blanc cutting through the rich creaminess of that same Brie. But while we love to add those delicious, crunchy nuts—and salty olives, and sweet preserves and tangy sausages—to a cheese board, there’s not a lot of information about pairing nuts and cheese. Let’s fix that…
Nuts and Cheese Pairings
As we mentioned earlier, nuts have a natural affinity for cheese. Certain nuts are better with certain cheeses (and wines, too, but we’ll get to that).
Any discussion of pairing nuts with cheese should start with pecans. Their natural sweetness is the perfect foil for the saltiness of cheese—nearly any cheese. Try them with Brie, especially when you have spiced or honey-roasted pecans. Brie is especially fantastic with sweet condiments such as honey or a spicy-sweet pepper jelly applied just before the sprinkling of nuts.
This popular snack nut is perfect with any Swiss cheese, which is why they appear together in some cheese spreads. Almonds are also great with harder aged cheese, especially Cheddar. Sprinkle almonds with smoked paprika for extra color and kick. Or toast slivered almonds and serve with Brie.
This earthy, less oily nut is great with aged Cheddar. It’s also a perfect match for sheep, goat or mixed-milk cheeses. And if you like things pungent, walnuts are incredible with blue cheese—especially when they’re drizzled with honey.
As long as you’re serving blue cheese, get some plump, jumbo cashews. Their creamy, buttery taste is perfect with blue cheese.
There may not be a better match for pistachios than a good Parmesan…but don’t stop there.
Pistachios are excellent with chèvre and super-creamy soft cheeses.
Pairing Nuts with Wine
Okay, you’ve got the right nuts paired with the right cheeses. Now what do you serve them with? Let’s find the right wines for those same nuts…in the same order.
Just as the pecan goes with nearly any cheese, its favorite wine happens to be the one that pairs with the most foods: pinot noir. It’s the lightest of reds, low in tannins, and remember how we said it goes well with the earthiness of Brie? There’s a winning combination.
These favorites among snack nuts work and play especially well with sparkling wines: prosecco, cava, champagne, and the like. And remember to consider the cheese you’re serving. As noted above, almonds are great with Swiss…which in turn is ideal with gewürztraminer or riesling. And since almonds also love aged Cheddar, don’t be afraid to break out that big dry red, mineral sauvignon blanc, or fortified Sherry or Port.
Walnuts also love aged Cheddar, so you could put out the same wine(s) you would if you were serving a sharp Cheddar with almonds: dry red (like cabernet sauvignon) or a robust Madeira, Sherry or Port. In fact, since blue cheese is also perfect with those same wines—and with walnuts—you could make a fantastic spread with blue cheese and sharp Cheddar, cabernet sauvignon and Port (or Madeira or sherry), and walnuts.
Sparkling wines are just the thing to cut through the buttery richness of cashews. However, as noted above, cashews are perfect with blue cheese (are you detecting a pattern here?)…so if you don’t feel like breaking out the bubbly, serve the same wines we mentioned for blue cheese, and just add cashews.
Pistachios pair well with light, zesty, summery wines, especially whites. As luck would have it, so do the goat cheeses that taste great with pistachios. Ditto for Parmesan, which also loves big, dry reds.
Roasted or candied nuts of all kinds love rich red wines…and there is almost nothing better on earth than candied nuts with blue cheese. Spiced nuts, on the other hand, are best with riesling or sparkling whites, as they can clash with big tannic reds.
If you don’t have time to experiment, we’ve used the above guidelines to put together some easy pairings of nuts and cheese with wine that will be a home run every time:
- Almonds, Baby Swiss, riesling
- Cashews, blue cheese, sparkling moscato
- Pecans, Brie, pinot noir
- Pistachios, Parmesan, rosé
- Honey-roasted nuts, blue cheese, Port