Cheese Pairing Guide
Below is guide to the main cheese varieties, an averaged flavor profile, examples of cheeses in that group, and the wine, condiment, and food pairings that experts recommend.
A word of advice - while traditions are a good place to start, there are really few hard and fast rules on cheese pairing. Don't be afraid to mix it up and let your own palate guide you!
With little time to ripen, fresh cheeses tend to be the most mildly flavored and moistest of cheeses. Fresh cheese may be made in as little as half an hour and does not require aging.
Flavor: Mild, Tangy, Milky, Light
Include: Feta, Chevre, Cottage Cheese, Ricotta, Mascarpone, Mozzarella, Farmer Cheese, Queso Fresco, Oaxaca
Pairs With: Honey, Balsamic Reduction, Fresh Fruit, Tomato, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Complementary Drink: Fruity, Floral Wine, Green Tea
"Soft" or mold-ripened cheeses are left exposed and develop a rind as bacteria applied to the surface of the processed, pressed curd “blooms.” To encourage a white or “bloomy” rind as with Brie or Camembert, penicillium is applied.
Flavor: Buttery,Earthy, Garlicky, Herbal, Mushroomy, Salty
Include: Brie, Camembert, Humboldt Fog
Pairs With: Jams, Jellies,Melon, Berries, Nuts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Complementary Drink: Sparkling Wine, Pinot Noir, Fruity Beer, White Burgandy, Pinot Gris
"Surface-ripened" is a term used to describe any cheese which is ripened by external forces, mold or bacteria in the environment or applied to the cheese wheel itself.
Flavor: Earthy, Musty,Herbal,Tangy, Creamy
Include: Chevrot, Brunet, Picodon, Valençay, Robiola, Rocchetta, Langres
Pairs With: Meat, Dried Fruits, Pears
Complementary Drink: White, Non-Tannic Wines
Semi-soft cheese refers just to the moisture level is the cheese, typically achieved by careful application of pressure and aging. Hard cheese have the most pressure and time spent ripening, semi-soft cheese tend to have less pressure and time ripening. Because the are less reduced, semi-soft cheeses tend to have a more mild, milky flavor than firmer cheeses would.
Flavor: Creamy, Tangy, Fruity, Salty
Include: Brick, Crescenza, Colby, Edam, Havarti, Muenster, Teleme
Pairs With: Roasted Mushrooms, Asparagus, Poached Fruit, Grapes, Spicy Nuts, Spicy Peppers
Complementary Drink: Fruity Wine, Lager
Semi-hard cheeses are achieved by forcing out more of the water content than you would in a semi-soft cheese. As mentioned before, this can be done either by application of pressure, evaporation over time, or a combination of both. These tend to have a bit stronger flavor than a semi-soft would.
Flavor: Balanced Complexity, Earthy, Sweet, Salty, Buttery, Nutty
Include: Baby Swiss, Cantal, Cheddar, Emmentaler, Garrotxa, Gouda, Gruyere, Kasseri, Menonita, Monterey Jack, Ossau-Iraty, Pecorino Toscana, Swiss, Toma
Pairs With: Cheddars – cranberries, apples, mustard, Alpine Cheeses (exp. Swiss and Gruyere) – spicy pesto or chocolate, Buttery Cheese (exp. Gouda) – spicy nuts and peppers.
Complementary Drink: Sparkling Cider, Sparkling Wine, Pale Ales, Stouts
Hard cheeses have the least moisture content and because of that, as their flavorless water leaves only the flavorful proteins, the resulting wheel has stronger, more pronounced flavor.
Flavor: Quite Salty,Sweet, Pungent
Include: Cotija, Enchilado, Dry Jack, Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Ricotta Salata, SarVecchio
Pairs With: Balsamic Reduction, Spiced Nuts, Grilled Vegetables, Vinegar, Cured Meat
Complementary Drink: Riesling, Prosecco, Amarone
The pungent flavor and distinctive blue veins in a blue cheese are produced by adding a penicillium type mold and a process called needling. The first blue cheese recipes called for loaves of molding rye bread to be left nearby. Today, more precision work is done. Needles are inserted into the cheese leaves pathways for the beneficial mold to grow.
Flavor: Musty, Pungent, Smoky, Nutty, Salty, Sweet
Include: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton
Pairs With: Honey,Fruit, Almonds, Spiced Sides, Especially Sides Spiced with Ginger
Complementary Drink: Spicy Gin, Port, Flavored Beer, Red Sweet Wine, Moscato
Bacterial ripened or “washed-rind” cheeses are left exposed to the elements and a rind is encouraged. “Red smear,” a mix of yeast and beneficial bacteria, so called because of the reddish color it turns the rind, is applied to the surface.
Flavor: Gamy, Creamy, Earthy, Mushroomy
Include: Appenzeler,Brick, Epoisses, Langres, Limburger, Reblochon, Taleggio
Pairs With: Honey,Apples, Pears, Dried Fruit, Pork, Nuts
Complementary Drink: Fruity Wines, Sparkling Wines, Ale, Lager, Stout