My first cheese-meets-bourbon class was a big hit—at least with me. I don’t know what the attendees thought, but I was blown away by the pairings. Wine and beer are the go-to beverages chez moi, and I can pair them with cheese in my sleep. But this was my maiden voyage with bourbon and cheese. It will not be the last. So many “wow” moments.
Basil Hayden’s, a producer of small-batch bourbon and rye, invited me to create the seminar for a group of Bay Area beverage professionals. I tasted both spirits at home, but the aromas alone told me what to do. The bourbon was all caramel and butterscotch; the rye, which contains a splash of California port, brought some dried-plum and raisin notes to the table. These aromas steered me to cheeses with complementary scents, like brown butter, toast and roasted nuts, while the spirits’ high alcohol required cheeses with age and intensity.
If you’re a bourbon or rye enthusiast, check out my choices and let me know what you think.
Capriole O’Banon: How could I not? This Indiana goat cheese is wrapped in chestnut leaves soaked in bourbon (alas, not Basil Hayden’s). To me, this was the least compelling match of the tasting, but the bourbon echo made it work.
Ombra: One of my favorite Spanish sheep cheeses, Ombra offers aromas of melted butter, butterscotch and bacon and a concentrated sweetness that both whiskeys loved.
Challerhocker: A cow’s milk wheel from Swiss master cheesemaker Walter Rass, Challerhocker feels like silk and smells like roasted peanuts and caramel. Ten months of aging yields a beefy, savory intensity that goes toe to toe with brown spirits.
Cabot Clothbound: This acclaimed Vermont Cheddar—a collaboration between Cabot Creamery and Jasper Hill—is more mellow than its English counterparts, with a roasted-nut and toffee aroma that clicked with the spirits. I suspect a tangier Cheddar would not match as well.
Vella Dry Jack Special Select: The “Special Select” designation is reserved for wheels aged at least eight months. The extended aging makes this cow’s milk classic creamier and decidedly more nutty, both qualities that helped it dance with the whiskeys.
L’Amuse Gouda: But of course. This two-year-old Dutch Gouda from esteemed affineur Betty Koster smells like butterscotch and tastes like a salted caramel. If there’s a better cheese partner for fine bourbon or rye, I’d like to know.
Pt. Reyes Farmstead Bay Blue: A luscious, nutty, buttery blue is a slam-dunk match with these spirits. The port-enhanced rye, fruitier and sweeter than the bourbon, was this cheese’s soul mate.