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Cheese & Drink Pairing Guide

Cheese and drink pairing - cheese gift sets UK

Why is Cheese & Drink Pairing so Important?

The cheese board is the best bit of a meal, right?  Get it right and you have the perfect end to a dinner date or romantic picnic.  Get it wrong and the whole thing can be a bit of a let down. The key to a perfect cheese board, aside from choosing great cheese is to make sure you pick the right drinks to pair with the cheeses you have on offer. 

For any cheese lover it’s important to get the cheese and drink pairing spot on. It’s amazing how certain drinks really affect the flavour of a cheese. 

Cheese and drink pairing can all seem rather daunting, but we hope our simple guide will help you perfect your cheese and tipple combination, to create a delicious cheese course. 

The perfect cheese board - cheese gift sets UK

A word of warning from the outset though...nothing goes with everything!  So if you are struggling to choose a single drink to go with a varied 5-cheese cheese board, then it might be that it’s simply impossible to find one.  If you have a themed cheese board, it can make pairing easier.  For example, a classic British territorial cheese board pairs well with ales and ciders, whilst a spring goats’ cheese board is great with a chilled Sancerre.  But failing all this, and contrary to our British tradition, a rich, but dry white wine will match far more successfully than a big red wine.

And don’t just think you have to stick with wine or beer.  There are an increasing number of alternative drinks that pair amazingly well with cheese...more about those later.

So - it all starts with the cheese...or does it?!  There is some debate as to whether you should match the cheese to the wine or match the wine to cheese. We are biased here at The Gourmet Gift Company as we seriously love our cheese!  We will therefore break down the different types of cheeses usually included on a cheese board and then provide ideal drinks pairings for the specific cheeses in that category.  Hopefully this will also simplify this tricky subject!  

For the purpose of this blog, we’ve classified cheese into 6 different categories:

Cheese Categories 

1. Fresh Cheese: Soft and rindless.  They are not aged and have a mild and often tangy flavour.  This category includes soft goats’ cheese (chèvre), mozzarella, Burrata, feta and goat's cheese curd.

2. Bloomy Soft Cheese: Cheeses with a bloom of white mold on the outside.  They tend to be the richest and creamiest of all the cheeses.  The rind is edible and has a funkier flavour than the interior of the cheese.  Examples include Brie, Camembert, Delice de Bourgogne, Crottin de Chavignol and Chaource.

3. Washed-Rind Cheese: These cheeses are bathed in brine, beer or another alcoholic tipple during production, which gives them a distinctive orange rind.  Very rich and creamy, with strong, pungent flavours.  Epoisse, Taleggio, Munster, Langres, Reblochon and Raclette are all examples of washed-rind cheese.

4. Semi-Soft Cheese: The inbetweeners! They don’t spread, but they don’t break into shards or crumble like a hard cheese does.  They tend to be creamy and fairly mild in flavour.  This group includes Gruyère, young Gouda, Morbier, Kaltbach, Mimolette and Havarti.

5. Hard Cheese: Low moisture content and long maturation periods mean this style of cheese is firm and will crumble or break into shards when cut.  They tend to have savoury and nutty notes.  Some can be pungent or salty.   Some of the finest examples of hard cheese include Cheddar, Parmesan, Pecorino, Manchego, Beaufort, Comté, Emmental and Cantal.

6. Blue Cheese: Dappled with veins of blue mold, the flavour of blue cheese is not for everyone.  They can be creamy and soft or harder and crumbly.  Their flavours vary from sweet and mild to strong, tangy and salty.  Some examples include Stilton, Roquefort, Montagnolo Affine, Bleu d’Auvergne, Gorgonzola, Cambozola, Picos de Europa and Rogue River Blue - the 2020 World Cheese Awards Supreme Champion.

So what drinks can you pair with each of the cheese groups? Let’s start with the Fresh Cheeses.

Best Drinks with Fresh Cheese 

Best drink with fresh cheese - cheese gift sets UK

White Wine: Go for crisp, dry, young white wines (Soave, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, a creamy young Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Verdejo or an Albariño.  If the cheese is salty, e.g. Feta, go for an off-dry wine such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling. 

Red Wine: Pair fresh cheese with very young, fruity and unoaked reds, with low tannin levels.  Pinot Noir, Gamay or Valpolicella will all work well.

A lovely chilled Rosé is also a great pairing for fresh cheese.

Non-alcoholic drink with soft cheese: For fresh cheeses, we suggest trying apple juice, elderflower cordial or traditional lemonade.

Some Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • Chèvre & Sauvignon Blanc
  • Goats' cheese curds with a young Chardonnay
  • Mozzarella di Bufala with most rosé wines or a rich Italian white, particularly from Puglia.

Fancy Trying Something Different?

Kombucha is made from fermented tea and is often called ‘The Tea of Immortality’.  It’s fermented nature makes it a great pairing for cheese.  Try serving a cucumber, mint and lemon flavoured kombucha with a fresh goats’ cheese (chèvre).

Best Drinks with Bloomy Soft Cheese 

Best drink with soft cheese - cheese gift sets UK

Photo courtesy of Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

White Wine: The light bodied, dry unoaked Chardonnays, such as a Chablis, are the perfect match for bloomy soft cheeses.  Sparkling whites also pair well.

Red Wine:  Young, dry and light bodied reds (unoaked), such as Pinot Noir, Gamy, Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Barbera and Beaujolais.

Non-alcoholic drink with bloomy soft cheese

A cucumber and mint mocktail is a perfect combo with a summery bloomy soft cheese.

Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • Camembert de Normandie with a Normandy Cider.  This is an ideal ‘terroir’ match and it’s probably even better if it’s a sparkling cider. The bitterness of the apples complements the strong taste of a camembert, especially if you eat the rind. 
  • Tunworth & a fruity pale ale or a rich hoppy beer
  • Brie de Meaux & a Pinot Noir Red: Perfect with brie as it doesn’t overpower Brie’s distinct flavour. 
  • Brie de Meaux & sparkling white wine
  • Crottin de Chavignol & Sancerre
  • Brillat Savarin or Delice de Bourgogne with Champagne

Fancy Trying Something Different?

Tart drinks like a dry cider or a spicy Saisons Belgium beer are also worth a try.

You could also try a Port with a Brie - you won’t be disappointed!

Milder bloomy cheeses pair well with red-berry flavoured drinks.  Try a Belgium cherry or raspberry beer with mild brie.

Best Drinks with Washed-Rind Cheese

best drink with washed rind cheese - cheese gift sets UK

A word of warning…washed-rind cheeses can often be very, very pungent and stinky (you’ll wonder what’s died in your fridge!).  It’s worth noting that the more mature and pungent you like your cheese, the harder it will be to match a wine to it.

White Wine: Try eating these cheeses with a dry, traditional method sparkling wine.  You could also pair them with a dry or off-dry unoaked white wine, such as Gerwurztamier or Pinot Gris from Alsace, or Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.

Red Wine: Pinot Noir and washed-rind cheese is always a good combination.  Beaujolais is another ideal pairing.  You could also try a Poulsard or Trousseau from the Jura region of France.

Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • If you have a young Epoisse, go for a white burgundy.
  • For a ripe Epoisse, go for a Pinot Noir or a brandy
  • Munster is perfectly paired with a Gerwürztraminer
  • Reblochon & Chenin Blanc

Fancy Trying Something Different?

A safe pairing is to match the cheese with the beverage it was washed in.  For example beer or brandy, such as the Marc de Bourgogne brandy used to produce Epoisse.

Best Drinks with Semi-Soft Cheese

Best drink with semi soft drinks - cheese gift sets UK

White Wine: Crisp, dry white with a touch of oak (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, white Rioja)

Red Wine: Rustic and spicy red wines, but with low levels of oak, Côtes de Rhône, Chianti & Corbieres.  

Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • Morbier with Arbois wine, produced in the Jura region of France
  • Le Gruyère goes well with a rich Alpine white wine, such as Vin Jaune de Savoie
  • Mimolette with a spicy Malbec, or a Belgium beer.

Best Drinks with Hard Cheese

Best drink with hard cheese - cheese gift sets UK

It’s the turn of the hard cheese drink pairing!  Hard cheeses are the easiest cheese type to drinks match to, as they all suit a medium bodied red wine.  But don’t just limit it to a red.  Here are some other suggestions:

White Wine: Vintage traditional-method sparkling wines or Sherry (e.g. Amontillado)

Red Wine: St. Emilion from Bordeaux, Sangiovese, Rioja & Chianti.

Non-alcoholic drink with hard cheese: A Berry Blast type mocktail would be a lovely accompaniment to any hard cheese.

Along the same lines as how well cider goes with cheddar, we suggest pear or apple juice as being a great combination. You could also try a Pear Punch Mocktail

Kombucha also works well with hard cheese:  Try a cloth-bound cheddar with an apple flavoured Kombucha, or a hard Alpine cheese with one flavoured with passion fruit & pineapple.

Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • Strong mature Cheddar & cider.  It is often considered good practice to match your cheese with a drink from the same region, which is probably why cider and cheddar are so well matched. It also has a lot do with it being fermented. Both compliment each other very well in terms of tanginess. 
  • Manchego with Amontillado Sherry or Rioja 
  • Parmigiano Reggiano & Chianti - a great combination which is probably down to the perfect ‘terrior’ match.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano & Prosecco
  • Yorkshire Wensleydale & IPA
  • Single Gloucester & Perry (Pear Cider)
  • Smoked Hard Cheese - a difficult type of cheese to pair, but try it with Gewürztraminer

Fancy trying something different?

Sake is an increasingly popular drink and cheese combination, which goes particularly well with hard cheese. The reason sake, which is a Japanese rice wine, is so good with cheese is because they both contain lactic acid, which actually gives cheese and sake their flavour. 

IPA Belgian Farmhouse Beers are also good 

Strong Ales - but it’s best to pick an ale that’s over 5% so it has a strong flavour to compete with the mature cheddar. 

Bitter Beer

Best Drinks with Blue Cheese

best drink with blue cheese - cheese gift sets UK

White Wine: Milder blue cheeses, such as Montagnolo Affine and Cambozola share the same pairing as bloomy soft cheese (see earlier section in the blog).

For sharper, salty blue cheese go for Noble Rot sweet wines (Sauternes, Monbazillac & Riesling, for example)

Red Wines: Sweet, fortified red wines (vintage Port, LBV Port, Maury

Non-alcoholic drink with blue cheese: Would you believe - hot chocolate is a great combination with a strong blue cheese like Stilton, thanks to the sweetness offsetting the sharp!  Another good option for a milder blue cheese would be a blackberry mocktail with a hint of orange which gives a good balance of flavours. 

Classic Pairing Suggestions:

  • Stichelton or Blue Stilton & Vintage or Tawny Port. This is a perfect combination as the sweetness of the port offsets the slight bitterness of the stinky Stilton! 
  • Roquefort & Sauternes: Sauternes is a sweet french wine which perfectly balances the strong Roquefort flavour. 
  • Gorgonzola Dolce & Prosecco 
  • Montagnolo Affine or Cambozola with Rosé or Pinot Noir.

Fancy trying something different?

Feeling adventurous??  Why not try pairing your blue cheese with one of the following:

Sloe or Damson Gin 

Elderberry Wine

A peaty whisky e.g. Talisker with a strong Roquefort

Love blue cheese? Why not check out our ‘All the Blues’ Cheese & Wine Gift Set

Blue cheese gift set - cheese gift set UK

So there you have it - the best cheese and drink pairings for the most popular cheese board cheeses. If you are looking to buy a cheese board set for an upcoming event or party then check out our Cheese Selection Boxes which will make everything easy for you. If you would prefer to buy a cheese gift set complete with wine or beer then take a look at our  Wine & Cheese Gift Sets  and Cheese & Gourmet Food Gift Sets which should have something for everyone. 

Cheese gift sets and cheese gift hampers UK

We hope you found this article useful - please do contact us if you have any questions.