I always say that cheese is the perfect whiskey wingman because all that fat slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, which means you can drink more whiskey. And, unlike wine, whiskey doesn’t have tannins, which dull your tastebuds. That means you can taste more cheese, too. I’ve been pleasuring myself with this pairing for years, so I obviously fell head over heels when I discovered @whiskey_curd, an Instagram account devoted to their union complete with dark, sexy pix. I recently asked (read: begged) Nathan Six, the brains behind this sensual feed, to create a pairing guide so all of us could enjoy his enchanting expertise. We got lucky, ’cause here it is in all its high-proof glory. Bookmark this one cheese sluts, you’ll want to reference it on the regs. – Erika
How to Pair Cheese and Whiskey
by Nathan Six of @whiskey_curd
Cheese was my first love, and I fell for whiskey a few years later. Once my two worlds collided, I discovered how seamlessly the two went together. Finding the right pairings requires a lot of trial and error. I spend most weekends exploring new variations and researching what others have done for inspiration. It’s something I am extremely passionate about, and I would spend every minute exploring this world if given the chance.
First of all, why would you pair cheese with whiskey?
When it comes to pairing cheese, most people think about wine first. But here’s the thing: wine has tannins, a naturally occurring polyphenol found in plants, seeds, and fruit skins. It’s the textural element that makes some wines taste dry, and they can also dull your taste buds, making it harder to taste the cheese. Whiskey doesn’t have enough tannins to affect your palate, so you’ll get to enjoy more of the flavors and complexities. Like with any good pairing, you want the cheese and whiskey to complement each other. One should bring out new characteristics in the other that maybe you hadn’t tasted before, creating an entirely new experience.
So here’s my guide on how to pair cheese and whiskey yourself, and below that, you’ll find my all-time favorite pairings. I hope it helps you get started exploring this wild world.
1. If you’re a beginner, start with bourbon.
If it’s your first time, start with bourbon. I have yet to find a cheese I couldn’t pair with it: the sweet vanilla and spice notes of a classic bourbon will complement everything from a buttery brie to a super funky blue. It’s a safe bet, and my go-to when I need a quick, no-fail pairing.
2. Try both cheese and whiskey alone first.
Get to know them as individuals and always enjoy them “neat”, meaning at room temperature with nothing added. Take the time to reflect on what you are tasting: this is a sensory experience that should be enjoyed slowly.
3. Begin with the cheese.
The fats and proteins in the cheese are going to coat your mouth, so take your time tasting it. Let the finish linger and allow the flavors to sink in. Once you’ve fully experienced the cheese’s flavor, move on to the whiskey. I will often nose the whiskey while remnants of the cheese remain in my mouth to allow the flavors to become acquainted.
4. Taste them both at least 3 times before pairing them.
This applies to both cheese and whiskey: the first taste will be too intense to catch all the complexities. Upon the second taste, your taste buds will adjust and you can pull out more subtle notes. By the third, your palate will be fully acclimated and you’ll taste the full spectrum of flavors.
5. Remember that pairings are subjective.
First and foremost, pairings are going to be subjective. We all have different palates, so certain pairings won’t work for everyone. Your mood, the last thing you ate, and even hydration levels can have an effect on what and how you’re tasting.
OK, now that we have the basics covered, here are some whiskey and cheese pairings you need to try.
Hard Italian Cheeses and Japanese Whisky
Try Parmigiano Reggiano with Yamazaki 12 yr
Real Parmigiano has a wonderful salty crunch and sharp fruity flavor that smooths out the whisky’s sweet floral and citrus notes, creating a round, complex pairing. Add a slice of prosciutto and some shaved dark chocolate for a truly decadent experience.
Hard Spanish Cheeses and Scotch
Try Manchego with Highland Park 12 yr
Scotch is an ideal partner for the delicate, nutty flavors of Manchego, and look no further than Highland Park 12. This dram has notes of sweet honey, pear, and citrus with a slight peat that I love with Manchego’s mouth-coating flavors. If you want to add an additional layer, pair this up with Marcona almonds and quince paste.
Aged Gouda and Bourbon
Try Reypenaer 2 yr VSOP with Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Bourbon goes with nearly any cheese, but especially crunchy aged gouda like this 2-year-old Reypanaer. The older the gouda, the more butterscotch and salted caramel notes you’ll get. Match it with the spicy vanilla and molasses flavors in a good bourbon and find yourself in savory dessert heaven. Toss in some chocolate and a toasted marshmallow to seal the deal.
Goat Cheese and Irish Whiskey
Try Bucheron & Drunken Goat with Redbreast 12 yr
Whether it’s fresh chèvre, semi-soft, or a bloomy rind, goat cheese has a distinct gamey and citrus flavor unlike any other cheese. The mellow sweet honeydew and fresh grass notes of the Redbreast tame the tangy punch and bring a mouthwatering complexity. I also love how the subtle biscuit notes complement the buttery smooth rind of Bucheron.
Alpine Cheeses and Rye or Canadian Whiskey
Try Gruyère with J.P.Wiser’s Legacy Canadian Whiskey
Gruyère is one of the most complex flavored cheeses: it’s creamy and bold with savory flavors of bone broth and caramelized onion. There are also earthy grass notes and a slight washed rind funk that emerges as you near the rind. Rye whiskey shares the same complex, sweet-yet-spicy profile, and when you pair the two up it’s a flavor roller coaster flavor that I just can’t get enough of.
Cheddars and Tennessee Whiskey
Try Quicke’s Clothbound with Jack Daniels Single Barrel Special Release
Cheddar is an unrivaled classic! Whether it’s nutty and complex, sharp and tangy, or crumbly with a crunch you can’t go wrong with any variety. I love pairing them up with this mellow, smooth, and sweet OG: Tennessee whiskey. It’s extremely similar to bourbon, but goes through a unique filtering process that mellows out the burn and leaves you with notes of sweet vanilla and banana bread. It’s a perfect sweet follow up to the tangy and creamy bite of cheddar.
Brie and Straight Corn Whiskey
Try Joan of Arc Double Crème Brie with Mellow Corn
This pairing has quickly become a favorite of mine. A room temperature brie is smooth and buttery with a slight funky flavor, which pairs well with the extra sweet, corn-forward whiskey and warm spicy finish that this Mellow Corn brings. This combination 100% tastes like buttered popcorn. Add a club cracker to the mix for an extra buttery crunch. Trust me, you’re going to want to try this one.
Blue Cheese and Scotch
Try Point Reyes Blue with Old Pulteney 12 yr and McCarthy’s Single Malt
Like a good peated scotch, blue cheese has a strong and in-your-face flavor profile that often requires some getting used to. I decided to do a double pairing because of the versatility of this cheese. Old Pulteney is as sweet as honey and has notes of fresh apples and pears. A perfect complement to mellow the strong pungent blue profile. On the other side, we have a sweet and smoky pour that magnifies the blues intensity. I would throw in a chunk of dark chocolate to further this sensory overload.