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Murray's Guide to Cheese & Beverage Pairing

Matchmaking doesn’t always work out in life, but playing flavor matchmaker with cheese is fun every time. Our top tips for picking the perfect beverage will help you enjoy your fromage even more. But remember – there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing, so just let your palate enjoy different combinations.

Pairing Basics

Balancing Act

Avoid a pairing where one texture or flavor will clearly overpower the other. The strength of both pairing elements should be matched. A heavy red wine with a delicate goat cheese? That’s just not a fair fight.

Find Harmony

Look for a flavor or quality that you’d like to bring out, such as grass or acidity, and match like with like. Sometimes this puts a spotlight on a flavor that was lurking in the background, other times it can surprise you with an unexpected flavor.

Play Up Contrast

Opposites attract, creating balance and sometimes an altogether new flavor. When you have a funky or earthy flavor sometimes you want to complement that with something that will smooth it over. Sweet and salty is a classic pairing of contrast.

Common Ground

We like to say, ‘what grows together goes together’. Terroir means taste of place, acknowledging the influence of environment on flavor. Matching beer or wine with cheese produced in the same region isn’t a guaranteed home run, but it’s a great place to start.

Go With Your Gut

Literally! When all else fails, a natural craving will often steer you in the right direction. Look at it this way: If you’re snacking on olives it’s unlikely you’re going to go for the bowl of strawberries. You’re going to reach for a slice of salami or something similarly savory.

Chill Out

When it comes to pairing, there are no firm rules, just guidelines that can get you in the right ballpark. The only way to know if a pairing works is to experiment and taste for yourself. Don’t forget, even a bad pairing can be educational!

White Wines
  • Chardonnay

    This wine is all over the map – literally! Flavor varies widely depending on where and how it’s made.

    Old World Chardonnay: crisp and minerally, with flavors of apples and roasted pears.
    Pair with: Fresh or bloomy rind cheese, like Delice de Bourgogne

    New World Chardonnay (USA, warmer climates): richly buttery and oaky, heavy notes of vanilla, brown butter, and tropical fruits.
    Pair with: Slightly stronger cheese like sweet Prairie Breeze cheddar, or a mild washed rind like Keeley’s Across the Pond.

     

    Oxidized Chardonnay: When Chardonnay is intentionally exposed to air it is “oxidized.” Common in the Jura mountain region, this wine is almost sherry-like with spicy, nutty flavors.
    Pair with: Play up the bolder flavors with a more complex or funky cheese. Almost any Alpine cheese, like Comte, or earthy aged goat cheese like Chevrot make a great match.

  • Pinot Grigio

    A lighter, crisper white wine. Tends to be refreshing and fruity, with aromas of stone fruit, peach, quince, and lemon.
    Pair with: Creamy goat or mixed milk cheese with a crisp acidic element. La Tur or Brunet are great alongside the fruit-tart flavors of the wine.

  • Riesling

    This food-friendly wine ranges from super sweet to quite dry. Acidity, minerality, and aromas of tropical fruit are almost always present.

    Dry: Characterized by bracing acidity and stark minerality. Tropical fruit on the nose, stunningly balanced flavor overall.
    Pair with: This versatile wine works equally well with a fresh chevre (bringing out acidity) as it does a stinky Alsatian Munster (playing up the sweet/salty contrast).

    Sweet: The other end of the spectrum offers a cloyingly sweet, syrupy wine. Aromas of ripe peaches and tropical fruit dominate, along with floral, perfumed accents.
    Pair with: With something this strong it’s best to contrast the sweetness with something funky or salty: A pungent washed rind like Grayson or a punchy blue like Bleu du Bocage.

     

  • Sauvignon Blanc

    Typically bright and lemony, with clean citrus flavors. Can also have grassy and vegetal aromas (think green bell pepper).

    Pair with: Soft, creamy goat milk cheeses, triple crèmes or mixed milk cheeses with a mineral edge, like Nettle Meadow Kunik or La Tur.

  • Chenin Blanc

    Crisp and acidic with light minerality. You may smell stone fruit, apples, pear, quince, even some fresh herbs.

    Pair with: Tangy Loire Valley goat cheese to bring out crisp, mineral qualities in both. Something like Selles-sur-Cher will work perfectly! 

  • Sparkling Wines

    Cheese loves bubbles! Carbonation cuts through creamy butterfat, almost like windshield wipers for your palate. Sparkling wines are usually white or rosé, but you can also find reds like sparkling Shiraz. Flavor can range from very dry, crisp and refreshing to deep and sweet.

    Dry: Toasty, fuller-bodied sparkling wines like real deal Champagne feature classic baked flavors and rich, deep nuttiness.
    Pair with: Triple crèmes are a no brainer here, but you could also go with a minerally goat like Leonora.

    Sweet: Fruity sparklers feature flavors of apple, pear, or sometimes strawberry. Super sweet sparkling wines like Moscato d’Asti can have flavors of jam and cotton candy.
    Pair with: : Triple crèmes work here as well, as do buttery mixed milk cheeses like La Tur.

     

Red Wines
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

    Full-bodied with no shortage of flavor. This grape is grown in almost every climate, which means lots of diversity across bottles.

    Old World Cabernet: Earthy with aromas of leather, hay, and dark dried fruits. Sometimes a hint of eucalyptus or violet.
    Pair with: Cheese with flavor that can stand up to this big wine. Alpine style cheeses like Comte or Appenzeller and some sweeter blues like Bleu d’Auvergne would make a good match.

    New World Cabernet: Characterized by bold oaky flavors and high levels of tannins. These wines are about as full-bodied as you can get, very jammy with flavors of reduced fruit.
    Pair with: Sweet clothbound cheddar or a Grana style cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Podda Classico.

     

  • Pinot Noir

    Lighter bodied and delicate. Old World style generally offers more funk, New World more fruit.

    Old World Pinot: Flavors of fresh cherries and raspberry balanced by a barnyard funk and high minerality. Sometimes has floral aromas, reminiscent of rose petal.
    Pair with: Almost anything! Works with funky Frenchies Epoisses and Langres, or mild natural rinds like St. Nectaire.

    New World Pinot: More sugary, with jam-like fruit, dried cherries, oak, and spice.
    Pair with: Full, fatty flavors. Alpines, cheddars, and Manchego.

     

  • Malbec

    This rustic wine is inky and dark, full-bodied with plenty of tannins. Fruity flavors of plums and berries are contrasted by spice and leather.
    Pair with: Equally toothsome cheeses like Boerenkaas Gouda.

  • Merlot

    A smooth and medium-bodied wine with a more rounded flavor than other reds. Dark fruits are present but with minimal tannins and no noticeable spice.
    Pair with: Earthy tommes like Toma Walser, mellow Fontina, or a lightly aged goat cheese like Leonora.

  • Syrah/Shiraz

    Full-bodied with notable tannins, the wine so nice they named it twice!

    Old World (French) Syrah: Elegant and spicy, with lots of dark fruits.
    Pair with: Robust, peppery cheese like Monte Enebro, and aged sheep’s milk cheese, especially Italian Pecorinos.

    New World (Australian) Shiraz: Even more full-bodied than its French counterpart, with intense flavors of fruit, tannins, and oak.
    Pair with: Leathery sheep’s milk cheese like Roncal and earthy aged cheese like Montgomery’s Cheddar.

     

  • Chianti

    Chianti is named for a region in Italy, and is actually made from a blend of grapes (mostly Sangiovese). This dry, medium-bodied wine has a distinct herbal quality (think rosemary and oregano) with flavors of dried plums and cherries.
    Pair with: An herb-crusted cheese like Hudson Flower or a young Tuscan Pecorino.

  • Tempranillo

    Medium-bodied with flavors of cherry, as well as some cranberry which lends bright acidity. Cinnamon and clove spices, and earthy, leathery flavors balance things out.
    Pair with: Sheep’s milk cheese like Malvarosa or Pyrenees Brebis, flavored cheese (truffles, herbs, or spices), and younger leaf-wrapped cheeses with some funk – think Robiola Foglie de Fico.

Beer
  • Wheat Beers

    Wheat Beer, Weisse, Hefeweizen, Wit

    Wheat Beer, Weisse, Hefeweizen, Wit
    Pair with: Bright, tangy goat’s milk cheeses like Westfield Capri and buttery bloomy rinds like Nettle Meadow Kunik.

  • Lagers and Kolsch

    Lager, Dunkel, Schwarz, Pilsner, Kolsch Ale

    Lagers run the gamut from crisp, pale Pilsners to dark-malted Dunkels and Märzens. Flavors are typically approachable and mellow, a delicate balance of toasted bread, gentle sweetness, and mild hop bitterness for structure.
    Pair with: Almost any firm, mild cheese like Tomme de Savoie or Landaff Creamery Landaff.

  • Farmhouse Ales

    Farmhouse, Saison, Bière de Garde, Lambic, Sour Beer

    Farmhouse ales, instead of being driven by malt or hops, depend on the yeast for their distinctive spicy, floral, and tart flavors. Commonly made by brewers in France and Belgium, farmhouse ales are usually light in color and body and quite effervescent. From time to time, brewers allow wild yeasts to ferment the beer, resulting in a brew that falls somewhere in between pleasantly bright to bracingly sour.
    Pair with: Mushroomy Brie Fermier or funky, bacony Epoisses are matches made in heaven.

  • Belgian-style Ales

    Belgian Golden ale, Trappist ales

    The famed traditions of Belgian beer have significantly influenced brewing across the globe. So much so, that Belgian-style beers are (confusingly) now made all over, not just in Belgium. From golden ales to the abbey-style dubbels and tripels, Belgian-style beer is all about diversity. These beers are united by aromatic yeasts, good bubbles, and a complex sweetness sometimes amplified by the addition of candy sugar.
    Pair with: All sorts of things, but especially a nutty, fruity Alpine cheese like Challerhocker.

  • Hoppy Beers

    Pale Ale, IPA, Amber, Red Ale

    Hops, glorious hops! Think of hops as the seasoning for beer: they lend the bitter yin to balance malt’s sugary yang. In IPAs and other hoppy beers this humble flower takes center stage. Flavors range from grassy to grapefruit, earthy and dry to resinous pine, depending on which hop varietals are used.
    Pair with: Cheeses with enough body to stand up to the bitterness, like clothbound cheddar or aged Gouda.

  • Porters and Stouts

    Porter, Stout, Imperial Stout

    Welcome to the dark side of beer. Porters and Stouts are born of heavily roasted malted barley, which colors the beer and develops toasty flavors recalling chocolate, coffee, and chicory. Looks can be deceiving, though: dark doesn’t always mean strong. Porters and stouts can be incredibly light in body, or big boozy affairs that pour like syrup.
    Pair with: A mild, creamy blue like Cambozola Black.

  • Strong Beers

    Barleywine, Old Ale, Strong Ale, Scotch Ale

    Big and intense, with an alcohol punch to match, don’t underestimate any of these guys. Flavors will favor the malty side of the spectrum, with dark fruit, leather, and tobacco notes common. You will taste the booze. And it will be delicious.
    Pair with: A cheese equally big in flavor. Dunbarton Blue has subtle bluing and a savory-sweet gouda flavor that will be a perfect match for these tough brews.

Other
  • Rose

    We love them all! Everything from light, crisp Provence style to deep and fruity Spanish Rosados. Don’t be afraid to enjoy rosé year-round, but we like the summer staple best with refreshing, mild cheeses that are great in warm weather.
    Pair with: Young chevres like Coupole and bloomy rinds like Moses Sleeper for the lighter stuff. A darker, fruitier rosé can stand up to a heavier cheese like nutty Pecorino Oro Antico. Sparkling rosé is a perfect match for Nettle Meadow Kunik.

  • Cider

    Brie and apples, cheddar and apples – both delicious! Why not extend that deliciousness to apples in liquid form? Enjoy cider and cheese for a pairing to remember.

    English style: drier, more like a beer, with nice acidity.
    Pair with: : Just about anything but we love it with firm natural rind cheese, like Landaff.

    Basque/Normandy : barnyardy and funky, but still with a little sweetness.
    Pair with: A beefy washed rind, like Grayson or Hudson Red to contrast the sugar and bring out the funk.

     

    American Cider: often, but not always on the sweeter side.
    Pair with: Sweet and earthy Bleumont Bandaged Cheddar or malty Bleu d’Auvergne.

  • Sherry

    Not just for Grandmas! This Spanish sipper is a real treat when paired with cheese.

    Dry Sherry (Fino): ranges from light and aromatic finos, to über-nutty and beguiling Amontillados that smell like caramel but trick the tongue with their briny acidity. Either way it makes a delightful aperitif.
    Pair with: Rich and nutty cheeses. Decadent triple crèmes for the finos, and caramelly aged Alpines and Goudas for the Amontillados and Palo Cortados.

    Sweet Sherry: more cloying and syrupy. This is one for the dessert course!
    Pair with: : The salt and spice of a strong blue cheese like Roquefort or Valdeon finds delicious contrast in something super sweet.

     

  • Port

    This fortified wine is characterized by sugary sweetness and is a traditional way to end a meal.
    Pair with: Stilton. Why mess with the classics?

  • Dessert Wines

    Dessert wines can be floral, honeyed, citrusy, or fruity, but will always be sweet!
    Pair with: Most any blue cheese, like Fourme d’Ambert, or a funky washed rind like Hudson Red will make a tasty sweet-salty combo.

  • Spirits

    Not traditionally served with cheese, but there are still some fantastic pairings to be had!

    Gin

    Fragrant, herbaceous gin can be lovely with a young goat cheese like Cremont. The dryness and lemony quality make us think of a gin and tonic!

    Whiskey

    Whiskey offers a caramelly-sweet flavor that tastes kind of awesome with cheese.

    Scotch: a sweet and grassy cheddar like Cabot Clothbound is the perfect foil for a smoky Scotch.

    Bourbon: caramelly, crystalline Aged Gouda like Roomano has the strength to stand up to bolder booze, and with sweet Bourbon it’s almost like dessert.

    Rum

    The tannins in rum bond with fatty cheese for a surprisingly lovely combo.Try an aged sheep’s milk cheese like Roncal.

    Fruit Brandies

    Fruit brandies are a natural match for many cheeses, as some of our favorite cheeses are washed in pear or apple brandy to create bold flavors. Try seasonal Little Big Apple with apple brandy, Rogue River Blue with pear brandy, and Epoisses with Marc de Bourgogne.

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