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How to match drinks with cheddar

How to match drinks with cheddar

by Nancy Anne Harbord 11 November 2015

Learn how to pair cheddar and other cheesy nibbles with a wide variety of unusual drinks – including sake, Madeira and cider – with tips from Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw and Davidstow's resident cheese expert, Mark Pitts-Tucker.



Specialising in vegetarian food, Nancy has cooked her way around Europe and now writes full time for publications and her blog, Delicious from Scratch.

I was lucky enough to attend a class run by multi Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw and Davidstow's Master Cheese Grader, Mark Pitts-Tucker. I interviewed Mark recently, about his remarkable job. Read that interview here: What it's like to taste 700 cheeses a day. Nathan Outlaw has long teamed up with Cornish cheesemakers Davidstow to help showcase their award-winning long-aged cheddars – the oldest of which (the Three-Year Special Reserve Vintage) is a mainstay of the Cornish cheeseboard at two Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, Cornwall.

Packed with complex, deeply savoury layers of flavour, with a distinct crumbly texture, their three-year reserve cheddar won Gold in the Vintage Cheese category at the International Cheese Awards at Nantwich in 2014. Their extra mature cheddar, which is aged for eighteen months, is a sweeter cheese, though still intense with bursts of crystalline flavour. When it comes to experiencing and learning food pairings, there's a lot to be said for focusing on one type of food, or one kind of cheese; it's much easier to spot the nuances of flavour. When I make a cheese board myself at home, I usually stick to one cheese so I can truly tailor the accompaniments to it. This reasoning held true in this cheddar and drink pairing class.

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Bullbeggar cider
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Sharp's Single Brew Reserve beer

One of my favourite pairings was the Davidstow three-year with Bullbeggar cider from Somerset. This community-produced cider is made in and by the village of Lamyatt, where the inhabitants work together to produce the drink using traditional methods. Matured in old rum and whisky barrels, the cider contains plenty of dry tannins from the apple skins – a unique flavour only present in cider made using a traditional apple press. Cider, like cheddar, was traditionally made on the farm, and as such has always been drunk with this cheese. Even dry ciders offer a wonderful sweet/tart balance to the salty umami of the cheese, while the fruit's acidity cuts the richness.

 
 
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Nanbu Bijin Ume Rose
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Kirin Vintage Sake 2013

Another fantastic pairing was the softer, eighteen-month cheddar with a gorgeous pink sake, Nanbu Bijin Ume Rose, a gently alcoholic drink (9%) made in the northernmost region of Japan, using ume plums. Lightly sweet, fresh and delicate, this liqueur-style sake was a revelation all by itself, and alongside the fruity character of the eighteen-month cheese its cherry blossom flavours were lifted. Another pairing that plays off the salt of the cheese, it reminded me of quince, a more traditional cheese accompaniment.

 
 
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Boal Reserva Madeira NV
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Ratafia de Champagne NV

I also loved the three-year cheese with a honeyed Madeira, Boal Reserva NV, made using traditional methods and aged in oak for five years. Madeira takes its character from the unique ageing process it undergoes, where the wine is gently heated and cooled dozens of times, while also being exposed to oxygen. This process, which caramelised sugars, takes place over anything between three months and one hundred years. It mimics the sea voyages that Portuguese wine took back in the 1600s and 1700s, where wines travelling in the hold would be heated and cooled as the ships passed through the tropics. This sea-ageing became known as vinho da roda (wine of the round voyage) and Madeira is now purposely made under similar conditions. The result of this process is a deeply caramel wine, with notes of date, toffee and marmalade, which offers a richly sweet counterpoint to the flavourful bursts of crystal found in the mature cheese. Again, the acidity of the fruit – this time grapes – helps temper the fats in the cheese and adds freshness to the pairing.

 
 
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Balvenie 15-year Single Barrel
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Benromach 15-year

A wide variety of drinks can be matched successfully with these mature cheeses; we also touched on beer, whisky and other liqueurs during the class. While some of these matches were familiar to me as an enthusiastic consumer of cheese and alcoholic beverages, others were very new and all the more interesting for it. The rose sake, in particular, was a completely unexpected success. Something to consider when putting together your next creative cheeseboard.

 
 
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Davidstow cheddar cheeseboard
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Nathan Outlaw’s cheddar nibbles

You can also get creative when deciding how to serve the cheddar. A piece of cheese needs nothing more than bringing to room temperature, but such wonderfully savoury cheddars also make a flavourful addition to many other drink-worthy nibbles. Chef Nathan Outlaw put together a few, perfectly executed suggestions – my favourite was barely anything more than bread and cheese, and yet so very much more. Light and airy sourdough enriched with cheese and huge dollops of a remarkable Fresh herb and cheddar mayonnaise. Although I love home-made mayonnaise, I would never have thought to flavour it with cheese. Here it softened the bitterness of the parsley, chives and rocket which were also blended into the dip and rounded out the flavour of the whole mayonnaise beautifully. The stunning Crab and cheddar tarts, crafted so delicately by a man who has made his name working with fish at the highest culinary levels, were also an education in the limitless flavour potential of a cheese like cheddar.

The message of this class was certainly that you should feel free to experiment – that when pairing cheddar with drinks or other ingredients there is much to be discovered beyond traditional flavours and combinations. So experiment away!

 
 
 

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