Cheese is one of the most universally beloved food items. It tastes great on its own and pairs resplendently with honey, fruit, crackers and wine. However, the food item which add heft and substance to your cheese like nothing else, is cured meat.
When it comes to cheese and cured meats, successful pairing is all about opposites. Unlike wine, beer, or spirits, meat is full of fat, protein, and salt (just like cheese). You need to proceed with caution lest you wind up feeling overwhelmed.
Cured meats fall into two major groups: whole muscle or encased. The former, like prosciutto, are typically dry-cured (salted, hung to dry, and sometimes smoked), while the latter, like salami, are usually fermented in a somewhat humid environment. Whole muscle meat tends to be sweeter, nuttier, and more “meaty”; encased meats often have a discernible tang as well as intense notes of black pepper, red pepper, fennel, truffle, and so on. When you’re thinking about a meat’s acidity and sweetness, keep this difference in mind.
Whole Muscle Meats
Here are three lessons to learn for pairing whole muscle meats with cheese:
- Texture matters. A floppy, mushy, or semi-soft cheese alongside a buttery thin slice of meat lacks necessary contrast.
- Acidity matters. In this case, it’s the cheese, in other cases it’s the meat. But one element needs to contribute some sensation of tart, citrusy, mouthwatering brightness to cut the fat and protein of the other.
- Complementary flavours concentrate and focus on what’s shared (in a pleasant and sometimes revelatory way) if you can rely on other elements for contrast.
Small-diameter sausage links, cured slowly over time and sliced into quarter-inch-thick coins, become perfect vehicles for spreading and even dipping with the right cheeses.
Many sausages boast spices, garlic, smoke, or heat that introduce a third flavour component to play around with for your pairing. A shining example would be:
Paprika- and cayenne-laden Spanish-style chorizo (or any spiced sausage) dipped into a round of perfectly ripened sheep milk La Serena. La Serena is a thistle-coagulated cheese, a bit airier than custard and full of tart, and what some would call sour notes. The cheese manages to cool the chorizo’s heat, and you’re left with sweet paprika, garlic, and something like asparagus. Fresh ricotta or goat cheese also work well here, as does , a leaf-wrapped ball of smoked goat cheese.
Other “cooling” cheeses (albeit not dip-into-able) that do well alongside smoky, spicy or gamey meats (think duck, or good old fashioned red pepper) are those that preserve the lactic notes of fresh milk but add the earthy notes of age.
Always mind your meat’s added flavours when thinking about cheese pairings.
So grab your favourite cheese and pair it with the required cured meat from the Cold Cuts section of Licious and spend a unique and exquisitely delicious time with your family and friends.