That Cheese Plate is a column by Marissa Mullen—cookbook author, photographer, and Food52's Resident Cheese Plater. With Marissa's expertise all things cheddar, comté, and crudité—plus tips for how to make it all look extra special, using stuff you probably have on hand—we'll be crafting our own cheesy masterpieces without a hitch.
I love exploring the vast world of cheese pairings. How about a slightly tangy, soft-ripened goat cheese with a fresh fig and honeycomb for a light, sweet, and refreshing trio? Maybe a nutty manchego with salty prosciutto and a cornichon for something more savory? Similar to wine, cheese has a wide variety of tasting notes, textures, flavors, and styles. Some cheesy sensory notes include: nutty, creamy, fruity, tangy, mineral, herbal, sweet, salty, and umami. How does one know what works best?
Take something like Alpha Tolman from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. This is an alpine-style, raw cow's milk cheese. Jasper Hill describes it as having a tasting profile of “roasted meat and red wine” with dominant flavors of “herb-roasted nuts and soy.” Where does one even begin to pair something with those specific notes?
I’ve learned many cheese pairing tricks over the years and it all comes down to one burning question: Do you like it? Pairings are personal: Someone might love the manchego and prosciutto pairing while another person might hate the taste and texture. It’s all up to you and your personal preference. As a basic rule of thumb, sweet and salty typically work together as a balance. Salty and savory also complement each other well, blending nicely on the palate.
I also like to consider popular food items that are typically paired together. In the example above, Alpha Tolman has notes of herby nuts and roasted meat. If I were to cook a roast for dinner, I’d want to pair it with something savory-sweet, like caramelized onions. So, I'd try pairing this cheese with something like caramelized onion jam!
Another important rule: Pairings do not need to be complicated. I love pairing nice cheese with simple items in the pantry. Something as basic as a potato chip can provide a tasty, savory crunch! You can keep it simple with a plain salty crunch, or add some dimension with all of the potato chip flavors in the world. Today, I’m here to show you my favorite chip and cheese pairings.
Blue Cheese + Salted Ripple Potato Chip
Blue cheese has a strong and pungent flavor, capable of holding its own. Typically it’s better to keep the pairing simple so the intense tasting notes can shine. I paired this blue cheese with salted rippled potato chips. The salty potato cuts the strength of the blue, without altering the flavor. The texture of the rippled chips hold the crumbles of the blue nicely, adding a crisp crunch.
Bloomy Rind Cow's Milk Cheese + Sour Cream & Onion Potato Chips
Some common bloomy rind cow’s milk cheeses include Brie and Camembert. Bloomy cow’s milk cheeses are typically described as buttery and creamy, with tasting notes of mushrooms and leeks. I paired this cheese with my favorite, sour cream and onion chips. The sour cream notes complement the creaminess of the cheese, while the onion brings a vegetal vibe. This style of chip is a bit thicker than the others, providing a crunchy vehicle for the gooey cheese.
Aged Cheddar + Jalapeño Chips
Aged cheddar has a bold and sharp flavor profile. I didn’t want to completely overpower the sharpness here with something sweet. Channelling my favorite savory treat, jalapeño cheddar cornbread, I went with a spicy pairing. The jalapeño chips do a great job at expanding the depth of the cheese, opening up your taste buds to experience deeper layers of flavor. These chips are not too overpowering with spice, they offer just enough to kick to work beautifully with the cheddar.
Feta + Salt & Vinegar Chips
Fresh feta has a briny, funky flavor profile. This beautifully complements the tang of salt and vinegar chips. The tang cuts the creaminess of the feta while balancing out the robust aroma.
Next time you’re looking for a fun cheese pairing with simple pantry items, don’t sleep on the potato chip! The opportunities are endless. Potatoes are the most versatile vegetable, after all.