Chicago-based cheese monger and beverage journalist, Lisa Futterman, recently discovered cognac and cheese pairings. She was inspired by a cheese and cognac atelier co-hosted by Tia Keenan, author of The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude, and Allen Katz, Cognac Educator, founder of the New York Distilling Company in September.
“Many people assume that wine and cheese make the perfect pair. In truth, the bracing acidity and mouth filling texture that we adore in great wines can overwhelm an innocent cheese who might need a bit more attention to be loved completely.
Why Cognac and cheese
Enter cognac! Yes, this sophisticated, rich eau-de-vie can be a satisfying experience unto itself. But sometimes a partnership can be greater than the sum of its parts.
I am lucky to say I have travelled the world exploring spirits and cheese. I came late to cognac, reserving it for nights by the fireplace at home during blustery Chicago winters.
When I started delving deep into cocktail culture, I realized that grape based spirits provide a gentler (though still remarkably complex) flavor than whiskeys when mixed into drinks.
Cognac’s fruity origin compliments the flavors in so many ingredients found at the bar- from citrus juice to ginger ale to amaro – so just imagine how well it works with food.
Cognac’s aroma wheel resembles the flavor charts we use to find descriptors when we talk about great cheeses. Floral. Woody. Spicy. Fruity. All of these notes make delicious friends with the lactic, milky nature of all cheeses.
The goal of any food and beverage pairing is to bring out the best in both. Neither element should bully the other – a harmonic flavor and texture experience sought. Cheese provides the perfect foil to cognac – coaxing out its aromatic richness and allowing both to shine.
Cognac and cheese pairings
Here’s my take on some perfect cognac and cheese pairings:
Frozen cognac with fresh cheese
I first tried frozen cognac on my visit to the region last winter. Place the cognac bottle in the freezer for a few hours, then serve in a chilled glass. Magic with cold seafood preparations, marvelous with fresh cheese hors d’oeuvres like chèvre crostini or fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato, this clean crisp version of cognac may surprise you.
VS cognac with bloomy rinds
Young cognacs match beautifully with funky young cheeses like Camembert and Brie. Their delicate fruity notes bring out the earthy, buttery richness of the cheese without overwhelming, plus their velvety textures play together beautifully. Add some nut brittle and berry jam for extra fun.
VSOP cognac with aged alpines and cheddars
Cognacs gain new flavors as they age in their charred oak casks. I like to imagine cheeses dreaming about future matches as they quietly mature in their caves. Gruyère, Comté, Bandaged British-style cheddars, even Parmigiano Reggiano taste incredible when joined by a snifter of VSOP. Accompany with honey and fresh stone fruits–you’ll find new flavors on your palate.
One might think that all you need to enjoy a fine XO cognac is a glass and a fireplace. Those rich flavors of caramel, smoke, spice, and vanilla benefit exponentially from joining up with an elegant wedge of an excellent blue cheese. Grab a salty creamy Roquefort, or a buttery, restrained Stilton and be transported. Add some toasted hazelnuts, dates, an apricot compote, and go to heaven.”