Creating a sophisticated, delicious and different type of culinary event for guests can be a snap. Pairing fine cheeses and single malts is fun and easy, whether for an intimate get together with a few friends, or for a larger guest list. The combination of food and drink pair to create singular taste sensations, surrounded by distinctive aromas, colors, and flavors.
Why do we say single malt Scotch, rather than just Scotch? As the name implies, the product in a bottle of single malt is from a single distillery, and each distillery produces a unique product, primarily reflecting the region within Scotland in which it was made and aged. For instance, robust smokiness is reflected in whiskies from Islay; floral and fruity expressions come from the Speyside region; and nutty, oaky characteristics come from The Highlands. If a Scotch is not a single malt, it is a blend. Blended Scotches are just that – made from many single malts, from all around Scotland, then blended together, along with a grain whisky.
Few foods so deliciously complement the aroma and flavor profiles of single malts as cheese. Perhaps this is because both are made with so few elemental ingredients, but also, just as with single malts, and the malt master, the cheesemaker is important in creating uniqueness. The flavor ranges of cheeses are as varied as those of single malts, so combining the two makes for a wonderful sensory experience.
Three different cheeses make a nice diversity. You’ll need about ¼ pound of each cheese for every four guests. Accompaniments might include a sliced French baguette, unsalted nuts, and a few dried figs on each plate. Remember, it’s about the pairing of the cheeses and whiskies – no need to get sidetracked by too much to eat. It’s important to arrange the cheeses on each plate in the same order, so guests can share their pairing experiences for each cheese/whisky combination at the same time. Three glasses containing “a wee dram” (about one-half ounce) of different single malts are pre-poured ahead of time – the aroma in the room will be heavenly!
Remove the cheeses from the refrigerator about an hour before serving. Cut them just before plating. The aromas will meld with the whisky’s aromas, signaling guests that they are in store for a huge treat.
“Nosing” is a fancy word for smelling the whiskies. Most people nose with their mouth closed.Try it. Now, try it again, but this time, in addition to smelling with your nose, keep your mouth open. Wow, what just happened? With your mouth closed, you get a lot of the alcohol smell; with your mouth open, you get the aroma of the liquid. Now, take a sip of the whisky, then another. This is called enjoying your whisky “neat” (right from the bottle). Next, add just a fewdrops – really, just a few – of spring water. Re-nose (mouth open), and taste again. Another “Wow Moment”? Adding just a bit of water usually opens up the aroma and taste of the whisky – makes each “bigger”. The trick is not to dilute the whisky.
Now, nose your cheese. Notice if it is earthy, fruity or pungent. With a bite of cheese on the tongue, sip and roll the whisky all around your mouth, mixing with the cheese, to get as much of the complex flavors as possible.
Following are three artisanal cheese and single malt combinations you might try.
Parmesan and Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or (A Highland whisky). The sweetness and nuttiness of the cheese sings with the complex flavors of the whisky. The Nectar d’Or has been “finished” for about two additional years in casks that once held Sauternes, the sweet dessert wine from France
Double Gloucester and Glenfiddich 12 year old (A Speyside whisky). Look for fruitiness in the cheese and the Scotch. Pear flavors could come forward. The woody flavor of the Scotch brings out the sweetness and meatiness of this cheese.
Asiago and Laphroaig 10 year old (An Islay whisky). This cheese is a powerhouse of flavor and creaminess! The richness of cow’s milk is punctuated by the kick of rosemary and olive oil. It stands its ground in combination with one of the most well-known robust and smoky whiskies from Islay.