In the world of unpredictable pairings, cheese and cocktails are intriguing. I don’t know anyone who dislikes cheese. Whether plain or more sophisticated, there is a cheese for everyone and every party.
My idea of the perfect cheese plate may not be exactly what you envision. I am infatuated with the dominant food cultures of Europe: French, Italian, Spanish. A cool cheese plate, in my world, is one that comes from well-experienced European cheese producers. It features sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and cow’s milk, and adds a challenge to the palate.
To put together a cheese plate and pair it with a cool cocktail for a recent gathering, I enlisted the big guns: Karin Lawler, owner of The Truffle Cheese Shop in Denver, CO, and Kevin Burke, head bartender at Colt & Gray. I told Karin I was attempting a cheese and cocktail pairing. Then I asked Kevin to create a drink to make everyone forget about the wine and cheese pairings, if only for one night.
Karin picked three cheeses that made my heart sing: an Italian sheep’s milk, a French goat’s milk, and a Spanish cow’s milk.
Pecorino Piacentinu allo Zafferano, Italian sheep’s milk cheese
This comes from the village of Enna in Sicily and is infused with deep flavors of saffron and black peppercorns. A testament of history and tradition, this cheese has been made since the 11th century. The saffron, it is said, was added to ease the depression of the Norman Count of Sicily’s wife. It also works miracles in a pasta.
St. Maure, French goat’s milk cheese
St. Marue comes from the affineur, Xavier David, this in the Loire Valley. Raw goat’s milk from Alpine goats is used to make this cheese. After three weeks in the cave cellars, the cheese is sprinkled with vegetable ash. It boasts earthy flavors that are pleasantly tangy and sharp.
Tetilla, Spanish cow’s milk cheese
This is the last of the trilogy that completes our European cheese tour. It is a cow’s milk cheese from the small village of Lugo in the Northwest of Spain’s Galicia’s region. The name “tetilla” (breast) comes from the shape in which the cheese is formed when it is made. It is creamy and rich with a subtle, somewhat sour quality that makes it perfect for pairing with fruit spreads.
Based on the three cheese Karin and I chose, Kevin Burke decided that the best complement for this trio was the Cocchi Cooler, a gin-based cocktail with a heavy dose of aperitif wine to really highlight the cheese.
2 ounces Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
3/4 ounce Fresh Grapefruit Juice
3/4 ounce London Dry Gin (Tanqueray or Beefeater)
1 Dash of Angostura Bitters
Soda Water or Sparkling Wine
Combine ingredients except soda or sparkling wine in a mixing tin with plenty of ice. Shake briskly for 10 seconds, and strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top off cocktail with soda or sparkling wine. Garnish with a wide piece of grapefruit peel.
The dry, botanical nature of an aperitif wine, like Cocchi or Lillet, makes an ideal partner for this cheese plate, as do the dry flavors of grapefruit and gin in the cocktail. The Angostura bitters was specifically added to keep the saffron flavor of the Pecorino in check. The hint of bitterness from the Cocchi and bitters also counters the richness of the cheese.