When I first mentioned to a few friends that I was going to do a coffee and cheese pairing class, the reaction was universal - "ewww". I think it's fair to say that we tend to associate wine with cheese without any question, but to the exclusion of other possibilities. The dominance of wine and cheese in the pairing lexicon is at least in part because the combination makes a lot of sense in France, which positively teems with indigenous wines and cheeses. But rest of the world eats plenty of cheese in combination with all sorts of things including coffee and beer and spirits.... so I think it's high time to expand our minds and palates in new directions. Toward that end, I teamed up with Ristretto Roasters in Portland last weekend to give cheese and coffee the attention they deserve.....plenty of cheese was eaten and coffee consumed and I think I won over some new converts.
In order to pair coffee and cheese you have to start with great coffee: not too hot, overextracted or bitter - a cup that brings out the qualities of the individual roast and bean. Taste both the coffee and cheese first so you're familiar with the various flavors each possesses individually, then both together. A great pairing highlights the individual qualities of each while at the same time bringing forth a third flavor quality, the hidden sum of the two parts.
Here are the cheeses and coffees that our tasting panel found worked best together:
Rivers Edge Fresh Chévre (Goat's Milk, Oregon) Contrary to what you might think, fresh chévre goes fantastically with coffee. Rivers Edge produces a creamy, rich chévre with tart highlights that I think worked especially well in this pairing. We found the best pairing to be with a smooth Sumatra, which complemented the cheese without overwhelming it. Uganda Bugisu, with its deep chocolate and ripe fruit flavors, was also a hit.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve (Cow's Milk, Wisconsin) This Alpine style cheese has lovely nutty, earthy flavors that are naturals with coffee. We were especially enamored of this cheese paired with Ristretto's Guatemalan blend, which had distinct citrus notes.
Cypress Grove Midnight Moon (Goat's Milk, California via Holland) I have yet to find someone who doesn't like this gouda style goat's milk cheese... it's rich and sweet and I swear tastes like toffee. We found that its flavors married well with an Ethiopian Yergacheffe as well as to Sumatra.
Beemster XO (Cow's Milk, Holland) When Gouda is aged for several years it takes on amazing sweet butterscotch, caramel tones that go very well with coffee. We found that the Beemster went especially well with medium bodied Brazilian coffee (Ristretto's Cowboy Blend) as well as to straight espresso, which danced around the caramel and toffee superbly.
Valdeon (Cow/Goat's Milk w/ Sycamore Leaves, Spain) This intense, earthy blue was so powerful (a bit overripe, even) that some coffees couldn't stand up to its intensity. An espresso shot was just the ticket - the strong, sharp earthiness nicely complemented the intensity of this rich, moldy blue.