Funyuns & cheese? Oddball pairings you’ll absolutely love

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“What do you think pairs well with Funyuns?” asks Kirstin Jackson of the 20 curious students gathered for an evening workshop she’s leading at San Francisco’s non-profit community cooking school 18 Reasons. It’s the kind of question that might have gastronomic snobs raising eyebrows and flaring nostrils, but for free-spirited cheese explorers like Jackson herself, it’s an invitation to curiosity and creativity. And really isn’t that the key to great cheese pairings?

“I love cheese, but I don’t want to be precious about it,” says Jackson—whose guide to American artisan creameries, It’s Not You, It’s Brie was praised by the Washington Post for the way it “elegantly wedges through the tedious jargon and pomp of cheese culture.” Says Jackson, “A fun activity for me is to pull over at a gas station mini-mart, buy a bunch of weird snacks and then figure out what cheeses complement them.”

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Try it & Ask Around

Her theory about cheese pairing? “You can find a cheese that pairs well with just about anything. Just don’t be intimidated. If you already have a favorite cheese, try it with a bunch of different foods and drinks to see what works for you,” she adds, “And if you ever want a pairing suggestion for a cheese that’s new to you, by all means ask the cheesemonger or whoever’s behind the counter where you shop. They love to help customers think about cheese and pairings; they’re educators as much as salespeople.”

When groups of friends or corporate event planners book Jackson for a cheese-making or tasting get-together, they’re availing themselves of hard-earned expertise—she’s worked at dairies in the UK, studied cheese in France, and spent endless hours picking the brains of America’s award-winning small manufacturers—but also a funny, straightforward demeanor that makes learning about cheese friendly and approachable, even to non-foodies.

In coming up with pairings, Jackson largely leaves wine-and-cheese to traditionalists, delving into more oddball food and beverage options. Rather than lead with cheese, she tends to start with a counterpart and then, applying a few rules of thumb, tasting it in combination with several cheeses to find her favorite match.

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Opposites Make Great Pairings

We tend to think about flavor or texture, but sometimes it’s helpful to think about both.

For example:  The airy crispness and onion-salt punch of a Funyun is delish with the super-soft, creamy and slightly sweet Jasper Hill Harbison. (Creamy sweet cheeses also pair well with wasabi coated almonds or peas.

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Likes Make Great Pairings Too

What makes sharp cheeses sharp is their acid content and if you’re a flavor freak who likes to double-down on zing, pair a strong cheddar, Jack, or provolone with pickled vegetables.

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Offbeat cheese pairings

Herbaceous Italian amaros like 2022 NY International Spirits Competition gold winner Amaro Santoni and silver winner Amaro Lucano Anniversario pair well with cheeses that are aged for at least 3 months

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Chamomile and other floral teas

Chamomile and other floral teas work wonderfully with soft grassy chevres, like easy-to-find Laura Chenel logs

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Semi-sweet chocolate

Semi-sweet chocolate paired with crystal-punctuated aged gouda makes for a rich, sophisticated dessert nibble

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Sherry and toasted walnuts

Sherry and toasted walnuts make a thrilling threesome when enjoyed with an Alpine cheese such as Gruyére, Comté and Emmenthaler.


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