Yes you can pair vodka & cheese. Here’s how

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Editor’s note: We first heard about the combination of cheese and vodka from contributor Kelly Magyarics who wrote about pairing cheese and spirits for sister site, Alcohol Professor.

 

Ask the distillery team at Hangar 1 to explain what makes their vodka different from other brands, and you’ll quickly learn that their offerings are primarily distilled from grapes rather than grain.

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It’s this point of distinction that initially inspired the Alameda, California-based distillery’s marketing and sales manager Emily Webster to think about exploring a rather unusual notion: Vodka and cheese pairings. “I came to the company with a wine background,” Webster explains. “At an earlier point in my life, I studied to be a sommelier, so the idea of doing pairings with cheese was a natural for me.”

 

Image Credit: Emma K Morris / CheeseProfessor.

A cheesemonger in the vodka tasting room

 

Webster initially worked with several different cheese shops in the San Francisco Bay Area to develop pairings for private events and public tastings, eventually settling into a long-term cheese-lationship with Alameda’s own Farmstead Cheeses & Wines.

Farmstead’s Michael Albrant ultimately joined the Hangar 1 team as its full-time tasting room manager. Now, at monthly cheese pairing events, he leads guests through a revelatory round of sips and nibbles that lean not only into Hangar 1’s grape base, but the brand’s unique flavored vodkas, some of which feature additional oenophile appeal.

 

Image Credit: Максим Крысанов / iStock.

Cheddar & vodka

In his most inspired matchmaking, Albrant combines cheese expertise with a lateral thinker’s knack for creativity. For instance, challenged to choose a pairing for Barely Buzzed, an award-winning cheddar from Utah’s Beehive Cheese Company, the obvious pairing—picking up on the creamery’s penchant for wordplay—might be Hangar 1 Honeycomb Vodka. But guided by his refined palate rather than easy gimmickry, Albrant took a cue from the cheese’s espresso- and lavender-rubbed rind.

The bitterness of the coffee juxtaposed with the cheese’s slightly sweet paste triggered a taste-memory of anise-rich sambuca shots, traditionally garnished with espresso beans, which, in turn, brought Albrant to Hangar 1 Fennel Vodka with its hint of herbal licorice flavor.

“The fennel vodka can feel a bit challenging for some people,” Albrant notes. “They’re not sure what to do with it. It’s often used at craft cocktail bars for Bloody Marys. But I’m particularly proud of this pairing because it brings out the complexity of the cheese and also helps you appreciate the vodka without any mixers.”

Image Credit: CheeseProfessor.com.

Blue cheese and vodka

And that Honeycomb Vodka? Albrant takes a cue from classic cheeseboard accompaniments and pairs it with mild Danish double crème Castello Double Crème Blue. Mellow spreadable blue and honey? Always a perfect match.

To tease out the flavor notes and distinctive mouthfeels of different vodkas when pairing them with cheese, it’s ideal to drink them straight, without water or tonic, and while slight chilling is fine, this is not the occasion to pour any celebratory bottles you’ve stored in the freezer. This is not the time for shots, either: Consider small snifters or whiskey glasses and, as at a wine tasting, be sure to draw the aroma of the vodka in through your nostrils before a drop passes your lips.

Image Credit: CheeseProfessor.com.

French cheeses and vodka

Other pairings featured at recent Hangar 1 tastings have included France’s spectacularly rich Brebis Rousse D’Argental, an ewe’s milk brie with Hangar 1 Rosé Vodka, a pink-tinged blend of mainly spirit and a touch of wine (The rosé is added only after the vodka has been distilled). The apple acidity of the rosé and the vodka’s crisp dryness balance the buttery indulgence of the cheese.

And Lyonnaisse Lingot d’Argental with its bloomy rind and mushroomy forest-floor aroma proves an ideal companion for Hangar 1 Barrel-Aged Petite Sirah Vodka, not a wine blend but the result of casking vodka for three years, which imparts a cinnamon toast note and a golden color that’s utterly surprising in a vodka.

Image Credit: CheeseProfessor.com.

Italian cheese and vodka

Albrant lets the cheese be the star when he pairs Parmigiano Reggiano cousin Piave Vecchio with straight vodka. The vodka provides a clean, bracing backdrop that lets surprising tropical fruit notes pop forward from the cheese and provides a satiny textural contrast to the crystal-flecked paste.

For a home tasting, consider sampling several different brands of non-flavored vodka such as Hangar 1 Straight Vodka, a Double Gold 2021 New York International Spirits Competition winner, alongside a range of hard Italian cheeses. The clear spirit showcases qualities of these cheeses that traditional red wine pairings would certainly harmonize with, but also pull focus from.

Image Credit: “Sedona Market 013” by Italy in SF / CheeseProfessor.

Pairing cheese with flavored vodka

Other vodka and cheese combinations to begin exploring at home include sweet citrus flavored vodkas (lemon, lime, orange) in tandem with young goat cheeses; ginger vodka with lemon zest Wensleydale or white Stilton; and chili flavored vodkas balanced with Queso Blanco, feta or even a mild Fontina. As a general rule, avoid pairing vodkas with brawny aromatic cheeses (such as Taleggio or Roquefort), which tend to overwhelm them.

That said, craft distillers and cheese makers are nothing if not adventurous in their development of new varieties, so feel free to experiment at turning their singular creations into your own signature combinations.

This article originally appeared on CheeseProfessor.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: barmalini / iStock.

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