Serious Cheese: Pairing Cheese and Honey

Serious Cheese

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There are few sensory juxtapositions as important and ubiquitous as the "sweet and sour." From apple pie to wine, it is arguably the most fundamental taste combination in all of food. However, among all the many examples of it in cuisines across the world, there is one that rises above the rest: cheese and honey.

To be sure, lots of sweet things go really well with cheese: wine, sake, quince, apples, but there is something special about drizzling a bit of, say, chestnut honey on a wedge of Tumbleweed cheese. Some cheeses and honeys do work better than others--here's what to look for.

Varietal Honey

Most store-bought honey is from bees that pollinate a bunch of different kinds of flowers. Varietal honeys on the other hand are from bees that feed mainly on one flower, be it orange, lavender, rose, or some other flower. The difference is staggering, and it's definitely worth seeking out the varietal honeys if you're going to pair them with cheeses whose flavors are equally unique and deep. Another option, like the fennel honey pictured above, is to find honeys infused with herbs or extracts.

Sweet and Nutty

Honeys go really well with aged cheeses that have a good amount of nuttiness. Parmigiano-Reggiano, a tangy Cheddar, or any of the alpine cheeses (Comté, Gruyère, Appenzeller) pair nicely with honey—in particular, with rich nutty honeys like chestnut or buckwheat.

Sweet and Creamy

Honey also works really well with fresh creamy cheeses like ricotta, goat cheese, or feta. Herbaceous and citrus honeys like lavender, thyme or orange blossom honeys are especially good with cheeses like these.

Sweet and Spicy

Blue cheeses are another good choice—the mellow sweetness of the honey cuts the saltiness really well. For me, the spicier the blue the better here (Roquefort is great). In this case you should use a honey that's a bit more subtle in flavor so that you don't clash with the fierce piquancy of the blue.

Drizzle It, Just a Little Bit

A little goes a long way with both honey and cheese. You don't want to drown the cheese in honey—it'll be too sweet and it'll also be a mess to eat. Just drizzle it on right before serving, or, alternatively, offer the honey in a little dish with a small spoon so guests can drizzle it themselves.

What do you think? Have you ever served a cheese plate with honey on it? What are you favorite pairings?