The Super Bowl is over, and the next big competition is here: the Academy Awards! But hosting an Oscar party is not a pizza-and-chicken-wings kind of affair. From the popping flashbulbs during “pre-game” red carpet fashion interviews to the main showdown of Best Actors, Screenplays and Films, festivities kick off with star-quality nibbles and sips. A humdrum cheese plate is de rigueur at fancy whoop-de-dos, but have you thought about a rewriting that tired script by serving a cheese-and-spirit pairing? I’ve done the (delicious) research for you and have a few suggestions. The cheese is ready for its closeup, Mr. DeMille!
To eat, or not to eat the rind? That is the question! Check to see if there is plastic or cloth on the rind. If it is embalmed in herbs, or other tasty things, it is likely meant to be eaten.
Appetizer or after-dinner? Most Europeans eat cheese after the main meal, before dessert. The less-Americanized ones will sneer if presented with cheese at aperitif. However, in the US, we love cheese. Anytime. Anywhere.
Keep it cool? The refrigerator is where fine cheese goes to die. Keep it in a dark, temperate spot in your kitchen, away from direct sunlight.
Cheese tasting tips:
Smell, then sip the spirit (cleanse the palate).
Smell, then bite the cheese.
Taste cheese on a little fork, or very bland bread, so other flavors don't interfere.
Spirit pairing ideas:
Vodka: The clean taste of a quality vodka cuts through the fat of a luscious double-cream brie. Just as with wine-and-food pairings, focus on finding similarities or opposites to balance flavors and textures.
Whiskey: Our local Taos Lightning Rye is great with a hard cheese, like Parmesan or cheddar. Thanks to an interview with Barrie Lynn (find her online tips at The Cheese Impresario), I tried Sartori's BellaVintano, with an espresso-rubbed rind, with our local hooch and loved it. Sartori (from Wisconsin) is available at Smith's and Whole Foods.
Rum: A barrel-aged rum has a beautiful nuttiness that is enhanced by a Parmesan or white cheddar. Add apple slices—or even fresh pineapple—to play up its fruity qualities.
Mezcal: The crisp, "green" agave notes and slightly lingering smoke of the Del Maguey line of mezcals create a wonderful contrast with a mild, creamy blue. I tried a few spirits with the Fromager d'Affinois St. Géric, and the mezcal was by far the best. The cheese is made in France but available at Whole Foods.
Gin: Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler Gin's botanicals (such as juniper, osha root and sage) play nicely with goat cheese, in particular. Head down to our local Cheesemongers of Santa Fe to see what they have available, and let the games begin!