It’s easy to be intimidated by fancy cheese. There are French names that are difficult to pronounce, some really curious Smells and centuries of history and tradition in every bite.
I’ve been working in cheese for 6 years now. I teach about cheese, its history, how it’s made and how to combine it. I can combine any cheese with wine, spirits, beer or cocktails while I sleep.
But there is one cheese pairing category that is nowhere near enough attention: snacks and cheese. Yeah, you heard right. Instead of pulling out the $ 7 a box artisanal crackers, try using your favorite snack – pretzels, candy bars, potato chips, even Doritos! – as the basis for your cheese. It may not be what you are used to, but trust me on this point …
Cheese doesn’t have to be fussy or fancy – it should be fun (and absolutely delicious, of course)! And there is something in sweet and salty snacks that makes us feel like children again who are more willing to experiment. There is no Doritos sommelier * to judge us. So you can happily play with your food and find the combos that work for you.
I admit I’ve done my part of experimenting. Here are some standout cheese and snack pairings that I love and that you might like, too.
* However, if this is a real job I would like to submit my application please.
This is my holy grail snack and cheese pairing. Harbison is a brie-style cheese wrapped in rind (cheese nerds call this style “flowery bowl”) from Vermont with a rustic atmosphere and a cult following among cheese merchants. It tastes like you’ve gone to the green market, bought a basket of wild mushrooms, fried them in butter, and taken them for a picnic deep in the woods. When harbison is ripe and at room temperature, it has a sticky, fondue-like texture that is perfect for dipping.
As far as I know, kimchi and cheese are not a traditional pairing. However, it is an extraordinary one.
When Americans think of Brie-style cheese, we generally think of milky, mild, and vaguely mushroom cheeses, which mostly reminds us of butter with a peel. But when the French (who invented this style of cheese) think of brie styles, they generally think of more flavored cheeses with notes of broccoli, cauliflower, onion, and garlic. There’s a lot of broccoli energy in these French brie styles, or at least in those made for the French palate.
Camembert Fermier is a French-made flower bowl that takes the French flavor profile into account. When combined with kimchi, food with great cabbage energy, something very strange happens. The herbal flavors cancel each other out and the pairing becomes completely buttery. It’s bizarre and fascinating. If you’re the type to keep kimchi in your fridge for a quick snack, get Camembert Fermier and head out into town.
If there’s one thing missing the crispy FUNYUNS their onion ring cousins have (other than real onions) it’s a good dip. This is where Epoisses, an oozy French cheese packaged in a small round wooden box, hits the mark.
The first thing you should know is that Epoisses is notoriously smelly. I once called Epoisses’ aroma, “like smelly feet with a yeast infection“. It stinks so much that it is rumored (incorrectly) to be banned on the French metro. But if you are brave enough to try it, you will find that it smells far more frightening than it tastes. When you soften the aroma with fat, protein, a dreamy, wet texture, and a bacon-like taste, suddenly there’s a lot more to it. It’s hard to have just one bite. It’s like the difference between eating straight anchovies and tossing a fillet in a dressing. Balance is the key!
You can dip a baguette or some sausage in Epoisses. Both are very beautiful. But if you want to get those meaty umami flavors into the cheese, dip in FUNYUNS instead. The crunch contrasts beautifully with the oozy cheese, and the cartoony onion flavors add extra bacon flavor. You’ll never be afraid of smelly French cheese again.
Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze is a fairly new, sweeter type of cheddar that some people call an alpine cheddar. It’s the George Clooney of Cheese. Everyone likes it and it’s perfect in almost every situation. There’s no sugar, but some cultures added release flavors of toffee, caramel corn, and grilled pineapple. It’s creamy but has those crispy cheese crystals that we all love. If you’re never sure which cheese to bring to a party, bring Prairie Breeze.
One of my favorite Prairie Breeze snacks is SKIPPY SUPER CHUNK Peanut Butter. Just spoon it straight onto your slice of cheese and enjoy. You could really have it with any peanut butter, but I like a bit of sweetness from the PB to demonstrate the dessert flavors in the cheese, and the crunch of the peanut butter goes wonderfully with the crispy cheese crystals.
Quicke’s is a legendary British cheese maker who has been in the milk game for about five centuries. Your Devonshire Red Truckle is a game featuring the classic Red Leicester cheese, tinted a deep orange with annatto (the same color as the grocery store’s cheddar).
One tasting note I always get from Quicke’s is horseradish, overlaid with notes of grass and freshly rained soil. You can practically taste the landscape these happy cows live in.
When you pair Red Truckle with DORITOS Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips, that’s how Mega DORITOS. You get that brisk, bold, typically cheesy taste, however oomphed 10 times through the complexity of Quicke’s. Totally wild. The orange cheese on the orange chip is also noticeable.
As you age Gouda for a few years, you get deep, delightful notes of butterscotch, caramel and toffee. It’s the most dessert cheese ever made, especially when you add in the amino acid crystals that appear when it’s over a year old.
Roomano is one of the most aged gouda desserts, and when paired with a chocolaty crunch bar, it’s doubly crispy and doubly dessert. Next time you’re entertaining, serve this up as a dessert course and prepare to be hailed as a genius.
Stilton is a classic British blue cheese, and Colston Bassett’s version is particularly well-balanced. You get some peppery flavor from the blue mold, but it gets layered with other hearty flavors in the creamy but crumbly cheese so even blue cheese haters can be won over. If you REALLY want to win over these haters, combine them with KitKats. Yes, KitKats.
The maltiness of the KitKat waffles brings out toasted flavors in the Stilton, especially on the bowl (one of my favorite Stilton pieces), and makes the blue shape glow in a completely accessible way. It’s like a little salt on a chocolate chip cookie, the contrast that brings it all together.
Christine Clark is a professional food and beverage nerd. She is a Certified Cheese Professional with the American Cheese Society with Bylines in Food52, Wine Enthusiast, VinePair, Epicurious, AllRecipes and more. You can follow her on Instagram Here or visit their website Here.