Tea & Cheese Pairings
This Test Kitchen post comes from Krista Harper, a freelance writer and news radio show director who lives on the chilly Canadian shores of Lake Superior. Krista has become a rabid consumer of tea in the last several years (it is her belief that living in a cold climate will quickly drive anyone to drink more than their fair share of hot beverages). Working part-time at her local David’s Tea has done nothing to slow her growing thirst. Krista also admits to having spent up to a third of her otherwise modest grocery budget on cheese – so it only seems natural for her to experiment with pairing two of her favorite things!
I conducted this taste-test with the following teas:
-Green (pan-fired, Chinese-style)
-Yerba Maté (a caffeinated herb from South America)
-Sleigh Ride (a tart, fruity, hibiscus-based herbal tea made by David’s Tea)
With tea steeped and seven different cheeses at hand, I was ready to try some pairings. Which teas complemented (or clashed!) with each type of cheese? Read on…
The most delicate of the cheeses in the experiment, provolone has a creamy texture and a slightly tangy finish. I thought it would make a perfect fit with the light, refreshing taste of white tea. Nope. Even provolone cheese overpowered the gentle flavor of the white tea. However, the medium-bodied, earthy, almost hay-like flavor of the South American favorite yerba maté, was a slam dunk when paired with provolone. I would suggest pairing provolone with other medium-bodied teas such as oolong, Darjeeling black tea or rooibos.
This mild, buttery cheese was hard to match. White tea seemed to be the natural choice, but as I found with provolone, it didn’t work out the way I had thought. I found this cheese went much better with green tea. A nice, smooth oolong might also suit it.
Full-bodied with a nice zing, this aged cheese paired best with green tea, which had just enough lively earthiness to balance it out. It also paired well with yerba maté. For a unique experience, I’d suggest trying this cheese with lapsang souchong (a very smoky black tea, which is dried over a fire) or a milder cup of Russian caravan tea (which is a blend of lapsang souchong, oolong, and black Keemun tea).
Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar
This creamy cheddar’s strong flavor called for something either really earthy or strong. Nothing I had prepared worked very well with it. As with sharp cheddar, I’d suggest trying it with a smoky cup of lapsang souchong. Perhaps a good, earthy assam black tea or a pu’erh tea would also balance it out.
This cheese threw a bit of a wrench in the tasting. Would the zesty-yet-mild flavor of Pepper Jack go with any tea at all? I love me some Pepper Jack on a sandwich, but with tea? Turns out that yes, it can be paired with tea, but the robust, dark teas were out of the question. This cheese’s kick demands a light, cooling tea. The white tea paired well, and a Japanese green tea or an oolong might also work. Try icing the tea, and it would almost certainly be a match made in heaven.
Vintage White Medium Cheddar
This was my favorite cheese of the bunch. Creamy and smooth, with a distinctive flavor, the Vintage White Medium was also one of the hardest cheeses to pair. Surprisingly, fruity Sleigh Ride, a hibiscus-based tea, made the best match. Hibiscus-based teas are tart and sweet, in the vein of cranberry juice, or red wine… and Vintage White Medium Cheddar pairs well with fruit and wine, so maybe it’s not such a surprise that the pair complemented each other so well. I would recommend trying this one with any fruity teas – I think a peach or lemon-flavored tea might be especially delicious.
Smoked Medium Cheddar
This was my other favorite cheese in the tasting. The smoked hickory flavor of this moist cheddar was hard to pair, however. Since this cheese has so much going on, it’s hard to justify pairing it with anything more complex than a nice delicate white tea. The other teas I had on hand just seemed to distract from the delicious smoky flavor of the cheese. The other teas I might try to pair with this one are a creamy oolong or a Japanese green tea such as gyokuro (Japanese green teas are usually steamed, giving them a fresher, grassier flavor than their pan-fired Chinese counterparts). Or pair lapsang souchong with this cheese if you’re up for a truly smoky experience!
The final verdict
The results of the cheese and tea tasting experiment weren’t what I had anticipated. While I expected the stronger cheese flavors to pair best with stronger-tasting teas, it didn’t always work that way – and the lighter cheeses didn’t pair especially well with the lighter teas, either. I found that all the cheeses paired at least fairly well (or better) with green tea and yerba mate. Earthy flavors and cheese just seem to match well! And, word to the wise, earl grey clashed with everything. Bleh!
If you’d like to try this at home, I’d recommend making sure you have a good blend of light, medium, and full-bodied teas to experiment with, as well as a diverse spread of cheeses. Work from mildest to strongest cheeses, and give your taste buds a break between cheeses with some water.
Would you try this at home? What kinds of cheese would you pair with which tea?