A How-To On Pairing Cured Meats and Cheeses
Pairing Cured Meat And Cheeses
When pairing things, two approaches generally come into play. The first approach would be to pair like flavors, for instance, two sour ingredients. With this, the similar flavors may cancel each other out and let the other flavors flourish. The second, more common approach is that opposites attract, this takes play in every type of pairing there is, not just in food.
Sometimes, cheese alone on a cheese plate is not enough. You may want to consider other easy additions to compliment the cheese such as: honey, fruit, and crackers. However, if
you’re looking to really add something different and like no other, cured meat is the way to go! It might sound like a difficult pairing, but it really isn’t hard at all. The main tip is to make the most out of it, this can be done by knowing some of the general principles.
The best way to pair cured meat and cheese is through opposites. Unlike wine, beer, or spirits, meat is full of fat, protein, and salt, just like cheese. So you need to proceed with care when pairing the two as you can end up having an overwhelming flavor.
The two major groups that cured meat falls into are: encased or whole muscle. Encased meats have a noticeable tang to them, with intense aromas of black pepper, red pepper, fennel, truffle, and so on. Whole muscle meats are much sweeter, nuttier and more “meaty” like. It’s important to keep this difference in mind when thinking about a meat’s acidity and sweetness.
Pairing With Whole Muscle Meats
When pairing wine with cheese, if you’re in doubt, it’s best to pair wine and food made in the same region. This is the same for meat and cheese, it also brings us to the notion that it is good to start with a classic:
Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto Di Parma literally begin their perfect pairing at the source. It is commonly known that the whey by-product of Parm is fed to the hogs, whose back legs actually become Prosciutto Di Parma! So one ingredient quite literally fuels the other, thus becoming the perfect pairing.
Prosciutto Di Parma, like all whole muscle cured meats, should be sliced into very thin sheets, neatly trimmed with a ribbon of fat. It melts away on the tongue into a delicious whiff of hazelnut and sweet butter. Parmigiano Reggiano on the other hand is quite the opposite of the elegant Prosciutto Di Parma. It is coarse and craggy, with a distinct tang in the mouth. It shares toasted and nutty flavors but has a leanness because of its partially skimmed milk.
Important lessons to learn from this pairing:
- Flavors which compliment, focus on what is shared, if you can rely on other elements for the contrast needed.
- The texture is important. A mushy, floppy or semisoft cheese paired with a thin slice of meats lacks the contrast needed for a good pairing.
- Acidity is important. In this pairing, it is the cheese, in other pairings it could be the meat. But one element must contribute the sensation of tart, citrusy, mouthwatering brightness to cut out the protein and fat of the other.
Another classic pairing which works on these principles:
A lightly smoked whole muscle meat called Speck is brilliantly matched with a cheese which is textually like Parm, but tastes completely different: Piave. Astringency in the meat is completely reliant on the wood that the meat is smoked over, while the cheese bursts with pineapple and tropical fruit. That is where it is opposite to our first classical pairing: the cheese handles the sweetness while the meat takes the savory lead.
Pairing With Encased Meats
The perfect instruments for spreading an even dipping in the right cheeses come from small-diameter sausage links, which are cured slowly over time and sliced into quarter-inch- thick coins. Most sausages give off amazing spices, garlic, smoke, or even heat, which adds a third component of flavor to play around with when pairing. A well-liked favorite:
Paprika- and cayenne- laden Spanish- Style Chorizo immersed into a perfectly ripened sheep’s milk La Serena will make your mouth water. La Serena, which is a bit airier than custard and full of tart, vegetal and what some would say sour flavors, is a thistle-coagulated cheese. This cheese succeeds in cooling the heat of the chorizo and you’re left with the sweet taste of paprika and garlic. Other cheeses which also work well are Fresh Ricotta or Goat’s Cheese. Cheeses that preserve lactic notes of fresh milk, but earthly notes of age also work well as cooling cheeses to spicy, smoky, or gamey meats.
Minding your meat’s acidity and added flavors is generally what to keep in mind when pairing cheeses with cured meats.
Cured Meats Which Are Cheese-Friendly
Not many of Europe’s cured meats make it into the U.S. but there are still a lot of domestic producers creating great cured meats with European traditions. Here are some brands to try:
– S. Wallace Edwards and Sons
– Olli Salumeria
– La Quercia
– Olympic Provisions
– Creminelli Fine Meats
A European Celebration: Cheeses From Across Europe
The science, in truth, is fairly simple. Take some milk – a cow, sheep or goat will provide just fine. Add a starter enzyme and then some rennet to separate the curds (solids) from the whey (liquid). Congratulations: you have just made cheese. Almost every one begins its life-like this. “Pretty much everything after that point is a tweak,” explains cheesemonger Ned Palmer.
So, why is there such variety in cheese’s taste and textures? “One word tells you: terroir. It all starts with the land,” says Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie, London’s best place to try and buy artisan cheeses from all over Europe. “The climate and the soil affects the animals, the food they eat – whether that is cows grazing pasture or goats foraging. Everything affects the taste of the milk, and therefore the cheese.”
Another thing all great cheeses share is the attention of a genuine artisan cheese maker. “Everyone uses the word ‘artisan’ to mean anything now,” adds Michelson. “When it comes to cheese, I mean a small dairy, using raw, unpasteurized milk from a single herd. An artisan follows the process from pasture to table, making everything by hand. Even the starter used to begin the curdling process can be made from the previous day’s milk.” The result is almost endless variety, between countries and regions, styles, even neighbouring villages.
Now, let’s take a tour of the fascinating and intriguing world of European cheese.
The family of Bergkäse, or “mountain cheeses”, enjoy one crucial benefit: cows that spend their summers on Europe’s alpine pastures. “In Austria’s Bregenzer Wald region, these cheeses are made in summer only, in little chalets, not dairies,” explains Patricia Michelson, who also wrote the cheese lover’s bible, Cheese: The World’s Best Artisan Cheeses (Jacqui Small, £30). “The milk is heated in a cooper vat with wood burning beneath. Sparks fly and cinders drop into the vat – the flavour of the resulting cheese is richly wood scented,” adds Michelson.
Buyers for Michelson’s cheese business don hiking boots to source the best cheeses from the Alp Loch. Travellers can also visit cheese makers, alpine markets and specialist vendors as part of the Bregenzerwald Käsestrasse trail.
Belgium: Fromage de Herve
Belgium’s only Protected Destination of Origin (PDO) cheese is a cow’s milk cheese, made east of Liège since the 13th century. Like many made close to Europe’s west-facing coasts, the cheese is encased in an edible washed rind.
“Over-saline climates can ruin hard cheeses like cheddar. Rind washing began as a precaution against that,” explains Jon Thrupp of Franco-British cheesemonger Mons. “It takes maturation to the next level. Washing the cheese in brine kills moulds and creates an environment to promote a bacteria, B. linens, with more visceral, grassy flavours.”
Away from the coasts, monastic cheese makers often wash cheese rinds with distillates or even beer, another Belgian specialty that makes the perfect partner for creamy, yellow-hued Fromage de Herve.
Bulgaria: Tcherni Vit “Green Cheese”
The sheep’s milk cheese made in the Balkan village of Tcherni Vit gets its nickname from a mould. After shaping, salting and stacking in barrels made from lime wood, the brine-soaked cheeses are exposed to the air in a moist cellar.
That’s when the magic starts to happen. A green mould forms quickly on the cheese’s surface, and often also penetrates veins that form naturally during maturation.
Croatia: Paški Sir (Pag Cheese)
Croatia’s Dalmatian coast is the country’s holiday hotspot. Yet one of southeastern Europe’s most prized cheeses is also made here, on just one island: Pag.
A salty, dry winter wind, the Bura, lends the hard cheese a sharp saline bite, as well as its distinctive flavour. “This wind brings sea salts to the pastures from the Adriatic Sea, which covers the unique wild herbs that our indigenous breed of sheep eat. The result is a very high fat milk from which Paški sir gets its distinctive taste,” explains Simon Kerr of Sirana Gligora, a Pag Cheese producer.
“Aged Paški sir, or stari Paški sir, is a minimum of 12 months old and generally has a deep brown rind and crumbly texture. The taste is fuller with a strong, long finish.”
England: Blue Vinny
England’s rural southwest is home to many fine cheeses. Crumbly, blue-veined Blue Vinny has even inspired poetry in its home county, Dorset. “The recipe lay dormant for many years until Mike Davies resurrected it at Woodbridge Farm and started producing this unique blue cheese again,” says Steve Titman, executive chef at Summer Lodge, a Dorset country house hotel known for its 27-variety cheeseboard.
Compared to more famous English blue cheeses like Stilton, Dorset Blue Vinny is lighter and milder, usually with a lower fat content. “Even when very blue the flavour is not overpowering — a tingle rather than a tang,” adds Titman.
How do you select just one variety from Europe’s most famous cheese-producing country? “The French are unmatchable when it comes to soft goat’s milk cheeses,” says Jon Thrupp. France’s goat cheese heartland is the Loire Valley, an easy drive southwest of Paris. “Lactic cheese making is probably the oldest style in Europe,” says Thrupp. “It is close to what happens naturally when you strain yogurt: lactic acids slowly cause the curds to set, in a process taking around 24 hours.” Hard cheeses like Comté, in contrast, are set with rennet in around 2 hours.
Valençay owes its unusual “decapitated pyramid” shape to its setting mould – the optimum dimensions for draining – not because of an apocryphal, yet often repeated, tale about Napoleon, according to Thrupp. Its taste, “velvety, rather than fluffy or brittle, with light, citrus acidity,” is enhanced slightly by rolling the young cheese in ash. The ash lends it a “slightly pointed, white pepper flavour,” says Thrupp.
Germany: Bavarian Blue
Bavarian Blue is sometimes nicknamed “mountain Roquefort”, due to a similarity with France’s famous blue. The style was invented in 1902 by Basil Weixler, who loved Roquefort. Its production involves mixing the same moulds (roqueforti) with the curd.
But Bavarian Blue is made from cow’s milk, rather than Roquefort’s sheep. The best Bavarian Blue is smoother and creamier than its French cousin, and mild enough to eat at breakfast. Michelson recommends Bavarian Blue made by Arturo Chiriboga at the Obere-Muehle Co-op, where they is also operate a hotel and guesthouse.
Grainy and crumbly, feta cheese is made from either sheep or goat milk, and aged for 2 months or more before sale. Travellers know it as a key ingredient in Greece’s best-known dishes, among them Greek salad (leaves with tomatoes, olives and feta) and spanakopita (cheese and spinach filo pastry pie). The cheese has a unique place in Greek culinary and cultural history. “It dates back to Homer’s day,” explains Manos Kasalias from the Association of Agricultural Cooperatives of Kalavryta.
Feta is produced in several regions of Greece, including Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly and the Peloponnese. “The best feta carries with it the aromas of the Greek mountains that the sheep and goats graze,” says Kasalias. “The curd isn’t boiled or baked at high temperatures and, both during the production process and afterwards, the cheese is protected by a light brine, locking in all those flavors.
“The best feta is produced from late April to mid-June when the flora on which the flocks graze is richest.”
Washed-rind cheeses are a staple of the cheese making landscape in County Cork. Alongside Milleens – which blazed a trail for Irish artisan cheese in the 1970s – are names such as Ardrahan and Gubbeen. “The wet, salty climate lends itself to this style,” says Ned Palmer, a freelance cheesemonger and expert in the cheeses of the British Isles. “In fact, it’s hard to make any other style there.”
Before maturation, the cheeses are washed in brine, which encourages the formation of a sticky, bacteria-friendly rind and a distinctive smell. “Milleens tends towards the heftier end of the taste spectrum,” says Palmer. “It is meaty and pungent, with an unctuous, creamy texture. For me, it is one of the few cheeses that works with a big red wine.”
Italy: Parmigiano Reggiano
The iconic cheese of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is more than just an accompaniment to a bowl of pasta. “It might seems like a trivial, obvious choice,” says Piero Sardo, President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. “Yet only if you don’t know that this large production, of around 3 million cheeses, hails from over 500 small artisan dairies that must meet a very strict regulatory regime.” Parimgiano Reggiano rules stipulate a minimum of 12 months’ aging, but the cheese can improve for up to 3 years, according to Sardo. The consortium that governs cheese production here also operates guided tours of dairies across Emilia-Romagna.
Beemster polder in North Holland was drained by dyke and windmill in the early 1600s, one of the first reclamation projects of its kind in the Netherlands. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and signs of humans shaping this unique landscape 20 feet below sea level are preserved everywhere.
It is also mineral-rich farmland, and only cow’s milk from Beemster herds goes into its famous cheese, which has been made here since 1901. “Beemster X-O is our most mature cheese in the line and aged a minimum of 26 months,” explains Kies Paradies at Beemster. “Over time, Beemster X-O develops aromas of butterscotch, caramel and whiskey.”
Geitost (pronounced “yay-tost”) is made by an unusual process. After removing the curds, the cheese maker boils down the whey with a little added goat and cow’s milk cream. A Maillard reaction turns the mixture brown, imparting a sweet, caramel-like flavor to the cooled cheese. When sliced open, it looks like a bar of chocolate. “It is popular with kids in Norway,” explains Michelson. “Sliced very thin, more like a shaving, and spread on some rye toast.”
Geitost has been made in the traditional way for hundreds of years alongside Norway’s largest fjord, the Sognefjord. Six cheesemakers are now recognized by Slow Food for the production of genuine artisan Sognefjord Geitost. These days, the area is one of Norway’s most scenic fjord cruising spots.
Portugal: São Jorge
It is unusual to find a Portuguese cow’s milk cheese. Yet the milk isn’t the most striking thing about São Jorge. This waxy, tangy, cheddar-like cheese is made well beyond mainland Europe. It comes from the mid-Atlantic, in the Azores archipelago, 900 miles off the coast of Portugal.
Flemish colonizers brought cheese making skills to the Azores in the 17th century. The island’s high humidity, volcanic soils and year-round warm – but not excessively hot – temperatures are ideal for milk-producing herds. The cheese, however, is made only in summer.
Scotland: Isle of Mull
Scotland is not the home of cheddar cheese. But an island off Scotland’s wild west coast is where you will find one of the cheddar style’s most distinctive expressions.
“A cooler, wetter climate produces higher moisture cheese than down in England,” explains Ned Palmer. “The cheese has very distinctive flavor notes that come from a specific cattle feed: draff, the barley mash that remains from whiskey making. You can taste the peat, malt and iodine notes that you expect in a single malt whisky.” This makes the cheese an ideal partner for another Mull artisan product, Scotch from the distillery at Tobermory.
Spain: Queso de la Serena
Spain’s central and northern regions are the country’s cheese-making heartland. Queso de la Serena, on the other hand, is made in small quantities in just one county of Extremadura, in the far southwest. It is made only with the unpasteurized milk of Merino sheep that graze the pastures of La Serena.
“Its quality that comes from the area’s pasture, which is full of herbs,” says Piero Sardo. “With aging, the cheese tends to become creamy and smooth, and often is called ‘cake’. It gives off scents of green grass and caramel, hints of chestnut and hazelnut, and has a slightly bitter finish.”
Sweden: Almnäs Tegel
Scandinavia las a long tradition of cheese making – long winters meant a traditional need to preserve the summer bounty. The quality of the region’s artisan cheese is high, and growing. So, why do Scandinavian cheeses often lack a high-profile outside the region? “Because of where they are made, the location. Their cheeses are difficult to get hold of,” explains Michelson. “But this is getting better, thanks to the huge interest in everything Scandinavian when it comes to food.”
Almnäs Tegel is an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese similar in style to Gruyere and Parmigiano, aged for between a year and 24 months. The distinctive shape of a whole cheese is an homage to the bricks used to build the farm’s original manor house, in 1750. Throughout the ripening process, the 55-pound cheeses are brushed with brine. The result is a strong, hard cheese.
“Say ‘Swiss cheese’ and most people will think of the one with holes,” says Diccon Bewes, author of Swiss Watching. Often known (incorrectly) as “Emmental” outside Switzerland, Emmentaler is made from Alpine cow’s milk in giant rounds weighing in at 265 pounds each. “Emmentaler was the first Swiss cheese to be made down in the valleys all year round in a village Käserei, or cheese dairy. That gave farmers a permanent outlet for their milk and led to much bigger rounds of cheese, because they didn’t have to be carried down the mountain in autumn,” explains Bewes.
The texture is smooth, and the flavour nutty, especially in Emmentaler that is matured for a year or more. An Emmental cheese route, complete with iPhone and Android apps for guidance, helps hikers and bikers see the region’s cheese sights.
This crumbly Welsh cow’s milk cheese is part of a family of cheeses unique to the British Isles, including English varieties Cheshire, Lancashire and Wensleydale. “Caerphilly stands out from these in that a traditional example will have a mould rind rather than a cloth rind. This contributes a deeper, earthy flavour to the cheese,” says Ned Palmer, who also hosts regular cheese tastings.
According to Palmer, best in class is Gorwydd Caerphilly made on a family farm in West Wales using unpasteurized milk and traditional methods like hand-stirring of the curds. Visitors to London’s Borough Market will usually find it on sale somewhere.
The “Untold” History of Cheese
This is the story you’ll often hear about the discovery of cheese in human history…
About 9,000 years ago, a nomad was travelling and brought along with him some milk in an animal stomach, serving as a sort of thermal insulator, to have something to drink at the end of the day. But when he arrived, he discovered that the rennet in the stomach lining had curdled the milk, creating the first cheese.
But there’s a major problem with that story, as University of Vermont cheese scientist and historian Paul Kindstedt explained on the latest episode of Gastropod—a podcast that explores food through the lens of science and history. The nomads living in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East in 7000 B.C. would have been lactose-intolerant. A nomad on the road wouldn’t have wanted to drink milk; it would have left him in severe gastro-intestinal distress.
Kindstedt, author of the book Cheese and Culture, explained that about a thousand years before traces of cheese-making show up in the archaeological record, humans began growing crops. Those early fields of wheat and other grains attracted local wild sheep and goats, which provide milk for their young. Human babies are also perfectly adapted for milk. Early humans quickly made the connection and began dairying—but for the first thousand years, toddlers and babies were the only ones consuming the milk. Human adults were uniformly lactose-intolerant, says Kindstedt. What’s more, he told us that “we know from some exciting archaeo-genetic and genomic modeling that the capacity to tolerate lactose into adulthood didn’t develop until about 5500 B.C.”—which is at least a thousand years after the development of cheese.
It took another recent advance to figure out the origins of cheese: Kindstedt says that only recently have scientists been able to analyze the chemical traces on pottery from thousands of years ago in order to find milk fat in the higher concentrations that indicate it was used to hold cheese or butter, rather than plain milk.
Using this new research, Kinstead explains, we now know that the real dawn of cheese came about 8,500 years ago, with two simultaneous developments in human history. First, by then, over-intensive agricultural practices had depleted the soil, leading to the first human-created environmental disaster. As a result, Neolithic humans began herding goats and sheep more intensely, as those animals could survive on marginal lands unfit for crops. And secondly, humans invented pottery: the original practical milk-collection containers.
In the warm environment of the Fertile Crescent region, Kinstedt explained, any milk not used immediately and instead left to stand in those newly invented containers “would have very quickly, in a matter of hours, coagulated [due to the heat and the natural lactic acid bacteria in the milk]. And at some point, probably some adventurous adult tried some of the solid material and found that they could tolerate it a lot more of it than they could milk.” That’s because about 80 percent of the lactose drains off with the whey, leaving a digestible and, likely, rather delicious fresh cheese.
With the discovery of cheese, suddenly those early humans could add dairy to their diets. Cheese made an entirely new source of nutrients and calories available for adults, and, as a result, dairying took off in a major way. What this meant, says Kindstedt, is that “children and newborns would be exposed to milk frequently, which ultimately through random mutations selected for children who could tolerate lactose later into adulthood.”
In a very short time, at least in terms of human evolution—perhaps only a few thousand years—that mutation spread throughout the population of the Fertile Crescent. As those herders migrated to Europe and beyond, they carried this genetic mutation with them. According to Kindstedt, “It’s an absolutely stunning example of a genetic selection occurring in an unbelievably short period of time in human development. It’s really a wonder of the world, and it changed Western civilization forever.”
The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: An American Tradition!
One of the most common, famous and easy-to-make foods is the proverbial “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” otherwise known as “PB & J” adhering to modern lingo. It is easy to make, requiring only bread, jelly (or jam) and peanut butter as it satisfies any hungry stomach as a meal or a quick snack.
The History of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich…
The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich has become such a staple of America that is seems like it has been around since the beginning of time. Ironically, with all the ingredients needed already around, it took quite sometime for someone to compile all of it into the renowned PB & J sandwich. Peanut Butter was originally paired with a diverse combination of other foods: pimento, cheese and celery, just to name a few. In an 1896 article in Good Housekeeping, a recipe suggested the use of a meat grinder to create peanut butter and the concoction was to be spread on a slice of bread. Later that year, a culinary magazine published a recipe for making “Peanut Butter Sandwiches”. The first reference of the pairing of peanut butter and jelly on bread came in the Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics by Julia Davis Chandler in 1901. Through the early parts of the 1900s, the sandwich and its constituent ingredients gradually were made affordable and available to everyone as the price of peanut butter began to plummet. Later, it became a popular staple for children and during World War II, it was noted that that both peanut butter and jelly were listed on the U.S. soldiers’ military ration list, as claimed by the Peanut Board.
It’s Not Just Making the Sandwich, It’s The Quality of the Sandwich That Counts
We’ve all likely had a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich at some point in our lives, or too many too count, which is the case for me. But what makes the PB & J sandwich experience a unique and sensational one? You’re probably thinking… wait, it’s just a regular PB & J sandwich… how sensational can it get? To that I say, with the right, quality ingredients, a PB & J sandwich can rock your world, and then some!
Using the jelly found on the third shelf down in your refrigerator and the peanut butter in the door shelf, one could see the mundane nature of the sandwich. Yes, it’s a good PB & J sandwich, but good could always be better. The ingredients are everything when making this sandwich. Everything from the type of bread, to the brand of jelly or jam, to the brand and texture of peanut butter that you use. Is the bread white, wheat, rye, sour dough or whole grain? Is the peanut butter smooth or chunky? Is the bread toasted or not? All of these subtle differences up front, make a world of difference in the end in the PB & J experience.
Suggestions to make your PB & J Experience A Memorable One
While a good PB & J sandwich features peanut butter and jelly usually picked up at your convenient store or grocery chain, let’s step outside of the realm of normalcy and add an explosion of flavor to our PB & J sandwich. While jellies, jams, peanut butter and breads can be found in your grocery store bread aisle, the best of these ingredients are found in locally and privately-owned specialty stores, such as here at Shisler’s Cheese House. Here we have an wide assortment of jams and jellies that are locally produced. We also carry some of the best peanut butter around made in Walnut Creek, Ohio. This is an Amish Peanut Butter made locally from a special blend of all natural ingredients. Amish Peanut Butter Spread is a sweet, creamy peanut butter that tastes great on just about anything. With a soft and silky texture, our Amish Peanut Butter Spread is a must try and will make any PB & J sandwich an incredible treat for your taste buds.
Let Us Help You Make That Incredible Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Had enough of PB & J sandwiches with those peanut butters and jellies in your refrigerator and in the grocery store aisle? Then let us, at Shisler’s Cheese House,
help you make that delicious creation! Click on ingredients below to begin your PB & J experience at our store:
Be sure to stop in and check out our selection of specialty breads that will complete your PB & J experience! While you’re in our store, be sure to check out all of our other specialty products including meats, cheeses, chocolates, cookies and a plethora of other decadent goodies! Visit our online store by clicking the image below!
**We are now selling Girl Scout Cookies! Stop in and get some today!**