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.
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: