Cocktails and Cheese with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Normally when people think of pairing cheese with alcohol, they immediately think of wine and cheese.  However, apparently we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time!  The tannins, in wine, especially red wine, dull the palate, according to Food52, and make many wines a less than ideal choice to pair with cheese.

So what should you pair with cheese?  Follow Formaggio Kitchen’s lead and pair with beer, cider….and COCKTAILS! (Check out their full listing of classes here)  The idea of pairing cheese with cocktails may scare you at first, but trust me, it is genius!  Especially when the cocktails are made by Seth Freidus, bar manager at Alden and Harlow (one of my favorite restaurants currently in the Boston area).

Seth started out bartending in high school, mostly because it looked cool and fun.  He continued to bartend in college, eventually landing a job at Eastern Standard after he graduated.  He learned a lot on the job and supplemented this by reading books about cocktails.  He’s now gained national recognition as the bar manager at Alden and Harlow and likes to focus on housemade vermouths and rotating cocktails utilizing seasonal ingredients (think turnips, eggplant, or beets!)

To create this class, Seth met up with Julia Hallman, general manager of Formaggio Kitchen, to plan the pairings.  While the selection of cheese often drives the pairings, this time Julia and Seth mixed things up a bit (no pun intended) and chose the cocktails first- I can imagine this was a fun planning session!

The final cheese plate is shown below:

Class started with a classic cocktail- the Green Fly- created in the early 20th century.  A stirred cocktail, it consists of gin, lemon juice, chartreuse (an herbal liquor), demerara syrup (similar to a simple syrup but using demerara sugar) and finished with a touch of orange oil from an orange peel .  This was paired with Ruggles Hill Ada’s Honor, a goat’s milk cheese from Hardwick, MA.  This farm is run by Tricia who milks all 14 goats by hand!  The cheese has a lovely bright, clean, and herbal flavor that was balanced out beautifully by the citrus based cocktail.

Next we moved on to shaken cocktails with a variation of a negorini.  This cocktail contained gin, cardamaro (a vegetal amaro), and a sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge). This cocktail was described as “vegetal” and “nutty” and was paired with a Corsu Vecchiu, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, France.  This region is known for its cheese-making traditions that never change and result in the same salty, bright, rich cheese every time.

This was followed by another stirred cocktail using Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, demerara syrup, lemon juice and a touch of salt.  The nutty, rich flavors of this cocktail lend itself well to “ripe” and “stinky” cheeses such as Rippleton, a sheep’s milk cheese from Casanovia, New York.  This cheese is a bright orange color on the outside from the wash-rind process, while the inside oozes with soft, delicious, pale yellow cheese.  I happen to love this kind of cheese but was a little skeptical about pairing it with a cocktail- but it totally worked!  This was one of my favorite pairings of the night.

Next, we went back to shaken cocktails with a mezcal based drink.  Mezcal is a delicious smokey agave liquor (similar to tequila) and it was shaken with dry vermouth, Manzanilla sherry, demerara syrup and finished with lemon oil from a lemon peel.  The smokey, sweetness of this cocktail was balanced perfectly by the savory, salty, richness of the Tomme Crayuese cow’s milk cheese it was paired with.  Tomme Crayuese…cleverly called “Tom Cruise” by the staff at Formaggio…is from Savoie, France and is produced via an aging process resulting in a layered cheese with a harder rind and soft, creamy interior.

By this point, we were starting to feel a bit tipsy with the generous pours but in the name of cheese and cocktails we persevered on!  Next we tried another sherry based cocktail with Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, Montenegro (one of my favorite amaros) finished with orange oil.  This was the perfect pairing for the rich, caramely Olimankaas cow’s milk cheese studded with bits of crunchy, salty lactose crystals.

Last but not least was another mezcal cocktail.  This one was shaken with Cocchi Americano, Oloroso sherry, green chartreuse and finished with orange oil.  The resultant cocktail was paired with a goat’s milk blue cheese- Persil Rambouillet from Ile-de-France.  The mild saltiness of the blue cheese lent itself well to the smokey notes in the cocktail.

I have to say, after this class, I am a definite believer in pairing cheese with cocktails.  I was surprised at how well every cocktail balanced out the cheese and fully enjoyed every single pairing!  And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we headed out to Alden and Harlow for a late night feast after class!

If you haven’t taken any classes at Formaggio Kitchen, make sure to check out their class listing here.

Full disclosure:  I am “paid” by Formaggio Kitchen in cheese and alcohol to photograph classes 🙂