While people have enjoyed cheese and wine paired together for a significant number of years, there is new information that suggests that selecting a tea to pair with cheese will offer the same flavor enhancement as wine pairing, but more often the right pairing will elicit what is called the elusive “third flavor” that is often sought from food and beverage pairings.
The idea of pairing teas with cheeses makes sense for two key reasons; the first is that tea and wine share some very common elements. Both tea and wine and high in tannins, tea is naturally astringent, and there are even some teas that are aged in a specific way like fine wine. With the same flavor characteristics, is it any wonder that more and more people are finding cheese and tea just go together?
The second reason is based off what tea is commonly paired with; scones with clotted cream. Clotted cream is not much different than cheese, and if the majority of people believe that a heavy black tea with a clotted cream covered scone is utter perfection, then it makes perfect sense that teas that are balanced to go with specific cheeses would also be divine.
Cheese and Tea Combinations
While we have done an article before on food pairings, due to the complex nature of both tea and cheese, paring tea and cheese is a complicated endeavor. While it is can be difficult due to the complexity of tea, finding your perfect tea and cheese combination can offer an excellent flavor that is akin to your favorite comfort foods. With that being said, let’s look at a few pairing options.
Blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Maytag, Roquefort, Blue Brie, or Stilton all share similar qualities; each blue cheese presented has a buttery taste that is not found in most cheeses, and they are often saltier than most other cheeses. The firmness of the cheese adjusts the flavor of the cheese, with a firmer cheese offering a stronger flavor and a softer cheese offering a lighter taste.
Whether the cheeses are lighter or stronger, the creamy, fatty, and salty flavor often pairs well with black teas. Frequently, Lapsang Souchong is recommended for the stronger blue cheeses so as to not overpower the unique flavors while teas in the Earl Grey family will often be recommended to go with the lighter flavor of the softer blue cheeses. With either a mild or intense Blue Cheese, you can’t go wrong with a cup of Darjeeling Tea.
Ignoring coloration, hard cheeses are often crumbly, pungent, flavorful, and salty. In addition to these flavors, some of these cheeses also offer fruity hints and/or a nutty finish. Since each hard cheese has slightly different characteristics, a simple solution is to select a tea that has multiple characteristics. Frequently an oolong tea would be recommended for pairing with a hard cheese as it offers qualities of both green tea and black tea. Excellent oolong selections would be Iron Goddess of Mercy or a Milk Oolong.
Thinking of semi-hard cheeses is like thinking about a classic snack of cheese and crackers; cheddar, gruyere, Swiss cheese, and Gouda cheese are all in the category of semi-hard cheeses. These types of cheese are known to pair well with fruit flavors as well as salt. As stated, semi-soft cheeses will often be paired well with buttery crackers. This combination of buttery, salty, and sweet would pair well with something that has a little spice to it. There are a number of teas that have some spicy feel to them, such as Chai Teas or Masala spiced teas. Excellent choices to pair with the classic semi-hard cheeses would be Masala Chai, Green Tea Chai, or if you want a little hint of something else to complement, Vanilla Chai tea makes a good option.
Muenster, Monterey Jack, and Fontina are cheeses that fall under the category of soft cheeses. These cheeses do not necessarily have a specific flavor, with some being quite pungent while others are quite mild in flavor. Regardless of the type, the combination of the texture and flavor undertones that all of the semi-soft cheeses have means that they all pair well with both sweet and vegetal flavors. Teas that are vegetal in nature will normally be green teas, such as Sencha or Gyokuro. To mix the vegetal flavor with the sweetness that will really pronounce the pungent flavor of semi-soft cheeses, elect to sample fruit flavored green teas.
Mild, creamy, and very light in color, these cheeses can be either fresh or ripened, which will alter their flavor profile a bit. However, in the end, the soft cheeses all share similar characteristics. True aficionados of soft cheese recognize its light flavor and seek to not overpower it. There are others who, in addition to not wanting to overpower the cheese, will want to enhance it with a fruit flavor. Because the flavor is so light, anything other than white tea is likely to be very overpowering.
While all cheese is aged, there are some that get a unique flavor that comes from aging longer than most other cheeses. Frequently, the cheese must be aged longer than six months, and the aging must be done in a cellar or a cave to qualify as aged. Many of the hard cheeses can be aged, as can be seen when we see Aged Cheddar, Aged Parmesan, and Aged Romano. The best teas to be thought to pair with aged cheeses are Pu-Erh teas. It makes sense, as Pu-Erh tea is the only type of tea that is aged, and serving aged tea with aged cheese just makes sense. An aged Pu-erh would make the perfect compliment.
All of the tea and cheese pairings that are recommended are suggestions that others have found to be good choices for themselves. However, if you try these options and find that they simply do not work for you, then feel free to experiment with various combinations. Host a party and serve up various teas and various cheeses and see what it is that people like best as a combination. Try it once, and we can guarantee you will start searching for more combinations of tea and cheese to find your favorite third flavor.