The conjoining of ingredients from two separate entities to create one gorgeous partnership may well be one of the best arguments for monogamous relationships ever. Peanut butter with chocolate. Bourbon in pecan pie. And, perhaps, our latest favorite: cheese made with whiskey.
Sure, nibbling on a bit of rich, aged cheddar while sipping your favorite single malt is a pleasure worthy of taking a moment (Comfy chair: check! Fireplace: check! Mingus on the Bose: check!), but when these two delights meet on the same playing ground, curdy, cool things happen indeed.
“The whiskey wash brings out a whole host of flavors that would otherwise lie dormant,” offers Anne Saxelby, owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers in Manhattan, which specializes in American farmstead cheeses. “The flavor starts off bright and acidic with a touch of fruit—think brandied raisins or cherries—and is followed up by a bit of that autumnal leaf-pile quality. The finish is very goaty; musky and barnyardy, like wet hay. There is also an overarching warm, toasty, and slightly yeasty quality to the rind that is just incredible. ”
Saxelby is discussing a fairly new entry to the whiskey-cheese category named Paymaster, a collaboration between Brooklyn’s Crown Finish Caves and Kings County Distillers, which uses the latter’s chocolate whiskey to wash a goat’s milk cheese from Coach Farm in Pine Plains, N.Y.
“The cheese comes in fresh-made the day before. We dip it in a cocktail of cultures and we start to grow what is known as a geo-rind; that brainy look you see on certain French cheeses,” says Benton Brown, who co-owns Crown Finish Caves with wife Susan Boyle. The two shepherd cheeses into their final form by aging them in the caves beneath their building, once used for lagering brews during the last century. “We then dry the cheese out in the cave for seven days, then we start to wash it with the chocolate whiskey mixed with some fine-grain sea salt.”
They aren’t the only ones imparting the literal spirit of uisce beatha into their cheese. Producers like Cahill’s in County Limerick in Ireland—a family-owned cheesemonger dating back to the turn of the last century—uses Kilbeggan in their tangy, nutty sheep-and-cow combo cheddar. And in Scotland, if you happen to find yourself lingering over some Laphroaig at that windswept distillery’s tasting room, seek out a round of their Laphroaig cheddar, made by nearby Campbeltown Creamery, with 2 percent of the Islay whisky maker’s 10 year old single malt in the mix.
Cheesemaker and owner David Eaton of Campeltown Creamery had been making another whisky cheese called Highland Chief for many years, but was charmed by the Laphroaig 10, as the strength of that whisky’s flavor doesn’t get lost in the mix. “We have to take the cheddar, break it down, and mince it; grate it, if you will. Then we put it in the blender with the whisky and re-press the cheese back together.”
The choice of how to process the cheese, of course, depends on many things: the type of milk used, the final desired cheese being made, and, of course, whether or not you’re washing the rind, like Brown, or full-on imposing the whiskey within the cheese, like the Cahills and Eatons. It’s nice to imagine, though, that wherever there’s whisky, perhaps there’s a whey.