Bourbon and cheese pairings compose distinctive flavor experience

Bourbon and cheese pairings event at Art of Cheese, photo by Cristine Struble
Bourbon and cheese pairings event at Art of Cheese, photo by Cristine Struble /

Food and beverage pairings invite people to explore. Whether it is a chef who wants to push the boundaries with unexpected contrasting combinations or the subtle parallel structures that feel familiar, the similarities and differences invite people to raise the glass and take that bite over and over again. With bourbon and cheese pairings, the experience crosses beyond just the eating enjoyment.

Bourbon, America’s spirit, is as diverse as the country itself. While Kentucky might instantly come to mind as bourbon country, it is not the only American locale that can produce bourbon whiskey.

Along with other requirements, the 51% corn ingredient is standard. The type of corn changes the flavor entirely. For example, a Wisconsin red corn offers a nuanced flavor profile that has people asking for another pour. Even though it might not have the name recognition of some Kentucky based favorites, it can be time to see what other states have to offer.

Wisconsin is proud of its farmers. The work ethic and dedication are celebrated. The connection to the land can be tasted in each product. From grains to dairy, the locals are proud of their bounty.

bourbon and cheese pairings
Bourbon and cheese pairings event at Art of Cheese, photo by Cristine Struble /

Bringing together two locally sourced products is almost an extension of the old phrase of what grows together goes together. Although this food and beverage pairing is not a conversation on seasonality, it is a celebration of locally sourced products. There is something to be said about the close geographic proximity that seems to make this flavor combination work.

During the recent Art of Cheese Festival, hosted by Wisconsin Cheese, one event explored locally sourced bourbon and cheese pairings. While some people might have been familiar with the award-winning Marieke Gouda, Carr Valley cheese, and Crave Brothers offerings, a few in attendance may have never sipped a J. Henry and Sons bourbon whiskey. Even if the cheese was the initial draw, the bourbon was making its own bold statement.

Many people are familiar with pairing wine and cheese or even beer and cheese. Whether it is a classic champagne with a brie or an unexpected Pinot Gris with a blue cheese, many people are willing to taste, experiment, and enjoy the combinations. It feels familiar, even with unlikely pairings. From a cheese course at dinner or just a simple Saturday night when no one feels like cooking, the food and beverage pairing is approachable.

With bourbon and cheese, the concept is not necessarily one that people place in the center of the table. Even though bourbon reaches a wide audience, it is not necessarily the beverage that has collection of glasses sitting next to an overflowing cheese board. Even with a bourbon cocktail, it can be a little intimidating.

During the event, the initial connection stemmed from the care and craft of all the artisans. From the nuttiness of the aged gouda to the decadence of the chocolate mascarpone, the expert Wisconsin cheese makers are the best in their craft.

At the same time, the J. Henry and Sons bourbon highlighted the desire to instill their family legacy in every bottle. The use of red corn makes for a unique flavor profile.

When these Wisconsin bourbon and cheese pairings came together, it brought out the subtleties of the food and beverage offering. Even in that particular moment, it invited everyone to stop, contemplate, and consider when this offering could be enjoyed again. From opening bite to an exquisite dinner to an ending note to a special evening, these food and beverage pairings open a new thought to enjoying an artisan cheese.

Pairing the various cheeses with a neat bourbon played off the nuance of each food and beverage combination. Building on that experience, the event transitioned into bourbon cocktails and a family style meal. Created by Daniel Fox of Madison’s Heritage Tavern, the multi-course meal left everyone feeling satisfied.

From the seasonal salad to the platter of pork, each decision showed a thoughtfulness from the chef. While wine pairings are common, the bourbon cocktail progression highlighted the local ingredients. With the Wisconsin cheese being the foundation of each dish, the complexities had people going back for a second, sometimes third serving.

In the end, while wine and cheese or beer and cheese are popular food and beverage pairings, those beverages do not have to be the only choices in the glass. Open a bottle of bourbon, pour it neat, shake up a cocktail, or enjoy it however you choose. There are plenty of Wisconsin cheeses to enjoy that will enhance the eating experience.

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