Something happens when you swirl a sip of fine single malt whiskey over a mouthful of good strong cheese. The fire-water alcohol is softened as the cheese provides a magic carpet to deliver whiskey’s subtle crafted flavours.
What a revelation we had today, as a bundle of novice whiskey drinkers suspended our disbelief we were drinking whiskey at lunch and succumbed to a good old tasting.
I’ve been acquiring whiskeys for a few months, waiting for the right time for a cheese and whiskey taste off and this weekend the stars aligned.
I had some superb cheese thanks to Curd Nerd at the Dairy in Auckland. A Stichelton which is a British raw milk stilton and an Appleby Farm Cheshire. Both famous cheeses, both needing to be eaten, both big enough to stand up to whiskey.
I added an Origin Earth Lebanese cream cheese as a poor man’s substitute for the Caboc Fiona Beckett recommends in her book Cheese Course.
And my whiskey collection is at last up to four, thanks in large part to Roger’s lovely and generous Dad John Doig and my mate Ruth. We have Glenmorangie, Laphroaig 10 year old, Lagavulin 16 year old and The Glenlivet 12 year old. I bought this latter as a training whiskey and it has served me well!
We lined them up on the table, and then sat unsure of what to do. Unlike wine, a big greedy gulp of whiskey to get you started is going to hurt. But eventually we settled in and found a rhythm. Unsurprisingly it got easier the more we sipped.
My advice is to start with the lightest cheese and whiskey, take a sniff and wet your whistle with a little taste. Then eat a bit of the cheese, trying to keep it on your palette, then take another sip to get a sense of the two flavours together.
We all quickly dispensed with the oat crackers, the claggy cement of a partially chewed oat cracker did nothing for the cheese nor the whiskey. They did make good plates though.
Our lightest dram was Glenmorangie, its spicy honey and citrus notes were fragrant and delicate with our cream cheese – a meadow of wild flowers, this was golden summer sun on your tongue.
Second up The Glenlivet was hardest to match but ultimately its heather honey notes paired well with the Stichelton.
Where the Stichelton really shone was with the Laguavulin whose full-bodied peat is sweet enough to stand up to this famous blue’s salty creaminess. Wow, smooth and smokey, the sultry heat of a late-night beach fire.
Smoke blended with peat in our last combo, the savoury crumble of the Cheshire was perfect with the smokey peat of the Laphoig, all memory of hospital liniment banished as we were transported to a misty glen, peat smoke rising around us, whiskey’s power to warm the body and the spirit enveloping us.
I’ve usually had whiskey at the end of dinner after a few wines. The standalone whiskey tasting is a new way to appreciate this legendary drop and as novices we were amazed at the sheer variety of tastes these four bought to the table, each showing something different against the three cheeses.
I am already planning another tasting. Any ideas for other whiskeys I could add? Dalwhinnie, Talisker – What do you reckon?
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