When Barrie Lynn presents some of her cheese pairing ideas, reactions aren’t always enthusiastic.
“Whiskey and cheese?” she said, quoting one incredulous acquaintance. “Are you nuts?”
But despite initial detractors, Lynn has proven time and again that spirits — especially brown spirits, like Scotch, rum and American whiskey — pair surprisingly well with cow’s milk cheese.
Lynn, a former advertising executive based in Missouri, is a self-styled “cheese impresario” who markets dairy delicacies, including doing consulting work for cheese companies like Plymouth-based Sartori. She visits Madison every fall for the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival, held over two days at Monona Terrace.
I first tried Lynn’s pairings at a Japanese sake/Wisconsin cheese tasting in 2010 (Who knew rice spirits are so good with gouda?). In 2011, the festival offered pairings of rum and cheese, Scotch and cheese and dessert wines and cheese.
Scotches, including 14-year-old Arran, 7-year-old Ardmore and an overpowering 12-year-old Caol Ila, paired best with strongly flavored hard cheeses, like Uplands’ Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Bleu Mont Dairy’s complex bandaged cheddar and Dunbarton Blue from Roelli Cheese. With the molasses and caramel flavors in aged rum, aged cheddar was the best match.
For a tasting at this year’s festival — the fourth annual, started by Jeanne Carpenter of Wisconsin Cheese Originals — Lynn brought back a Sartori cheese that she’d previously paired with a rhum agricole made from sugarcane juice, Neisson Reserve Speciale from Martinique.
On Saturday, Lynn matched the Sartori Reserve Espresso BellaVitano (a Wisconsin Parmesan with a ground coffee rind) with Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select, a seriously strong Tennessee whiskey with caramel and spice aromas and a very hard edge.
My favorite of the whiskies was Prichard’s Double Chocolate Bourbon Whiskey, which is infused with chocolate in a “secret process.” Made in pot stills, the whiskey had aromas like rum — vanilla, honey and warm spice — and with the addition of a touch of water, I could smell the cocoa.
Lynn paired it with Marieke’s Raw Milk Honey Clover Gouda, a creamy cow’s milk cheese with a touch of sweetness. Both were good on their own, though neither seemed to improve the other. (This was true for most of the pairings.)
This was true for the wonderful cheddar-blue made by Chris Roelli, Red Rock, and the fiery George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky. This is a whiskey aged in American white oak and made using the “Lincoln County process,” in which the spirit is filtered with sugar maple charcoal.
BourbonEnthusiast calls the No. 12 “extroverted;” I found it stronger than the Prichard’s, with brighter flavors of vanilla and walnut.
The final pairing was a stretch. Whisper Cream Tennessee Sipping Cream is made with Tennessee whiskey, Wisconsin cream and “secret” ingredients. (It’s always encouraging to see that.)
By itself, the liqueur smelled and tasted alternately like the milk left over after a sugary cereal, chocolate-covered cherries, fake strawberry, caramel cream and, according to one taster at our table, “coconut shampoo.” This was one case where the pairing, Belgioioso’s creamy, mild mascarpone, did in fact improve the spirit, if only because I tasted less of it.
Lindsay Christians occasionally pours wine tastings at Barriques.