My blog from 2016, Pairing Bourbon with Food, is one of my most popular blogs. It gets quite a few views every day. This tells me I need to do more on the subject of bourbon and food. With that in mind I wanted to explore how Bourbon and cheese pair together. Julian Van Winkle III has always said that the best food to pair with his products is an aged Gouda cheese. Chef Ouita Michel uses aged Regiano Parmesan in her flavor wheel at the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Academy. Other than that my experience with pairing Bourbon with cheese was sporadic at best. Rosemary and I decided that to best write this blog I needed help from someone with more experience with cheese so I asked Chef Joshua Moore, the chef at Volare Ristorante on Frankfort Avenue, in Louisville, if he would like to help with this study and he agreed. I would provide some Bourbons and he would provide the cheese.
I decided that we would taste Van Winkle Family Reserve 12yo, Michter’s US1 Bourbon and Old Grand Dad 114. Joshua provided many great cheeses: Clariana 18 months aged Gouda from the Netherlands, Mezzaluna Fontina from Wisconsin, Original Blue Cheese from Point Reyes California, Kenny’s Reserve Cheddar from Kentucky, Gruyere Special Reserve from Switzerland, Toma also from Point Reyes California, 24 month aged Regiano Parmesan that he uses at Volare, Meadow Creek Appalachian Tomme from Virginia and Somerdale Red Dragon Mustard Seed Ale from England. We also had a couple of smoked Goudas to try with the Van Winkle to see if that made a difference. These are all cow milk cheeses and we may return for future experimentation with goat and sheep milk cheeses. Here is what we found out during this tasting:
Van Winkle Family Reserve 12yo
This was the only Bourbon we tasted that was made with wheat instead of rye. The Clarion Aged Gouda was an excellent pairing that brought out a creaminess in the Bourbon and the cheese making both very buttery in flavor. The smoked Goudas did well but not nearly as flavorful. The Fontina brought forward the oak and spices in the Bourbon and the Gruyere brought forward the sweetness of the Bourbon. The Mustard Seed Ale dominated the flavor experience but it was a pleasant domination. We were surprised in that the Parmesan and the Cheddar both simply washed out the flavor of the Bourbon. At the end we all three agreed that Julian is right and the aged Gouda is the best with his Bourbon.
Old GrandDad 114
This is a Bourbon with lots of rye in the mash bill. It is also higher proof than most Bourbons. We started with the Blue Cheese thinking the higher proof would stand up better to the sharpness of the cheese. It did bring out some citrus notes in the Bourbon but we were a little disappointed it did not pair better with the Bourbon and still dominated the taste experience. The Gruyere calmed the proof and brought forward some vanilla notes in the Bourbon. The Regiano Parmesan really enhanced the flavor of the Bourbon and brought forward a peach or apple fruitiness that was not there before the cheese. The Toma also enhanced the flavor and washed out the high proof heat and the Fontina worked well with the Bourbon bringing forward the sweetness of the whiskey. The other cheeses simply washed away the Bourbon flavors and dominated the taste experience. Once again we were all in agreement in that the Regiano Parmesan was the winner in this pairing.
This Bourbon has a low barrel entry proof so it has a strong barrel influence. Once again we started with the Blue Cheese and it stood up well to the Bourbon bringing out a sweetness in both whiskey and cheese that was very pleasant. The Gruyere brought out vanilla notes in the Bourbon while reducing the heat from the alcohol. The Regiano Parmesan brought out some citrus notes and sweet corn flavors and the Point Reyes Toma brought out a brandy-like fruitiness of raisins or grapes. The Cheddar made the whiskey very smoky and the aged Gouda paired well but was not exceptional. In the end we all agreed that the Point Reyes Toma paired the best with the Michters US1 Bourbon.
This tasting really opened up our perception of Bourbon and Cheese pairings.
Joshua said “I am amazed at how the Bourbon changed the cheese and the cheese changed the Bourbon.”
Rosemary also said “There were some unexpected surprises in these pairings.”
I think that it opened up some interesting avenues of experimentation with Bourbon and cheeses at tastings. There were no unpleasant pairings and there are many more cheeses to try. I expect we might see a cheese board at the bar in Volare with aged Gouda, Regiano Parmesan, Point Reyes Toma and Blue Cheese as Josh thought those were his favorites of the night. I would be tempted to add the Mezzaluna Fontina as well. Pairing Bourbon with cheese is a good way to spend some time with friends.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller