Top pairings | How to pair whisky with cheese

Pairings | Islay whisky

How to pair whisky with cheese

I’d been aware that cheese was a good match for whisky but it was good to have the opportunity to try several different styles and cheeses at a tasting recently.

It was at the bar at the Capital Hotel where the head barman Csar da Silva offers regular whisky and food tastings. Sensibly he kept it short - three whiskies, three cheeses - as whisky tastings can be a bit overwhelming, particularly if they’re cask strength, though I did dilute all three with a small splash of spring water. These were the pairings I tried:

Glen Garioch 12 y.o. (48%) with Beaufort
A rich, sweet spicy single malt aged in a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks. Da Silva particularly likes this style of whisky with hard cheese. I would have normally gone for an mature cheddar but I really liked the way the Glen Garioch brought out the Beaufort’s fruitiness and nuttiness. (Beaufort is a similar style cheese to Gruyère)

Kilchoman Spring 2011 (46%) with Bleu d’Auvergne
I’ve tried Islay whiskies successfully before with Roquefort but loved this more delicate, younger whisky with the less pungent Bleu d’Auvergne. Again it was aged in bourbon casks but the vanilla character isn’t nearly so obvious as with the Glen Garioch, just giving a touch of honeyed sweetness. It shows whisky doesn’t have to be old to be interesting. My favourite pairing, by a whisker.

Talisker 18.y.o (45.6%) with Livarot
This was a revelation. I’ve tried gin and genever with washed rind cheeses like Livarot before but not whisky and it works equally well with the advantage of being a more congenial match for most drinkers. (Neat or slightly dilute gin not being to everyone’s taste). This is the best expression - as whisky buffs call it - of Talisker, I’ve tasted, not as peaty as the Kilchoman but with wonderfully complex, earthy woody notes. Delicious with the cheese.

Da Silva says the only cheese that doesn’t work with whisky is goats cheese though I can imagine a well-aged crottin de Chavignol being a good match for a lighter Lowland style whisky. That also suits creamy cheeses like Caboc (a soft cheese rolled in oatmeal)

But the message from this tasting is that whisky can provide an answer to the dilemma of what to drink with stronger cheeses - and a very pleasurable one.

The Whisky and Cheese Pairing plate costs £29 and can be ordered in the Capital Bar or the restaurant instead of a dessert or as an alternative to the cheese course. That might strike you as pricey but the Talisker alone costs around £58 a bottle and the Kilchoman is extremely hard to get hold of.


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