We automatically think of matching wine and cheese or beer and cheese but there are many drinks that work just as well and can give a real ‘wow factor’ to your cheeseboard.
Cider for example makes a very enjoyable lunchtime partner for a selection of cheese or a ploughmans while an elderberry wine or glass of sloe gin can make an unusual alternative to port for an after dinner cheeseboard. I also like soft drinks with cheese, which I often eat as a light lunch or snack, when I don’t particularly want to drink anything alcoholic.
Here are my suggestions for individual types of cheeses:
Apple, citrus and floral flavours work well with goats cheese so I often turn to soft drinks such as apple juice, elderflower cordial or traditional lemonade with young fresh cheeses, particularly in a salad. With more mature cheeses try an apple-flavoured eau-de-vie.
White-rinded cheeses such as Camembert and Brie
Milder versions work particularly well with red berry-flavoured drinks. (I know I said I wouldn’t talk about beer but a Belgian raspberry or cherry beer is a great partner for a Brie.) Guignolet, an inexpensive French cherry-flavoured aperitif, is a intriguing pairing for a slightly riper cheese though if it’s got to the state where it’s oozing over the board you may be better with a stronger drink like a Calvados or apple brandy. Apple flavoured drinks such as cider and Pommeau also go well with Camembert.
Hard and semi-hard cheeses such as cheddar and Gouda
Again cider will work well with these cheeses if they’re not too mature but aged cheddars and Goudas need something more intense, rich and nutty. Dry amontillado, palo cortado and dry oloroso sherries (though these strictly count as wines they’re an unusual pairing), malt whiskies that are aged in sherry casks, armagnacs and artisanal dark rums are all interesting matches. You might also try sake of which I understand the author Max McCalman, affineur of Artisanal in New York is a great champion. I haven’t given it a run through but imagine it would go particularly well with slightly waxy cheeses such as Beaufort and Comté.
Semi-soft/washed rind cheeses
E.g. Epoisses, Langres, Munster and Pont L’Evêque when allowed to mature to the limit, i.e. the proverbial ‘stinky’ cheese. These are real red wine - and even white wine-killers so it makes sense to look for alternatives. The pairings I find work best (apart from strong Belgian beers) are French ‘marcs’ such as marc de Champagne and marc de Bourgogne and - believe it or not - Dutch genever!
The most wine-friendly of cheeses so what other options might tempt you? Poire William, I once discovered, was a fantastic match for Pecorino and I'm sure would go with other sheeps' cheeses too. You might also try quince-flavoured liqueurs on the Manchego principle. Bramley and Gage makes one and Emporia Brands imports one from Gabriel Boudier. I also like dry, nutty sherries and Madeiras with sheep's cheese but again that’s straying into wine territory.
As I’m sure you well know salty, pungent blue cheeses need a contrasting note of sweetness to balance them so any port drinkalike will fare well. Elderberry wine, sloe or damson gin are real champions. Going in a totally different direction, peaty whiskies such as Lagavulin and Talisker are also fantastic with strong blue cheeses, especially Roquefort.