Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pairing Tea & Cheese

Wisconsin made Blue Cheese with Rishi's Organic Cinnamon Plum

The story of how I became interested in a cheese and tea tasting goes back about one year. While walking to our hotel after an amazing day of serving tea at Slow Food Nation we happened to bump into Sebbie, the iconic figure on the Rogue Chocolate Stout bottle. We shared a cab and have been friends ever since. Sebbie knows just about everyone there is to know in the specialty food business. While at the artisanal cheese, wine and beer tasting in New York, she recommended I introduce myself to Clark Wolf, one of the top cheese gurus out there. I yanked on my coworker Todd’s sleeve and made him accompany me on my way over to Clark.

With an amazing Juniper Berry Rogue in hand, we walked over giggling nervously like silly school girls (if you know Todd, you know he loves to giggle). Clark was as great as Sebbie had explained. To our great surprise, he expressed that cheese is better paired with tea than with wine! That statement alone blew me away and resonated all the way back to Milwaukee.

When I think of a cheese tasting, I think of a long table with wooden cutting boards, funky cheese accouterments and grapes draped all around, complete with cheeseheads holding glasses of wine.

With that vision in mind I contacted Jeanette Hurt, a food writer and avid Rishi Tea fan who just so happened to be writing a story on cheese for an upcoming issue of Fresh Cup Magazine. She was immediately on board for the tasting.

My next stop was Whole Foods where I picked up 5 different Wisconsin made cheeses to pair with 6 teas. Jeanette was bringing the crackers, honey, cocoa nibs and the infamous grapes I kept picturing when envisioning a traditional cheese tasting.

Sean, our Art Director and Assistant Tea Buyer helped me arrange the cupping sets and brew the tea. The following notes reflect the unbelievably decadent cheeses we had the pleasure of pairing with tea. What a tasting experience!

Cheeses in order of tasting:


Marieke Gouda

Hooks 3 yr Cheddar
Carr Valley
Hooks Blue Cheese


White Peony

Jasmine Green Tea


Feng Huang Dancong “Ba Xian"

Golden Yunnan

Cinnamon Plum

Tasting highlights:

You take the cheese in your mouth and spread it all the way down your tongue and then take the drink of tea. The tea coats your mouth and the cheese. Next breathe and inhale the aroma lingering in your mouth.

Jasmine Tea went with just about every cheese. It was unbelievable how versatile it is and how well it balanced the cheese without overpowering it.

Jeanette added cocoa nibs and honey to the fresh goat cheese or Chevre. It was amazing! That paired really well with Golden Yunnan, bringing out the sweet caramel notes of the rich black tea.

Blue cheese is often paired with port or a very thick, juicy and sweet wine so it made perfect sense to choose Cinnamon Plum for this pairing. It was amazing. We scooped up blue cheese into porcelain tasting spoons and drank the sweet notes of Cinnamon Plum that coated our throats with deliciously rich fruit.

White Peony went really well with the goat cheese that Jeannette blended with honey. The honey in the goat cheese brought out some really nice honeysuckle nectar-like notes in the White Peony. It made me fell in love with White Peony all over again.

Jeanette taught me an old trick: to crack fresh pepper onto cheese in order to bridge the cheese to the wine (or beverage it is partnered with). We tried the technique with Golden Yunnan and Gouda. What an amazing match it was! The pepper brought out really nice spicy and malty notes in the Golden Yunnan.

It was really interesting to see how pepper, honey, cocoa nibs and crackers acted as a bridge from the cheese to the tea and vice versa.

The tasting was a huge success. I learned a lot about cheese and at the same time had the chance to share my passion for tea with Jeanette, a passion that will continue to grow.

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