The Ultimate Cheese Pairing Guide
Cheese is delicious all on its own, but combining various kinds of cheese with meats, fruits, nuts, and other foods creates some amazingly mouth-watering flavors. Learning how to carefully select the right pairings drastically changes the taste of the cheese and pleases the palate. Here we'll discuss some of the most popular types of pairings to help you discover how to pair cheese based on its flavor, texture, and origin.
- What To Look For When Pairing Cheese
- Cheese Pairing Mistakes
- Top Cheese Pairings
- Charcuterie and Cheese Pairings
- Wine and Cheese Pairings
- Beer and Cheese Pairings
- Fruit/Vegetable and Cheese Pairings
- Herb and Cheese Pairings
- Chocolate and Cheese Pairings
- Nut and Cheese Pairings
- Spreads and Cheese Pairings
What To Look for When Pairing Cheese
It's important to learn about each cheese to understand how to pair it with the best food or beverage item that amplifies its flavor and improves the eating experience. Take a look at things like:
- Heritage Type: The origins of the cheese matter. Keep in mind, "what grows together goes together." Knowing the geographical location of both the cheeses and foods you wish to pair with is a great advantage as what is grown and produced in the same area usually pairs wonderfully. For example, a Tuscan cheese does very well with other Italian favorites like wines and meats, while an aged Manchego from Spain is excellent with jamona serrano.
- Flavor Profile: Different, but complementary flavor combinations are typically best to enhance the taste. Get some contrast by pairing sweet with salty or sweet with spicy.
- Bridging Flavors: Tie two different flavors together by using a complementary third element like honey. This simple addition changes the taste and opens up new possibilities.
- Texture: Your approach to selecting the best texture is much different when you need a single cheese as an ingredient for a recipe than if you are setting out a charcuterie board. Contrast is key once again. If you are showcasing a variety of foods on a charcuterie board, aim for varying textures to engage the senses and provide greater interest. Hard cheeses are best with spreadable foods like jam, while soft cheeses go great with crunchy nuts and crackers. The consistency of the cheese is another important factor. Cracker cuts are great to grab and easier for guests than soft, spreadable cheeses.
Cheese Pairing Mistakes
There is no right way to pair cheese. Everyone has different preferences, so the best flavor combinations are highly subjective. That said, there are some common pairing mistakes you should avoid:
- Don't mix high acidity foods with bitter flavors
- Don't combine bitter and fresh flavors
- Don't pair dry cheese with fresh fruit or vegetables
- Don't forget a palate cleanser like bread or crackers
- Don't always stick to safe pairings; instead, mix it up to discover amazing new taste combinations
- Don't rush the experience, savor it!
Top Cheese Pairings
Now that you know some of the basics, we'll look further into the top cheese pairings.
Charcuterie and Cheese Pairings
Displaying various kinds of cheeses and perfectly selected food pairings on a charcuterie board is an instant crowd-pleaser. But, how do you choose the best pairings? You need to have a game plan. Start by deciding what else you wish to serve, such as meats, nuts, fruits, and chocolate.
Remember to follow the rules we discussed above and include complementary and contrasting flavors, pairings from the same geographical region, and a variety of textures. Choose four to six different varieties to provide a nice range of textures and flavors.
Charcuterie boards are a fantastic way to serve up some excellent meat and cheese pairings. Here are some of our favorite charcuterie and cheese pairings:
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Chorizo
Seriously Sharp's bold flavor and texture is a perfect match for the spicy, smoky taste of chorizo.
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Ham
Extra Sharp Cheddar's citrusy tang cuts through the salty sweetness of ham for a luscious combination.
Farmhouse Reserve Cheddar Cheese & Salami
Farmhouse Reserve's rich flavor and slight crumble is complemented by the spicy, slightly fatty texture of salami.
White Oak Cheddar Cheese & Prosciutto
White Oak's subtle sweetness and smooth texture nicely balances a salty, full-flavored Prosciutto.
Pepper Jack Cheese & Capicola
Pepper Jack's subtle heat and creamy texture contrasts the slight fattiness of Capicola.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Pepperoni
Cheddar pairs especially well with the earthy flavor of Italian salami. Serve with crackers as a party appetizer.
Read more in the Charcuterie and Cheese Pairing Guide!
Wine & Cheese Pairings
Pairing wine and cheese together is always a taste sensation and a favorite for both intimate gatherings and entertaining large crowds. Follow these tips to learn more about wine that is commonly paired with cheese:
- Pair wine and cheese with equal intensity based on the wine's percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV). For example, the best pinot noir cheese pairing partners are aged cheeses that have a more intense flavor.
- Tannin-rich reds are best suited for strong and aged cheeses since the bitterness can often overpower more delicate flavors.
- White wines are lower in tannins and do well with lighter cheeses as well as some dry, sharp varieties. A perfect Chardonnay cheese pairing is either an aged parmesan or a creamy Colby jack.
- Match sweet wine with unique, eclectic cheese. The sweetness is the perfect balance for funky or stinky cheeses.
- Pair sparkling wine with soft and creamy cheeses. The higher acidity and carbonation of the wine act as a palate cleanser to especially soft and sticky cheeses.
- If in doubt, firm and nutty cheeses complement both red and white wines.
Our favorite wine and cheese pairings can be found below in our Wine and Cheese Pairing Guide:
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Cabernet Sauvignon
A savory, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon goes great with cheddar cheese for a sophisticated party or a night in with friends.
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Merlot
The dry and dark fruity or herbal characteristics of a classic Merlot combine seamlessly with sharp and tangy cheeses.
Founders' Collection: Private Stock Cheddar Cheese & Malbec
Malbec, made from strong, fruity, dark grapes, stands tall against the deep and robust flavors of vintage and reserve cheeses.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Zinfandel
Versatile Zinfandel with blackberry and peppery qualities make it a go-to choice for a taste adventure when paired with seriously sharp cheddar cheese.
Garlic Herb Cheddar Cheese & Sangiovese & Chianti
Italian wine paired with cheeses like Garlic & Herb Cheddar embrace the flavors of Tuscany.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Red Blend
Medium-bodied red blends pair nicely with a range of flavors, smoky or sharp. We like it with Seriously Sharp Cheddar.
Founders' Collection: Private Stock Cheddar Cheese & Syrah
An intense, dry Syrah loves the sturdiness of a sharper, aged cheese like Private Stock Cheddar.
Colby Jack Cheese & Chardonnay
One of our favorite chardonnay cheese pairings is colby jack cheese with chardonnay. A fresh and fruity Chardonnay is a heavenly match for milder cheese varieties, enhancing the creaminess of Colby Jack cheese with just the right whisper of sweet.
Monterey Jack Cheese & Sauvignon Blanc
A bright, light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc with hints of citrus will never overpower the freshness and milder qualities of a Monterey Jack cheese.
Mild Cheddar Cheese & Pinot Grigio
The higher acidity of a Pinot Grigio pairs beautifully with creamy, milder cheese.
Pepper Jack Cheese & Moscato
The playful sweet and fruity flavors of a Moscato flirts with smooth and flavorful and spicy cheeses like Cabot Pepper Jack.
Habanero Cheddar Cheese & Riesling
The combination of acid, sugars and fruit of a Riesling nicely offset zestier, spicier cheeses.
Pepper Jack Cheese & White Blend
Try a bright white blend with more complex and flavorful foods like a spicier Pepper Jack cheese.
Monterey Jack Cheese & Champagne
A dry to off-dry sparkling wine or Champagne is delightful with Monterey Jack Cheese.
Colby Jack & Sweet Rosé
The sugars in a sweet rose are the perfect complement to full-flavored or spicy cheeses.
Mild Cheddar Cheese & Dry Rosé
The bright, fruit flavors and acidity in a drier rosé makes it a versatile pairing choice for mild cheddar cheese. Click here for our complete wine & cheese pairing guide.
Beer and Cheese Pairings
Wine isn't the only fantastic option when it comes to beverage and cheese pairings. There are so many different types of beers, from sweet ciders to earthy IPAs to a dark Guinness, that offer nearly limitless options to balance and enhance the flavors of cheese. The complexity of the beer, with its carbonation, freshness, and range of flavor profiles, requires that you choose your pairings carefully. Remember the rules of contrast, complementary flavors, and palate cleansers to start with, and follow these tips:
- Pair mild beers with mild cheeses to enhance, not overwhelm, the delicate flavor.
- Strong and heavier beers like lagers and stouts are best enjoyed with ripe, rich cheeses.
- Reach for a black stout, fruity beer, or something hoppy to complement the intensity of blue cheeses.
As with wine and food pairings, the most important rule to follow when it comes to beer and cheese pairings is that if it tastes good to you, keep doing it. Here are some of our favorite beer and cheese pairings, but you can find more in the Beer and Cheese Pairing Guide!
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Lager
This sharp, yet smooth and approachable cheddar pairs just right with a malt-forward, easy-drinking lager for a refreshing combo.
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Pale Ale
The classic bite of this bold, naturally-aged cheddar plays well with the light body and subtle spicy hop notes of a pale ale.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & IPA
Pair cheddar with the bitter, citrusy notes of an IPA at a game day party or a picnic.
Founders' Collection: Private Stock Cheddar Cheese & Hard Cider
Private Stock cheddars bold, distinct flavors is perfectly cut and balanced by the cider's hoppy sweetness.
White Oak Cheddar Cheese & Amber Ale
Subtly sweet, and the smoothest of our Legacy Collection, this cheese balances perfectly with the malty, caramel notes of an amber ale.
Alpine Cheddar Cheese & Lager
Nutty and smooth, this unique cheese pairs nicely with a lighter pilsner or lager that brings a refreshing bite to the cheese's creamy texture.
Pepper Jack Cheese & Stout
The spicy kick in these cheeses balances perfectly with the smooth, toasted malt notes of darker, full-bodied beers like porters, stouts, and smoked beers.
Farmhouse Reserve Cheddar Cheese & Gose
The classic sharp cheddar flavor and slightly crumbly body of this Legacy Collection cheese lay the ideal foundation for the tang and pucker of a sour or gose. Click here for more beer and cheese pairings.
Fruit/Vegetable and Cheese Pairings
The fresh taste of crisp vegetables and light and sweet fruits goes great with cheese. Here we will discuss how to pair veggies and cheese, plus the best fruits to pair with different varieties.
General rules and ideas to follow:
- Mix fresh produce with fresh cheese.
- Juicy cherry tomatoes are the perfect complement to soft, mild cheeses.
- Pair raw veggies with bold cheeses. For example, a crisp slice of radish is delicious with rich cheese.
- Roasted, sauteed, and even pickled vegetables have drastically different flavor profiles that you can use to your advantage when it comes to cheese pairings. Don't be afraid to prep your veggies ahead of time to tap into these unique flavors.
- Most fruits naturally pair wonderfully with cheese, but it's best to avoid citrus since it can overpower the flavor of many kinds of cheese.
Here are some of our favorite fruit and cheese pairings:
Habanero Cheddar Cheese & Mango
The gentle and sweet acidity of mango goes great with cheddar. Try the mango plain or in a salsa or relish.
White Oak Cheddar Cheese & Grapes
For a quick and easy snack or appetizer for any event, serve Cabot Cheddar Cracker Cut Slices on a cracker with grapes.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Plums
Vermont Sharp's slight acidity and buttery tang pairs well with the juicy sweetness of plums.
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Pears
Extra Sharp Cheddar's citrusy tang is the ideal companion for the sweet tender juiciness of pears.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Peaches
Seriously Sharp's bold flavor is the perfect complement for the slightly tart sweetness of peaches.
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Strawberries
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar's creamy, savory flavor is the perfect match for the tangy sweetness of ripe strawberries. Learn more about fruit and cheese pairings here!
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Eggplant
Extra Sharp's citrusy tang perfectly complements the cool flavor and mild acidity of eggplant.
Farmhouse Reserve Cheddar Cheese & Pickled Radishes
Farmhouse Reserve's sharp sophistication pairs perfectly with vibrant, tangy pickled radishes.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Roasted Red Peppers
Vermont Sharp’s slight acidity and full-flavored, buttery tang goes great with the tender, subtle sweetness of roasted red peppers.
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Portobello
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar's creamy smoothness is pure heaven paired with the earthy meatiness of Portobellos.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Sun Dried Tomatoes
Seriously Sharp's bold flavor is the perfect match for the intensely sweet tanginess of sun-dried tomatoes.
Monterey Jack Cheese & Kimchi
Pair Kimchi with Monterey Jack on a cracker for an appetizer with a perfectly sour and spicy kick. Click here for more cheese and veggie pairings.
Herb & Cheese Pairings
Herbs are a less common, but truly delicious cheese pairing. The best way to decide which herbs go with which cheese is to determine the strength of the herb's flavor. When you stick with fresh herbs and high-quality cheeses, you really can't go wrong with almost any combination.
Here are some of our favorite herb and cheese pairings, or find more in the Herb and Cheese Pairing Guide!
Pepper Jack Cheese & Oregano
Pepper Jack combines beautifully with the earthy, bitter notes of oregano. Serve with fresh vegetables for a tasty snack!
Alpine Cheddar Cheese & Thyme
Alpine Cheddar's swiss-inspired flavor is accented perfectly by thyme's gentle earthiness and subtle citrus.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Sage
Seriously Sharp's complexity and slight nuttiness pairs well with the savory, pine-like flavors of sage.
Monterey Jack Cheese & Dill
Monterey Jack’s creamy mild nature pairs well with the slightly bitter, herbaceous flavor of dill.
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Garlic
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar’s creamy texture and buttery mouthfeel is a perfect match for the strong, pungent flavors of garlic.
Horseradish Cheddar Cheese & Rosemary
Chocolate & Cheese Pairings
Chocolate and cheese share the coveted status of being some of the most popular foods. Nothing beats the addictive flavor of a rich cheese or creamy bite of chocolate. They are delicious, complex, and can taste even better when paired with one another.
One approach to pairing cheese with chocolate is to select similar flavor profiles. Chocolate with nutty notes goes great with firm, aged cheese varieties. If your chocolate has a hit of savory or is on the funky side, reach for a washed rind cheese that is the perfect way to enhance the unique flavors. Another suggestion is to pair contrasting flavors together that enhance the taste of each food. You can also select sweet and creamy cheeses to balance more acidic chocolate.
Here are some of our favorite chocolate and cheese pairings, with more in the Cheese and Chocolate Pairing Guide!
Monterey Jack + Milk Chocolate
A perfect example of pairing similar flavors together for delicious results is the combination of Monterey jack with milk chocolate. Both have a soft and creamy texture that complements the other, creating a classic pairing. Browse our chocolate and cheese pairing guide to learn more about how to match the right varieties. You can find it here!
Nuts & Cheese Pairings
The satisfying crunch of nuts paired with the contrasting creaminess of a delicious cheese is an unforgettable taste adventure. Many cheeses are described as having a "nutty" flavor, so why not enhance that further with this exciting pairing? The best nuts to pair with cheese include:
Adding nuts to your selection of cheeses also gives you the opportunity to create a spread that is as gorgeous as it is mouthwatering. Sprinkle them throughout your cheese selections displayed on a charcuterie board, serve them in dishes alongside a cheese plate, or use them as a garnish for salads featuring cheese.
Here are some of our favorite nuts and cheese pairings, but you can find more in our Nuts and Cheese Pairing Guide.
Farmhouse Reserve Cheddar Cheese & Pistachios
Farmhouse Reserve's mellow richness is perfect when served with robust, earthy pistachios.
White Oak Cheddar Cheese & Pecans
The natural sweetness of pecans wonderfully complements the saltiness of Monterey Jack.
Enjoy this pairing for a healthy snack!
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Almonds
For a quick and portable snack that's satisfying, try pairing almonds, apples, and cheddar.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Peanuts
Serve cheddar with peanuts for a smooth and nutty pairing as part of a cheese board or on a cracker!
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Cashews
Try serving cheddar with cashews to add a buttery, salty crunch to your cheese board or party!
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Walnuts
Lite50 Sharp Cheddar's creamy texture and buttery flavor is enhanced by the savory taste and smoothness of walnuts. Click here for more tasty cheese and nut pairings.
Spreads & Cheese Pairings
Spreads like jellies, jams, and honey are fantastic pairings for certain types of cheese. They also amp up your charcuterie board by increasing the potential flavor combinations you can create. Learn some tips and tricks for various spreads, from classic cheese and jam pairings to more quirky unions:
- Pair sweet jellies and jams such as the well-loved strawberry with lighter cheeses. A young and mild cheddar is a great pick.
- For spicy spreads like hot pepper jelly, try an aged cheddar that has a bold enough flavor profile to stand out against the pepper instead of getting overwhelmed. Chutney or mustard also works well with aged cheddar.
- In general, pair sweeter spreads with savory and mature cheeses.
- Spreads with a sour taste go well with softer, fresh cheeses that have a sweeter taste.
Here are our favorite spread and cheese pairings, with more in the Spreads and Cheese Pairing Guide!
Alpine Cheddar Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar
Alpine Cheddar's swiss-inspired flavor and slightly crumbly texture are complemented perfectly by the sharp fruity tang of balsamic vinegar.
Habanero Cheddar Cheese & Maple Syrup
Habanero's intense spiciness is offset by the caramelized sweetness of maple syrup.
Pepper Jack Cheese & Raspberry Jelly
Pepper Jack's subtle heat and creamy texture melds perfectly with the sweetness of raspberry jelly.
Farmhouse Reserve & Blackberry Jam
Farmhouse Reserve's rich, mellow flavor is balanced perfectly by the tart sweetness of Blackberry Jam.
Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Dijon Mustard
Seriously Sharp's complexity and slight nuttiness stands up to the robust tangy flavor of Dijon Mustard.
Sharp Cheddar Cheese & Caramel
Pair cheddar and caramel for a sweet twist on a classic cheese. It's excellent on a cracker with figs or your favorite fruit. Click here for more cheese and spreads pairings.
Cheese Pairings For Any Occasion
Pairing cheese is both an enjoyable and educational experience. We hope this beginner's cheese pairing guide was helpful and gives you the insight to start creating some amazing flavor profiles. While the classics are always a great idea, don't be afraid to try out some adventurous combinations. Soon, you'll develop the knack for knowing which cheese pairings are best to produce taste sensations perfect for any occasion.