Dram that dairy - it sounds like a misquote from Under Milk Wood! Cheese and whisky matching events bring dairies and distilleries together, but I have gone one step further: matching whiskies to some of my favourite summer cheese recipes. Click on each image for the recipe.
Almost 1000 cheeses were entered into the 2015 British Cheese Awards and a staggering 348 medals were given in recognition of the excellence of the art of cheesemaking. It is a few years since I have judged at the Awards - always a fabulous day of tasting and learning - and the 2015 medal winners include many old favourites as well as a huge number of new names. Like the whisky industry, cheesemaking is on a roll with artisans and larger producers all working hard to increase their quality and the accessibility of their offer.
Do I cook with really special cheeses? Not often, in the same way as I seldom cook with whisky. Great cheeses are generally for the cheeseboard or, like a deeply flavoured extra virgin olive oil, to dress a dish just before serving.
Chef Phil Vickery created this Caerphilly and smoked paprika dip to be made with Gorwydd Caerphilly (yet another Gold medal for the Trethowan’s at this year’s Awards). Try it with the nettle-dressed Cornish Yarg (a Bronze medal this year) as an alternative. This dip is rich and slightly sweet so I have matched it with Jura’s Superstition single malt Scotch whisky (about £34 for 70cl). The honey coloured whisky is lightly peated, opening out on the palette instantly to reveal pepper and a depth of sweet flavours that will complement the dip and not be dwarfed by it. With just a touch of water added, the whisky and the dip just settle in together for a long session of nipping and nibbling, perfect for a summer’s evening in the garden.
I use Yarg to make a burger a bit more of a gourmet affair! Top a beef, chicken or venison burger with this freshly flavoured, very slightly acidic and herbaceous cheese, add some coleslaw and then pour a glass of AnCnoc 12yo to go with it (about £32 for 70cl). This light, modern Speyside whisky prides itself on its food matching ability. Easy on the nose with just a hint of fire, the whisky is fruity on the palette, (think succulent and juicy) with good pepper and spice. Softening to a more buttery sweetness with just a drop of water, I find this picks up the cheese perfectly and makes a great BBQ combination.
English asparagus is still in full abundance and I love it in this Asparagus, egg and tarragon crumble, made with sweet nutty Red Leicester cheese in the topping. The Aultmore of Foggie Moss 12yo (about £42 for 70cl) was a revelation to me on first tasting: big herbaceous green olive flavours and a slight oiliness in the mouth when nosed and tasted without water. With just a drop of water the herbaceous nature of the whisky levels out to a buttery, rich, peppery flavour which sits quite beautifully with this perfect summer crumble. Both the crumble and the whisky reveal greater complexity as you stop tasting and start eating! My favourite Red Leicester? The glorious Sparkenhoe farmhouse cheese made by David and Jo Clarke.
I’m a hot and spicy pizza girl - bring on the jalapeños - and the creaminess of Laverstock Park’s mozzarella ciliegine balls (a Bronze medal in the 2015 Cheese Awards) mitigates the fire of both fresh and pickled chillies. So is it spice or smoke to go with this? I am opting for Glendronach’s Revival 15yo a glorious sherry cask matured Speyside single malt (about £45 for 70cl). An unusual choice? Well, sometimes a match can succeed by contrast and that is achieved through the huge spice and richness in the whisky which blends into those chillies. Big just about sums it up!
Redcurrant cheesecake is one of the treats of my summer. I think of the currants as English cranberries. This is not over-sweet: an adults-only cheesecake? I usually make it with Wensleydale or Red Leicester cheese. The Haig Club (about £45 for 70cl), a grain whisky with a light floral, cereal nose and easy soft flavours on the palette would complement it but I am opting for the greater complexity of Asyla from Compass Box (about £34 for 70cl). This blend of grain and malt whiskies is pale but rich in colour, with a full nose of vanilla, fruit and hints of spice. On the palette it has a creaminess that underlines the elegance of the whisky, making it perfect with this dessert. Serve the two together on a Sunday afternoon, in the garden or at the beach.
Which whisky would I recommend for you if all these recipes appeal but you have to plump for just one liquid treat? That is truly difficult as all the whiskies are delicious. After much consideration I think perhaps that AnCnoc 12yo because of its self-confessed foodie tendencies, or the Aultmore of Foggie Moss 12yo, because it is a whisky which strikes me as Different, and would reveal something with each of these dishes, although the cheesecake may be more of a challenge for it.