Cheese with Bourbon
What I learned from 7th and 8th generation distillers Charles and Sam Medley of Charles Medley Distillery is that grain and age matters to bourbon. And it matters hugely to pairing cheese with bourbon. There are 6 flavor components to bourbon:
Grain: Corn, rye and barley
Age: Oak/wood, char inside the barrel (smoke), the cambium layer which is toasted, not charred
Younger bourbons tend to be more grain influenced (and each distiller has their own mix) and are often higher proof while aged bourbons showcase flavors of toast and vanilla.
With Charles and Sam’s bourbons, it went like this:
Medley Bros: lots of corn and vegetal flavors, plus more than 50% alcohol needed a straightforward, solid high-fat cheese that could roll with the punches. Aged sheep cheese all the way.
Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon smelled like egg nog and was lighter and smoother on the tongue. Classic pairing here is aged Gouda, itself bourbon-y and vanilla-y. An aged Goat Gouda was the best. Lighter than cow milk versions, with lightly toasted nut and caramel intensity, plus crunch.
Old Medley delivered the most vanilla. I wanted to be risky and found a natural rinded blue from Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee that was amazing. Not any blue will do. You need a dry, fudgy blue with a dusty brown rind, like Stilton, Stichelton or Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue. You get sweetness from the wood barrel and salt from the cheese, and it all works like a peanut butter sandwich.
I desperately wanted to get a stinky cheese in there and variations on the Manhattan and Old Fashioned both presented good opportunities. In both cases, citrus added acidity to the bourbon and a counterpart to the funk of cheeses like Meadow Creek Grayson or Epoisses.