Getting Funky: Pairing Cheese, Sips, and Music

The ingredients for a good party are pretty simple: Friends, food, drinks, and a soundtrack. The first bit is up to you, but I recently came across some fun suggestions for the other three:

Our local grocer, Nugget Markets, puts out an in-store magazine every season, The Field Guide, and their fall issue went beyond suggesting the traditional wine and cheese pairings to include beer and spirits—and even music.

I’ve had great success with their recipes, and trust the cheese department to know their stuff, so I decided to follow their lead, picking up all the items on the set list for a “funky fromage” theme.

After all, I love strong cheeses, and was excited to be introduced to some new ways to share them. Here’s what I learned…

The thematic description that called out to me went like this: “Stinky, sticky, pungent, and meaty—we want the funk!”

Why, yes! Yes, I do!

The first cheese was a washed-rind cheese. These tend to be my favorite: gloriously stinky, often with a reddish-orange rind. Sometimes they’re soft and oozy (like an Epoisses de Bourgogne), other times they are solid enough to grate. They tend to have yeasty, malty flavors.

This one, Brebisrousse d’Argental, might look intimidating, but the buttery inside is actually quite smooth. Also recommended: Alemar Cheese Company Good Thunder (which gets its stink on by bathing in brown ale for three weeks, then aging for another twelve), and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk (made nearby in West Marin).

A crisp sparkling wine, like this Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux Brut, can tame the flavors.

Or a deep brown ale, like Calicraft Brewing Company’s Oaktown Brown—locally fermented in three different oaks with cascade hops—can highlight those stinky notes.

We tried both, and I loved the less traditional feel of pairing cheese with beer. Plus, the flavors were fantastic!

The Field Guide‘s next pick was Emmi Kaltbach Cave Aged Gruyere, but the benefit of having a market with a cheesemonger around for guidance is that you can try a few different options. I actually ended up bringing home Kaltbach Le Crémeux Emmi, which is aged in the same salt caves but tasted creamier. The ones doing the cave-aging in Switzerland describe it as “sweet and unassuming at first” but with a “flavor and texture [that] develops and becomes reminiscent of a soft cooked egg yolk in a bowl of ramen.” If that doesn’t intrigue you…

A dry Gewurztraminer, like this one from Husch Vineyards, is a wonderful compliment: spicy aromatics of rose petal, apple pie spice, and honeysuckle.

But apparently a Gruyere’s nutty, lactic flavors can also pair well with whisky! Nugget Markets paired it with Highland Park Magnus Single Malt Scotch Whisky for its notes of sweet caramelized pineapple and vanilla sponge cake.

Finally, we spooned soft-ripened Harbison cheese from Vermont’s Cellars at Jasper Hill—with its bloomy rind wrapped in strips of bark—onto fresh, crusty bread from the Nugget Markets bakery, and paired it with the suggested Louis Jadot Pinot Noir from the Bourgonne. The wine has a dark berry sweetness already, but I liked taking the pairing a step further with Amarena cherries in syrup.

I loved that all of the pairings were done for me—the guesswork off my plate, so to speak. And debating which were our favorites only added to the pleasure.

Essentially, at this point, it’s a just-add-music situation. You could put on a custom mix—think old vinyls of Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, some early Prince, Kool & the Gang, and of course James Brown—to pair with the funk; or you could let a music app be your DJ.

I was loving the Funky Soul Classics station on Prime music. Or, on Spotify, search user nuggetmarkets for a playlist to put on shuffle!

But really, the idea is to have some fun with your pairings. If funky, bloomy rinds aren’t your thing, start with what is. If you don’t drink, ask your cheesemonger about pairing green tea with Gruyère (it’s a thing!) If Moscow Mules are on the menu, try a creamy blue. One of my favorite suggestions from the guide was to mix spiked drinks, like a spicy Bloody Mary, with hard cheeses like Parmigianno Reggiano.

In other words, have fun—it’s a party!

Do you have a favorite cheese? Are you a fan of the funk? 

P.S. How to assemble the perfect cheese board and the perfect charcuterie board.

This post is sponsored by Nugget Markets, our local, family-owned grocery. Founded in 1926, Nugget Markets has been committed to providing an extensive selection of quality products, exceptional service and lower prices than any other conventional grocery store. Their house Fresh to Market label focuses on products developed in partnership with local producers, and while their stores are currently only to be found in Sacramento Valley and in Marin County, their focus on the local and seasonal is an ethos one can seek out anywhere. 

And for 12 consecutive years, Nugget Markets has claimed a spot on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. I’m honored to partner with them! 


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